Forest Bells Restoration

The Bells are Back!

George Brackett and bell “rider” during installation. Can you spot him?

Visitors to the Forest Bells on the GCT’s Blackman Field and Woods property know that three of the bells have been missing since last fall. They were removed for repairs, and we’re happy to report that all six bells are up and making wonderful music again.

The Forest Bells were created by local artist and craftsman Paul Matisse in 1995, commissioned by the inaugural Artist’s Valentine project, and installed on land owned by Arthur and Camilla Blackman.  The Blackmans donated the land to the GCT in 2000, and the Trust has been the steward of the land and bells since then.

Like any piece of outdoor engineering, the Bells require attention and maintenance.  Paul and his staff have been both attentive and generous in helping to keep the Bells in good working order.  Over the years, we’ve discovered that the main spring at the top of each bell is prone to failure.  When this spring breaks the hammer rests against the bell, making it impossible to ring.  We’ve also found that the arm and hammer assembly can dent and damage the bells as they swing around.

Local arborist and bell-hanging wizard George Brackett provides the expertise to both install and remove the Bells.  Last fall he took down the three non-working Bells and they were delivered to Paul’s shop in Groton.  Paul’s staff analyzed the failures and found solutions.  Modifications were made to the arm and hammer to prevent further damage, and a wholly new spring design was installed.  The bells were also re-coated with Nyalic a transparent protective coating.

But there were still three Bells in the forest without these improvements.

Ken and Joseph installing a new spring.

Ken and Joseph installing a new spring.

Paul, George and Ken and Joseph from Paul’s staff set out on June 19th to set up a field repair shop in the woods to complete the job.  The three repaired bells were re-installed, and then each of the three remaining bells was taken down.  All modifications were installed and each was re-coated with Nyalic.  The completely refurbished Bells were then rehung in their proper locations.

Paul has since re-visited the site and reports they are again ready to make beautiful music in their hemlock grove.  All they need are visitors to explore, discover, and ring them!

To find the Forest Bells, take Old Ayer Road south toward Ayer from Main Street near the Mobil Station.  Then, turn left onto Indian Hill Road and go all the way to the end.  Park cars, but not near the house at the end.  Walk back to the end and bear left up a dirt road into the trees.  Continue along this road, passing at one point under power lines and continuing down into forest.  At the next obvious fork, with the main path going up to the right, turn sharp left on to the side road.  About 50 yards later there are a group of fallen trees barring an old road leading uphill to the right.  Walking over or around the fallen trees, follow that road up the hill.  Continue until you find yourself in a grove of hemlocks, quite different from the pines and oaks all around.  You are at the Forest Bells.

Joseph and Ken repairing the Hammer Mount.

Joseph and Ken repairing the Hammer Mount.

Paul Matisse and George setting up.

Paul Matisse and George setting up.

George is ready for the last installation.

George is ready for the last installation.


Recent Posts

Fallen Trees: What’s next for the microburst damage in Groton?

By Katy Coburn

On the evening of May 15, a line of intense storms swept across upstate New York and into New England. In an unusual May, during which we experienced snow, hail, and rapidly fluctuating temperatures, the storm elevated to a microburst as it passed across Pepperell, Groton, and Westford with winds reaching 100 mph. Subsequent reports and aerial photos showed the storm traveled in a narrow path over Groton, flattening trees, cutting power lines, and causing substantial property damage.

On the ground, the extent of the damage was jaw-dropping. Volunteers from Groton Conservation Trust visited our Gamlin Crystal Spring and Duck Pond properties the following day to find hundreds of trees and branches leaning precariously and on the ground. Many were covering our trails. Some trails, like the Red Line Path, were impassible and even dangerous, with substantial numbers of snags dangling and ready to fall. Trained volunteers from GCT, the Groton Trails Committee, and the community worked diligently to address the danger, cutting and felling hazardous trees to carefully restore safety to the woods. We reached out to this community and a large number of you responded, volunteering to help begin the long-term process of clearing and open the trails. We thank you for your support and hard work.

But what next? Should we remove the fallen trees and “clean up” the forest? Is there a fire risk? Does the forest need to be restored? Isn’t the timber just going to waste? What about climate change and carbon offsets? Land conservation programs typically consider these questions following any natural or human caused disturbances, and our trustees convened to carefully assess our choices.

Our primary concern is for conservation, though we weigh community concerns seriously when making decisions: what’s feasible, what’s practical, and what best serves the nature of Groton. When in doubt, we revisit our mission: “Groton Conservation Trust enhances the quality of life in our community through environmental conservation, and engages residents in the enjoyment and stewardship of our remarkable natural landscapes.” We always evaluate the impacts of habitat preservation, climate change mitigation, and recreational use in our land protection decisions.

Ecologists have studied forest disturbance events in Cornwall, Connecticut, Yellowstone National Park, and particularly in forests in tropical locations like Puerto Rico, where severe weather events are frequent and widespread. Over many decades of researching shorter and longer term impacts of these events, scientists have found that the environment regenerates on its own. Ecosystems are composed of many elements that work in concert to break down fallen wood and to recycle its nutrients: bacteria, insects, fungi, mycorrhizae, and extensive root systems of growing plants all do their jobs efficiently and continuously. 

GCT friend and renowned ecologist Tom Wessels reminded us, when he spoke at our Skitapet property last November, that the best thing people can do to promote the health and vitality of forests is to simply leave them alone. All by themselves, forests (and all ecosystems) will typically regenerate from disturbance events through a process known as succession. We understand, in fact, that ecosystems are dynamic and ever changing, where disturbance is not exceptional nor problematic, and is in fact critical to the functioning of a forest ecosystem. The openings in the forest and the nutrient rich pockets of soil support microhabitats for many of the species that exist in our conservation lands. This mosaic of conditions creates the interplay of resources so important to the preservation of regional biodiversity.

We know fallen trees provide protection from soil erosion and protect other saplings from browsing deer. Wessels also describes, in his book Reading the Forested Landscape, how such trees act as “nurse logs” for new trees (Wessels, 1997). Large trees continue to provide structure and support growth in a forest long after they’ve fallen.

The core of our work is land management, and our overarching goal is to preserve and protect our properties for the benefit of the environment and the community. Groton has a rich and diverse ecology, and we are grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to set aside many kinds of ecosystems. We will closely monitor the properties impacted by the microburst to measure and observe the progress of succession. And we continue to rely on the best practices developed by our scientific and land trust colleagues to make decisions for our land in response to often challenging scenarios. 

The work on the Red Line Path is ongoing, and we have a long way to go to establish safe and passable trails. We express sincere gratitude to Paul Funch, the Groton Trails Committee, and many others who continue to work with us on this massive effort. Meanwhile, the work of the forest has already started: a multitude of organisms have begun to decompose the trees, while others adapt to the new influx of light and nutrients. We hope you join us in this fascinating observation of forests in transition.