Everyone deserves access to nature
They say we ought to slow down from time to time, stop and smell the roses, bathe in the forest. Many of us are fortunate to have a special place to go when we need to escape. For others, finding that sense of place can be more challenging. Many communities, even rural ones, often lack land that is open to the public and easily accessible within a short walk or drive.
Years ago, the Village of Cambridge and Town of White Creek identified this need to protect natural resources and create more recreational opportunities, such as hiking and mountain biking, when developing their comprehensive plans. However, there was no obvious way to address this need when the comprehensive plan was developed nor in the years since.
Meanwhile, things got worse in terms of reaping the health benefits of public access to nature. Studies show that kids are spending less time outside than the average prisoner! In fact, one study of children 10-16 years old determined they spend, on average, 12.6 minutes per day on vigorous outdoor activity and 10.4 waking hours being relatively motionless. The implications for health and fostering an appreciation for the natural environment are frightening.
So, when 140 acres across from the Cambridge Central School recently went on the market, community members led by Jared Woodcock approached ASA to advocate for the public use of this land. ASA listened to the voices and the stories. ASA board and staff discussed and debated this opportunity for months, looking at it from every angle. While ASA’s mission has always included protection of working forests, and the majority of our easements contain at least some woodlands, all of ASA’s conserved properties were, until now, privately owned. ASA had never owned a property.
Including More People
With grants from the Open Space Institute, The Fields Pond Foundation, the Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region and leadership gifts from enthusiastic community members, ASA purchased the 140-acre forest now known as the Cambridge Community Forest on June 6 of this year. That was Phase 1.
Currently ASA is working on Phase 2, which includes site improvements, trail work, signage and community engagement. And, of course, fundraising to make this all possible. If all goes well, ASA hopes to open the property to the public during the fall of 2020. Going forward, the land will be managed for public recreational use, educational programming and as a demonstration site for sustainable forestry management.
The Cambridge Community Forest is a strong step in the direction of building the hearts and minds in today’s youth so that they, too, will care about the land and all that inhabits it. Aldo Leopold’’ stated, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Community forests become part of the heart and soul of a community, creating a place for all generations to both enjoy and learn. ASA is thrilled to be working with the community to help meet this need.
“We’re very fortunate to have the Cambridge Community Forest within walking distance of the entire village. Its beautiful forested slopes, rocky hilltops and crystal-clear streams are a great place to relax, exercise and explore. The forest is also a great teaching resource for the nearby school and will allow kids to experience the many benefits of spending time in nature.” – Stephan Deibel
“Taking students to the forest provides an excellent opportunity for interdisciplinary and experiential learning. The outcome will be students who are enthusiastic and engaged in their learning. This leads to increased academic achievement in all disciplines. Outdoor education also builds the problem solving and decision-making skills that are necessary to address complex environmental issues.” – Beth O’Grady
"Given the different forest community types and the presence of the stream as an aquatic resource, the Cambridge Community Forest serves as a fantastic resource as an outdoor classroom. This past fall, my AP Biology students investigated field sampling techniques in the forest and observed evidence of current and historic human activity. Any chance we can get students hands on experience out in the field, is a good day in the classroom." – Stephanie Gifford