Matt Heid is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in AMC Outdoors. He is also the author of AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England and maintains a blog about outdoor gear at equipped.outdoors.org.
The Westport resident’s gift did more, however, than just preserve a critical parcel of watershed land and a beloved landscape of personal discovery – it also helped The Trustees reach a milestone: protecting 20,000 acres through perpetual conservation restrictions. Westport lies in the southeast corner of Massachusetts, tucked tight against the Rhode Island border and the dynamic waters of Buzzards Bay. The Westport River reaches inland from the seashore, quickly dividing into two broad, tidally influenced waterways. A few miles upriver, hidden in the woods along the eastern shore of the river’s eastern branch, lies the former site of Camp Noquochoke, a Boy Scout camp from times gone by.
Camp Noquochoke welcomed young campers from 1921 to 1978; upon closing, it was divided into several large parcels and purchased by private landowners. Keefe moved to Westport from Boston in 1999 and lived on two of those parcels. It was a move that marked the beginning of a deeper journey
into the natural world.
In the ensuing years, Keefe spent countless days exploring the wetlands and woods that surrounded her. “I traveled every inch of that land,” she reflects. “It felt good. I felt much more connected to the land and to the world.” It’s a connection that continues to inspire her today, as evidenced by the numerous field guides that now cram her bookshelf. “There’s always a new leaf or a new bloom,” she muses. “Even the stone walls have stories. I realized the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know.”
In 2009, Keefe moved to a small cottage closer to the town center. She retained one of her two parcels, however: a 21-acre swath of upland forest that once formed the core of Camp Noquochoke. “After I moved, I went back all the time,” she recounts, “but I also spent more time exploring elsewhere in town. And lo and behold I found there were all these properties in town protected by The Trustees and the Westport Land Conservation Trust.”
In many ways, Westport is an epicenter for land conservation. Of the approximately 350 conservation restrictions held by The Trustees in Massachusetts, 36 of them are in Westport. “The town is very aware of the conservation value of the land here and supports its protection,” notes Chris Detwiller, The Trustees’ Community Conservation Specialist for Westport. “Land along the Westport River is just a fabulous resource to be protected for the people and wildlife – osprey, brook trout, and so many other species – that make this area home.”
Since 2000, The Trustees have worked in partnership with the Westport Land Conservation Trust to protect threatened parcels of land. Some are acquired through outright purchase. Others are protected through conservation restrictions, where the landowner retains ownership of the property but sells or donates permanent restrictions on its development to ensure its long-term protection. Keefe’s donation was doubly significant, not only helping The Trustees reach its 20,000-acre milestone but also marking the 2,000th acre the partners have protected together in Westport.
Keefe is thrilled by the prospect that others may discover the natural world as she has. “Once they do, they find their connection,” she reflects. “They find their connection to nature and to protection of the Earth and of natural resources. And that can only be good for the world.”
Published October 2012