Conserving Dingley Dell

Almost two decades ago, on Columbus Day in 2000, my younger sister and I went on a hot-air balloon ride over southern Worcester County.  The experience remained vividly in my memory but unconnected to any of my everyday concerns.  Then about a year ago, I read that since 2015 the Opacum Land Trust had been working with the family of Dr Clayton Thomas, a “beloved local doctor and creator of the Brimfield Balloon School,” to protect 76 acres of the family property and create a public conservation area in his honor.  Wait a minute, I said to myself, I know this guy: he took us on that memorable balloon ride. Fast forward to 2018: the paperwork was completed and the Land Trust became the caretaker of the Clayton and Margaret Thomas Nature Preserve.  This afternoon, Opacum Executive Director Ed Hood and board members led a group of supporters on a short tour of the property.

Lying in a small valley in the hills of West Brimfield, the area still known as Dingley Dell was a country resort in the early years of the twentieth century, then a sporting club, and since 1964, the home of Dr Thomas.  The newly conserved Opacum land lies just off Route 20 along Monson Road and to the south connects to the Brimfield State Forest.

Managing the forest here will be a critical aspect of the conservation plan:

Professional forester and Opacum Board member Scott Gerrish stands next to a fallen Eastern Red Cedar, a species not all that common in our area:

This is a large pitch pine, a species that thrives in dry, sandy soil:

We were surprised to see this specimen.  It’s an American Chestnut and appears relatively healthy.  The chestnut dominated eastern forests until it was devastated by a fungal blight:

This may be what is known as a “wolf tree” (or maybe not this tree, but we did see them):

Although somewhat well-hidden, this glacial erratic is quite striking when you come upon it:

Farther up the hill, we stopped at a small waterfall, which due to the recent rains, was cascading and splashing merrily along:

It was a bright, sunshiny late autumn day, and it was a pleasure walking the property.  A trail system is in the planning stages, and I look forward to returning to explore the area.

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