The Mass Open Space Conference is an event that is designed to convene folks from across the state who sit on Open Space Committees and other relevant town boards who are concerned with protecting and stewarding open space. In an effort to foster peer to peer learning, municipal leaders and town volunteers share their first-hand experiences for successful conservation and stewardship techniques, available funding sources, and to share ideas and insights that lead to innovative thinking.

2019 Mass Open Space Conference

This past Spring, we hosted the 4th Mass Open Space Conference in Gardner at Mount Wachusett Community College resulting in +100 people from Open Space Committees other relevant town boards, and conservation professionals attending. The event provided a FREE statewide forum for volunteer members of town boards with an interest in protecting and stewarding open space to convene to share ideas, resources, and network in a peer-to-peer setting. Those who attended this event and walked away feeling inspired, expanded their network, and with some tangible next steps for how they can realize their goals to protect and steward open space within their own community.

Conference Schedule

Workshop Descriptions from 2019 Mass Open Space Conference

Session 1A: New Powers for Agricultural Commissions

Agricultural Commissions (Ag Coms) have been granted new powers under the Massachusetts General Law. Ag Coms can now hold agricultural land and conservation restrictions, apply for grants, create agricultural land plans for a town’s open space plans, initiate agricultural preservation funds, and manage agricultural land. This session will focus on reviewing new and continuing Ag Com powers and outline strategies to accomplish your municipality’s agricultural goals. In this session you can learn from an experienced land conservation consultant and an active Ag Com member as they help us navigate and implement these new powers.


  • Mary-Louis Altobelli, Chair of Agriculture Commission for Town of Westminster
  • Janet Morrison Esq., Land Conservation Consulting

Facilitator: Kat Kowalski, TerraCorps Member at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

Session 1B: Who’s at the Table? Managing Multiple Partners in OSRP Development and Implementation: A Town Case Study from Lincoln

We all know that collaboration is great in theory, but how can we put it into practice on our Open Space Committees? This session discusses who should be at the table, what benefits may arise, and how to manage multiple partners when writing and renewing your town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan. The session contains a participatory workshop element, inviting attendees to consider who should be at the table and what parts of the OSRP could benefit from more input.


  • Dan Pereira, Parks and Recreation Director for Town of Lincoln
  • Patty Donahue, Parks and Recreation and Youth Soccer Board member for Town of Lincoln
  • Geoff McGean, Executive Director of Lincoln Land Conservation Trust and Rural Land Foundation

Facilitator: Robin Austin, TerraCorps Member at North County Land Trust

Session 1C: Accessing Grants for Land Protection                                 

Land conservation tends to require at least one source of funding to see a project come to fruition. While there is a plethora of grant opportunities available, typically only one or two are really suited to the project at hand. A fundamental understanding of the various grants and their processes and developing relationships with potential partners, can help build the confidence and develop the capacity of municipalities to take on land conservation projects. This session aims to highlight some of the more likely land conservation grant opportunities available, consider how to identify potential projects, and provide case studies on how grants have been used to enact land conservation.


  • Sarah LaValley, Conservation, Preservation and Land Use Manager for City of Northampton
  • David Ziomek, Assistant Town Manager and Director o Conservation and Development for the Town of Amherst
  • Melissa Cryan, MA Executive Office of Environmental and Energy Affairs

Facilitator: Lee Halasz, TerraCorps member at Kestrel Land Trust

Session 1D: Solar Siting Recommendations                     

An expert panel consisting of representatives from town boards, municipal committees and a solar developer will offer a panel presentation regarding the siting and review of solar projects based on the current iteration of the SMART Program. This session will look at the intersection of open space, possible development pressures from commercial solar development, pollinator friendly solar, and alternative zoning language that can be used to encourage the ‘smart growth’ of renewable energy.


  • Dave Small, Chair of Planning and Community Development Board for the Town of Athol
  • Zara Dowling, Energy Committee and Conservation Committee for the Town of New Salem

Facilitator: Michael McGrath, TerraCorps Member at the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership

Session 2A: The Right of First Refusal    

Come learn how a group of concerned citizens successfully helped Southampton navigate and exercise the Right of First Refusal for the very first time when 85 acres of land were slated to come out of the Chapter 61 current use enrollment program in order to be developed. Sustained effort resulted in a new town-owned conservation area, protected with funding from the state’s LAND grant program, and the creation of an open space review committee.


