If you ever walk through Ben and Susie Feldman’s woods, you may wonder if you really just saw a gnome. You did! Susie strategically places gnomes throughout the woods. Encouraging people to enjoy their woods is a passion for the Feldmans!
Ben and Susie hold their land in high regard. Susie has lived on it since she was four years old. Their 450 acres of land is located in the towns of Athol, Petersham, and Phillipston. It also borders Harvard Forest, helping to create a large block of contiguous forest.
Ben and Susie actively encourage the use of their land by the public. There are extensive trails with clear trail markers and difficulty ratings to help people choose the best trail for them. Susie believes that “If you take care of something, people tend to respond to it”. And people do. In addition to trails, Ben and Susie also harvest their own firewood from the land and will occasionally harvest their green certified timber.
Susie and Ben are in the process of diversifying the wildlife habitat in their woods through forest management. They have worked with their consulting forester and a wildlife biologist to develop a management strategy that will improve habitat for animals that like young forest, a lacking habitat in Massachusetts. Their consulting forester then connected them to a responsible timber harvester to implement the management strategy. Susie says the timber harvester, “has been delightfully thoughtful”. Find a forester working in your town.
The habitat work involves creating large openings on 10 acres of land. As Susie states in regard to the cuts, “You have to see it as the beginning of a new forest instead of the end of the old one”. Ben and Susie believe that this type of management will likely bring songbirds like warblers. It will also start a new patch of young seedlings that will regenerate naturally into the opening created through the forest management.
Ben and Susie are very active landowners. Last year, they completed the UMass Keystone Project training for community leaders. They have enrolled their land in the Ch. 61 current use tax program to reduce their property taxes. In addition, they have also joined the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship program, providing them the opportunity to have their woods become Forest Stewardship Council green certified.
So what will happen to this land after Ben and Susie? When thinking about the future of their land, Ben and Susie say their goal is to keep it whole so the youngsters in their family can grow up knowing the land and gain an understanding that owning land is a blessing and a responsibility. They mentioned that passing down land is like a golden albatross, it’s a great opportunity, but a large responsibility. Learn more about planning the future of your land.
Most importantly, as Ben and Susie reiterated many times, “we enjoy our land”. They also graciously allow others to enjoy their land.
So, if you ever find yourself hiking in Ben and Susie’s woods, keep an eye out for the gnomes!