Land Trust acquires 160-acre Edge Hill Golf Course in Ashfield 

The Edge Hill Golf Course in Ashfield was recently purchased by the Franklin Land Trust as conservation land.

The Edge Hill Golf Course in Ashfield was recently purchased by the Franklin Land Trust as conservation land. CONTRIBUTED

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By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-29-2023 10:28 AM

Modified: 11-29-2023 3:05 PM


ASHFIELD — The Franklin Land Trust has closed on its purchase of the Edge Hill Golf Course, adding approximately 160 acres of conservation land under its stewardship in the area.

“We are thrilled to share this news with our supporters and friends who have made this possible,” said Mary Lynn Sabourin, executive director of the land trust. “Your donations, your advocacy and your passion for the land have helped us save Edge Hill and protect this scenic landscape and its biodiversity.”

The land was used for agriculture from 1893 until 1994 before it was converted into a nine-hole golf course and further expanded into an 18-hole course in 2015. Less than two years ago, the Franklin Land Trust entered into an agreement with golf course owner Mark Graves to purchase the property within three years. The land trust exceeded expectations by raising the $755,000 it needed and closed on the deal last week.

The scenic, 160-property was originally purchased in 1893 by Nellie Graves Wheeler, Mark Graves’ great-grandmother, who moved from New London, Conn., and purchased the property, naming it Edge Hill. The family raised dairy cows, established orchards and a sugar bush and grew hay and a large vegetable garden, according to the Franklin Land Trust (FLT).

The Franklin Land Trust already owns 40 acres directly next to this parcel and 975 acres in the Bear River region. The latest sale will mean the land trust has acquired more than 1,000 acres for conservation in this area.

The fourth generation of Graves to manage the land felt a commitment to keeping it intact, according to the land trust. The land abuts a road and could have been divided up to provide 17 new house lots. The land trust paid the full appraised value to the Graves family to keep the land undeveloped.

The woodlands, now 100 years old, are diverse, with pine, maple, black locust, ash and hemlock. Other than the golf course’s open areas, there have been some occasional timber harvests and the maintenance of a successful sugarbush, according to the land trust. The woodlands also house abundant wildlife, including bear, deer, turkey, coyote, bobcat, otter, mink and weasel. Grouse, pheasant and songbirds frequent the land, and a pond and multiple streams course through the land and feed the Bear River.

The land trust announced in February that it reached its fundraising goal to purchase the property and since then has been working to finalize the sale and transfer ownership.

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“We would like to thank the Graves family for their partnership and patience throughout this process, and for being open to the possibility of conservation,” said Sabourin in a statement announcing the purchase.

This is the second-largest piece of land owned by the Franklin Land Trust. The land trust also owns the Crowningshield Conservation area in Heath at 250 acres and the Guyette Farm in Plainfield at 107 acres. The land trust plans to hold a grand opening in spring 2024, and plans to rewild the property, turning it into a grassland and shrubland habitat.

In the coming months, the land trust will improve parking and public access, and it has been in discussions with resource management organizations about working toward restoring the property’s riparian and wetland habitats. The effort is part of a longer conservation effort to protect the integrity of the headwaters of the Bear River and its cold-water fisheries.

Sabourin said it will take multiple years to bring the land back to its natural state. “This is not a short-term process,” she said.

The land trust noted that it will be working to develop a dynamic habitat in the uplands of the property that will contain grassland, shrubland and young forest habitat. This large open space will provide habitat for woodcock, meadowlark and a number of migratory songbirds. The property is near large unfragmented woodlands and provides opportunities for greater biodiversity in the region.

“When a piece of land is protected, it’s easy to think the work is over. But FLT is committed to stewarding land in-perpetuity, and their labors have just begun,” the land trust wrote.

The land acquisition was announced prior to the Giving Tuesday campaign on Nov. 28. More information about the Franklin Land Trust can found online at www.franklinlandtrust.org.

Reach Bella Carmela Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.