  • Kristina Madsen, community leader in Southampton

Facilitator: Sarah Wells, Director of Land Protection at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

Session 2B: Making your Open Space Committee a Force within Town                                                   

We all know that your town’s Open Space Committee is responsible for writing and renewing the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan. However, the potential for your Open Space Committee to make an impact goes beyond this important planning document. In this session, a peer will share their personal insights on how to run an effective Open Space Committee by sharing insights from over 20 years of project-based exploration. Key lessons learned will be shared for topics ranging from: What should be in your OSRP that no one told you about; outside-the-box strategies for land protection; how to dazzle the public and garner support; tips for creating fortuitous partnerships with unexpected benefits; recommendations for knowing how to use your zoning code; land stewardship projects; public programming to educate and entertain; finding funding and getting projects passed through Town meetings; and of course, making lemonade out of lemons. Attend this workshop if you are looking to boost the impact of your Open Space Committee to protect and steward open space in your town.


  • Freddie Gillespie, Chair of Open Space and Preservation Commission and Chair of the Community Preservation Committee for the Town of Southborough

Facilitator: Michael McGrath, TerraCorps Member at the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership

Session 2C: Reviewing and Renewing your Open Space and Recreation Plan                                          

Open Space and Recreations Plans are an amazing tool for communities to envision future conservation and recreation initiatives and complement a community’s master plan. The planning process can take time, but is easier to complete with some forethought and organization. If you are mid-way through renewing your plan or just discovering that it’s about to expire, join volunteers who have been through it with a representative from Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to dig into the different aspects that go into writing a community’s Open Space and Recreation Plan.


  • Jeff Legros, Conservation Agent and Open Space Committee member for City of Gardner
  • Melissa Cryan, MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

Facilitator: Sara Amish, TerraCorps Member at Sudbury Valley Trustees

Session 2D: The Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program—A Case Study from Arlington

Representatives from the Town of Arlington will explain how a diversity of stakeholders within a town can engage in the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program to prepare our communities for a rapidly changing climate. The presentation will discuss Arlington’s MVP planning experience, its current MVP action grant, and its collaboration on an MVP regional grant with other members from the Mystic River Watershed. The presenters will also share how the MVP process is influencing the drafting of other planning documents within the town such as the Hazard Mitigation Plan and future updates to the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan.


  • Emily Sullivan, Environmental Planner and Conservation Agent for the Town of Arlington
  • Ann LeRoyer, Chair of the Open Space Committee for the Town of Arlington

Facilitator: Ariel Maiorano, Assistant Coordinator of Shaping the Future of Your Community Program at Mass Audubon


Session 3A: Landowner Outreach

In this workshop town staff will share their experiences in reaching out to fellow residents within their town who are interested in exploring conservation options. This session will cover effective strategies for outreach events for landowners, estate planning workshops, talking points for land conservation, an overview of Chapter 61, and personal anecdotes for how to approach landowners. Resources such as “Their Land, Their Legacy” and “Using a Will to Pass On Your Land” will also be made available to those who attend.


Facilitator: Paul Catanzaro, Associate Professor at UMASS Forestry Extension

Session 3B: Using GIS to Think Strategically

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are used by many town volunteers to meet the state’s requirements for Open Space and Recreation Plans, to keep track of their conservation lands, to decide which lands are most important in town, and to improve fundraising success. GIS does not need be expensive or scary and can be a fun way to learn more about your town. In this session–led by a GIS professional who sits on an open space committee–we will discuss some free data and software needed for plans, look at some new data that will help you think more strategically, and talk about some ways to make your mapping less burdensome. No mapping experience is required.


  • Brian Hall, Chair of Open Space Committee and member of Conservation Commission for the Town of Athol and Harvard Forest GIS Research Assistant

Facilitator: Fletcher Harrington, Community Conservation Program Manager at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

Session 3C: Using CPA funds to assist with Open Space and Recreation Projects

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a great funding source for many towns and can lead to innovative and collaborative projects. This session features a panel of Open Space Committee Members and other municipal volunteers who will discuss projects they completed in their towns using CPA funds. Bring your questions about project design, incorporating Open Space and recreation projects, or CPA logistics to pick the brains of the people who have been there.


  • Jassy Bratko, former Open Space Committee member for the Town of Hubbardston
  • Freddie Gillespie, Chair of Open Space and Preservation Commission and Chair of the Community Preservation Committee for the Town of Southborough
  • Bill Taylor, Open Space Committee member in the Town of Upton

Facilitator: Robin Austin, TerraCorps Member at North County Land Trust

Session 3D: Planning Resilient Trail        

Trail building can be instrumental to both bringing people into nature and also limiting the human footprint in these delicate natural spaces. Building resilient trails which stand the test of time is central to ensuring that these spaces can continue to be used, without frequent rebuilding or complete abandonment. In this session, speakers will discuss ecological analysis, trail design principles, matching trail amenities to trail classification, infrastructure for nature-based design, accessibility, and thinking about how to prioritize trail placement on public land.


  • Tamsin Flanders, UMass-Amherst Regional Planning Program and Conway School of Design alumna

Facilitator: James Eager, TerraCorps Member at Berkshire Natural Resources Council

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