MECT’s conservation work is focused on preserving ecologically important land for wildlife habitat, water quality protection, flood prevention, biodiversity, research, and passive recreation.
Measured and consistent effort since 1963 has resulted in the permanent protection of many special areas in Manchester and Essex. MECT holds title to approximately 1,500 acres of land in both communities. In addition, MECT holds 25 conservation restrictions that protect over 275 additional acres.
Wilderness Conservation Area
MECT protects a variety of coastal areas and wooded preserves throughout Manchester and Essex. However, for several decades, MECT’s land conservation efforts focused on the Wilderness Conservation Area (WCA), the heart of the woodlands connecting the two towns.
The WCA includes roughly 2,000 acres of contiguous woodlands. The woods are a truly beautiful, wild, and quiet place for walking, cross-country skiing, and appreciating nature. The terrain varies from cliffs and rocky outcrops to red maple swamps and pine, hemlock, and oak forests, interspersed with beech, maples, and wildflowers.
The woods contain several historic sites. They also provide critical public health benefits by filtering rainwater that becomes public drinking water and by storing stormwater during heavy rainfall events.
Because of large, un-fragmented open space and undisturbed soils, the woods also contain unusual plant and animal species. Scientific studies have documented the presence of rare animals and plants. In addition to MECT, The Natural Heritage Program of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Nature Conservancy, Essex County Greenbelt Association and The Trustees of Reservations have all long supported efforts to save the woods.
Manchester Essex Conservation Corridor
Looking forward, we have expanded our land conservation focus through the lens of BioMap2 and watershed boundaries to delineate a “Manchester Essex Conservation Corridor” that is centered on the WCA but also includes land both east and west that is important to our conservation criteria.
MECT completed its first Strategic Plan in 2015. The Plan identified four specific land acquisition goals: fully preserve the WCA; identify mission-critical lands in both towns; protect drinking water supplies; and identify and develop strategies to address threats posed by climate change. Since MECT adopted that first strategic plan, it has honed in on two criteria – biodiversity of plant and animal life, and water quality – as the most critical qualities of local woodlands and other natural areas that merit conservation.
The concept of the Manchester Essex Conservation Corridor came through blending all four of MECTs land acquisition goals and viewing them through the lens of biodiversity and water quality protection.
The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) and the Nature Conservancy’s Massachusetts Program (TNC) developed a “BioMap 2” data layer as a tool designed to conserve biodiversity in Massachusetts by identifying land most critical for protection in order to ensure the long-term persistence of rare and other native species and their habitats, exemplary natural communities, and a diversity of ecosystems.
We superimposed the BioMap2 data layer over the Manchester and Essex watershed boundaries to identify land specific to our organizational goals. What we found was a distinct corridor
of undeveloped land that encompasses the WCA and expands beyond both town boundaries to include land in Gloucester, Hamilton and Wenham. This is our new focus. This Manchester Essex Conservation Corridor contains the land that provides habitat for a healthy and diverse array of plants and animals and also protects our drinking water supply.