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

Celebrating 2018 and You

Thanks to You

At this year’s Tom Wessels walk and talk, we were able to create a “symphony for Tom” using the Forest Bells.

Your membership helps our all-volunteer board protect ecologically important areas and provide public access to over forty pristine conservation properties comprising 1,400 acres in Groton. These parcels are integral to a wider mosaic of contiguous habitat that benefits wildlife as well as hikers and bikers who relish the rich and diverse town-wide trail network.

Your support not only protects special places, it ensures that you will receive invitations to all our events like the ones mentioned here. If you are already a member, now is the time to renew your commitment for the coming year. If you are not yet a member, now is the time to become one!

Here are few of our highlights from the year. We are grateful to all our generous supporters. Thanks to people like you, conservation is working in Groton!

Finding a Rare Salamander

Creating citizen scientists right in our own backyard.

Those who attended our Annual Vernal Pool Walk in April witnessed the discovery of a Marbled Salamander. “The Marbled Salamander finding in Groton is significant because the species is extremely rare in this region of the state, and it fills an important gap in our understanding of the species’ distribution in Massachusetts,” reports DFW scientist Jacob Kubel. “The Groton find and gives us renewed hope that there are additional local popu- lations to be found in western Middlesex County and northeastern Worcester County.”

Read more about this and Holly Estes’ story on our iNaturalist launch and efforts HERE.


Sharing the Land

On a late October Sunday, I spent a few hours as a lost hiker in the woods with a group of volunteers from Massachusetts Rescue and Recovery K9 Unit (MARK9) volunteers on the Shepley Hills property. The MARK9 group uses Shepley, in partnership with the GCT, as training for their search and rescue dogs.

The MARK9 group assists law enforcement agencies and rescue agencies in finding lost persons. Their specialty is live rescues, and most often centered on wayward hikers, wandering elders, or persons who become confused and are reported missing. On this day I met Paul Morris of Harvard, with his dogs Ditto and Arwen; Dale Chayes of Acton, with Frodo; and Tyler Bresse of Auburn with Pippa.

Read Susan Hughes’ story on how the GCT hosts this great organization HERE.

Walks to Better Understand our Landscape

It was a lovely sunny morning when we met Trustees Michelle Ruby and Susan Hughes at the Bates Land parking lot on Old Ayer Road. They had invited us to join them in this year’s Tree Identification Walk.

Tree identification began just over the brook, at the edge of the parking lot, with one of the most prevalent invasive species common to our town, American bittersweet, a woody vine with colorful yellow/orange pea-sized berries this time of year, and colorful orange roots. Bittersweet harms other plants by tightly winding around them, but does not extract nutrients.

Read more from John Moores’ story on his tree ID hike adventure HERE.