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.


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What a Year!

2020 was a painful year and for many of us, unimaginably hard. One thing was clear, we relied on the kindness of others to get us through this year.

For many of us, that meant taking advantage of our great open spaces. Trails and parks were more crowded than ever as we all sought to find ways to be together and be safe. And we have heard from many of you who have taken advantage of our trails to enjoy physically distanced time with friends and family, and how the walks and hikes have become part of your daily routine.

The year was also tough for many non-profits like the Groton Conservation Trust.

We were challenged to scrap all of our plans for walks, talks, and parties and reinvent how we present programming to you, our community. We were lucky to be able to keep our properties open and accessible, and to create new ways to connect with you: online through our many webinars, and offline through virtual walks and independent exploration.

Meanwhile, the seasons unfold and our work behind the scenes continues as well. Early in the year, working with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, we completed the purchase of a critical 50-acre parcel abutting The Throne. In May, we welcomed a new trustee to our board, Brian Bettencourt, Ph.D., whose name you may recognize from the Groton Invasive Species Committee or his other volunteer work in town.

The May 19 microburst led to dramatic changes across the forested landscape of Groton and an incredible outpouring of volunteer support from so many of you. Working with the Trails Committee, we were able to clear most of the trails on Gamlin Crystal Spring, Mason Back 100, and Red Line Path for the benefit of all the residents in town.

Work on our properties has also moved forward. We continue to make significant access and land improvements at the Bates Land as part of our long-term management plan there, and we’ve kicked off cleanup and invasive plant removal at our newest property, June’s Wood. Our work has refocused to include climate action as a key priority in our land management efforts, and we continue to work strategically to manage all of our properties with an eye toward habitat preservation and ecological restoration.

We continue to pay our lease on our empty office at the Prescott Community Center, and pay our Outreach Coordinator, Katy Coburn, to continue our programming and organize our volunteers. Managing our lands for your enjoyment and continuing to work to preserve critical properties remains important to us. So we count on your support more than ever. If you can, please include Groton Conservation Trust in your end-of-year giving.

Throughout the shutdown, we have endeavored to stay in touch with all of you, and what we hear back is how grateful you are for events like the 2020 Virtual Traverse and the open space in Groton and how much you appreciate having a chance to take a break, get outside, recharge, and refresh amidst much stress and uncertainty.

You can donate safely and simply online. If online giving is not your thing, please feel free to drop your donation in the mail to Groton Conservation Trust, PO Box 395, Groton, MA 01450. There are important tax incentives for charitable contributions with the 2020 CARES Act, see the info below.

Thank you for your support, especially in this year. We can get through this together.

Your neighbors and friends:

Ted Lapres, President
Mark Gerath, Vice President
John Llodra, Treasurer
Holly Estes, Secretary
Brian Bettencourt, Trustee
David Black, Trustee
Wendy Good, Trustee
Susan Hughes, Trustee
Ed McNierney, Trustee
Rick Muehlke, Trustee
Bob Pine, Trustee
David Pitkin, Trustee
Heather Rielly, Trustee
Michelle Ruby, Trustee
Chuck Vander Linden, Trustee

New tax incentives through Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The following favorable rules apply to cash contributions made during 2020 to certain charities:

Individuals who do not itemize can claim an above-the-line deduction of up to $300 for such contributions;

Individuals who itemize can deduct such contributions up to 100% of adjusted gross income.

Contributions made to donor-advised funds are not eligible for the incentives, so please check with your financial advisor for details.