By Catherine Jones
SHIRLEY -- Arthur Banks, a lifelong resident of Shirley, left a legacy worthy of his devotion to nature and natural preservation when he bequeathed his 89-acre summer retreat, Farandnear, to the Trustees of Reservations.
The board of the Trustees of Reservations met to discuss the bequest with the public on June 4 at Hazen Memorial Library.
The presentation and discussion that followed centered on what should be done with the property, including the parking situation, handicap accessibility, concerns about invasive plant species, activities that will be allowed on the property and upkeep of the trails.
Trustees of Reservations representatives included Julie Richburg, regional ecologist, Tom Valentine, park and conservation technician, Kate Preissler, education and engagement manager, Dave Outman, conservation specialist, Joanna Ballantine, regional director, Thomas Por, operations manager, and Alexis Breiteneicher Schneeflock, regional development manager.
Also present were several community members, many of whom expressed fondness and appreciation for Farandnear, and state Sen. James Eldridge.
"If there was a place to move and feel welcome, it would be Shirley, Massachusetts," said Trustees Regional Director Joanna Ballantine. She also announced that two free memberships would be awarded in a raffle at the end of the meeting.
Farandnear is a special place for many people. Most of those present last Tuesday night had walked the property at some point and enjoyed its rich flora and fauna.
Betsy Colburn-Mirkovic said she was married on the property and is "very happy that this land is being protected forever."
This sentiment appeared to be the consensus, that the 89 acres Banks left to the Trustees must be preserved and kept accessible to and enjoyable by the public.
The Trustees plan to preserve the land, representatives said, noting that it had once included a golf course. Although it's not a priority to keep the greenway in golfing condition, it is worth preserving, they said.
The outline they presented was more general than specific. But there are plans on the drawing board to create a parking area, with space for about six cars and one handicapped-accessible spot, which is estimated to be enough spaces if overflow parking is allowed on the meadow during special events.
The goal, in terms of parking, is to keep it modest to avoid too much interference with the land, the Trustees said, and they don't aim to expand the parking area in the future.
Ballantine said the Trustees are considering options for use of the Banks house, which is not historic but may be incorporated into the overall plan for the property.
Preissler said the Trustees are still looking into what will be allowed on the property, explaining that, at this time, determinations have not been made regarding mountain-biking or horses, which are typically hard on trails.
Some places on the trail may be accessible to vehicles for maintenance purposes and the trails will be designed for pedestrians to walk comfortably.
Because there will be a handicapped-accessible parking space, some asked whether the trails will be accessible as well.
Por responded that, although the Trustees do not envision a universally accessible trail, this may be something they'd consider in the future, noting that making the trails handicap accessible may be complicated because of the bridges along the trails. "It's a destination," he said.
The trustees went on to mention that some reservations are completely handicap accessible, such as Doyle and Doane.
Another concern was invasive species as well as the preservation of important and distinct plants. The Trustees plan to do what they can to protect and save the plants that Banks cared for while having invasive species removed from the land, they said. And they're interested in hearing anecdotal stories that might help them to understand what plants meant the most to him.
To some extent, preservation and use of the land will be a community effort. "We really can't do it alone," Ballantine said. The trustees are still deciding what roles should be filled by a paid employee, (the possibility of hiring an arborist was mentioned), but the care of the property will be largely based on volunteer groups.
Por said the Trustees "continue to have a relationship with Arthur's arborist", explaining that there are certain plants they will expend resources to preserve, while others are not so valuable, but the selection process is still unclear.
The meeting ended with the drawing. Richard Henry, who stated that he was in the Scouts with Arthur Banks, drew the first name.
The Trustees are clearly intent upon preserving Farandnear and ensuring that it remains as beautiful a place as ever. The logistics of doing this remain somewhat of a gray area, but they are welcoming community input.
Over its 100-year history, the Trustees of Reservations, with about 100,000 members, has had as its mission the preservation, "for public use and enjoyment of properties of exceptional scenic, historic and ecological value in Massachusetts."
Today, the Trustees "enjoy and care for more than 100 "special places" across the state, from the Berkshires to Cape Cod, more than 25,000 acres in all.
Some of those places are properties like Bank's, bequeathed to the non-profit organization while others are privately owned or state land that is under the Trustees' management, such as Mirror Lake, Devens.
The Trustees derive financial support from a combination of resources, including donations, membership fees and fundraising.