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Friends of Willard Brook are busy … over 200 events so far

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TOWNSEND — The Friends of Willard Brook do it all. They build trails, host naturalist programs, raise money and bake great cookies. Most importantly, they seem to have fun doing it.

Emily Norton, a member of the Friends and cookie maker extraordinaire, praised the group at their annual meeting and potluck supper, held June 26 at the Congregational Church in Townsend.

The group has been in existence for four years. She said that during that time they have sponsored over 200 events, from nature walks to trail building. There are some 100 members of the Friends.

The Friends recently completed a 2.3-mile loop trail that begins and ends at the Willard Brook State Forest parking lot. It travels through varied terrain and views including streams, pine groves, laurel thickets, granite ledges and other natural features.

The Friends don’t limit their involvement to just Willard Brook. Their properties also include Townsend State Forest, the J. Harry Rich State Forest in Groton and Pepperell, the Nashua River Rail Trail, Mount Watatic and Ashburnham State Forest.

An old dumping site along the Nashua River Rail Trail was cleaned up by the Friends this spring. Norton said the next big project along that trail is a mural, to cover graffiti on a bridge, and to replace signs along the trail.

The Friends reach out to the community to bring visitors to the parks. They enlisted the help of North Middlesex Regional High School students to help run this year’s successful Winter Carnival, where Norton said Eastern Mountain Sporting Goods provided cross-country ski equipment and instruction to carnival visitors.

Ed Torcoletti, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) supervisor of the Willard Brook Complex, raves about the Friends.

“They’ve been a very good group,” he said. “They lead interpretive programs and bring outdoor experience to other people.”

He said the group also certifies vernal pools and works with student groups from Fitchburg State College.

Conrad Crawford, director of partnerships for the Office of External Affairs and Partnerships at DCR, gave a presentation that emphasized the importance of linking individual Friends’ groups across the state.

Both Crawford and Norton praised state Sen. Robert Antonioni and his office, for helping to pass new liability legislation. Crawford said that this legislation enables the Friends to be listed as special state employees while running events at state properties.

As a result, he said, Friends groups will not have to spend as much money on liability insurance as they have in the past.

Crawford said the agency wants to “build the collaboration to make the visitors’ experience as good as it can be.” Legislators, state and local agencies, user groups and Friends groups are all involved in this process. He estimated that there were over 100 Friends groups in the state.

By focusing on using public transportation, the DCR is looking at “new and creative ways to get people out of their automobiles,” Crawford said. Boston area residents can use the commuter rail to access Walden Pond in Concord and Lincoln and to visit Wachusett Mountain in Princeton.

The Friends are planning activities in this region. Please visit www.willardbrook.org for a complete listing of upcoming events and membership information.

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