History of the RGT

History of the RGT


In 1987, concern about the fragility of Rattlesnake Gutter was growing. Logging trucks and construction equipment increased traffic on the road to an alarming degree; as local landfills became transfer stations and required payment for dumping, more and more trash was being rolled over the edge and into the delicate habitat at the bottom; hikers were cavalier about picking rare and protected flowers such as lady’s slipper.

And then it was learned that a forty acre piece of land at the very heart of Rattlesnake Gutter was going on the market. This news achieved two things: an increased alarm about the possibility of purchase by someone determined to one day develop this land, and a translation of that alarm into a determination that the Town of Leverett should buy the property to insure against such a possibility.

A group of friends and neighbors came together to assist in the Town’s purchase of that forty acres, the very keystone of the Gutter. They called themselves the Friends of Rattlesnake Gutter and set about raising money by soliciting support from fellow townspeople, selling tee shirts and collecting returnable cans and bottles. The most significant achievement of the group was drawing attention to the situation: the depredation of the unusual flora, the significant wear and tear on the road, the appalling collection of trash that was piling up at the bottom of the gorge, and, of course, the breathtaking beauty of this geologically unusual area which they felt quite keenly was threatened.

In the midst of this effort, someone suggested that the Friends should consider organization as a land trust to shepherd not only the Gutter purchase, but also future efforts to preserve and protect open space in Leverett and surrounding communities. The first public meeting of the Rattlesnake Gutter Trust was held on February 24, 1988. By-laws were accepted and a Board of Trustees was elected.

In 1990, the Gutter keystone was purchased by the Town of Leverett. The Trust, formerly the Friends, contributed $21,000 to the effort. Shortly thereafter, a clean-up was organized, and volunteers skidded down the gravel bank to the Gutter’s bottom to pick up assorted small items before professional haulers winched out fifty gallon drums, car parts, stoves, refrigerators, and tires.

RGT worked quietly and steadily after this success, contacting other landowners in the Gutter area, developing priorities in other parts of Leverett and learning about various methods of land protection.

A very important element of the initial success was collaboration, in the case of the Gutter, collaboration between Leverett’s Conservation Commission and the Kestrel, Wharton and Rattlesnake Gutter Trusts. In a small community, collaboration in the work of preservation is vital. In the years since the its formation, the Trust has contributed to the purchase of 36 acres on Long Hill (1994) and the 30 acres that comprise East Leverett Meadow (1997). In both cases, the Trust worked with friends and neighbors to raise enough money for purchase and then accepted the deeds. Generous gifts of land include a 13.5 acre parcel along Shutesbury Road (Andrew Scheffey, 1998), 26 acres on Old Whitney Road (1999), 16 acres on Rat Hollow Road (Howard and Eleanor Mosher, 2004), 24.5 acres on Cave Hill Road (Elise Kroeber, 2009), and 16 acres in East Leverett (William and Nancy Bates, 2013). Membership contributions and funds raised through item sales and the collection of returnable cans and bottles enabled the purchase of an additional 20 acres on Old Whitney Road and 57 acres on Diamond Match Ridge. All told, RGT owns and manages 10 properties of over 300 acres.

The Trust now holds Conservation Restrictions on 7 privately owned properties (186 acres). This method of protection leaves the land in the hands of its owners while giving them certain tax advantages. A conservation restriction preserves the land as open space in perpetuity and is a valuable tool for both land trusts and landowners who wish to be certain that their acres remain undeveloped.

RGT also holds Conservation Restrictions on 6 properties (143 acres) owned by the town and purchased with funds from the Community Preservation Act (CPA). Collaboration with the town is not new. Throughout our history we have actively worked with the town in the identification and purchase of properties: from Rattlesnake Gutter itself to Roaring Brook to the CPA-funded properties. Most recently, RGT and the Leverett Conservation Commission co-sponsor the Leverett Trails Committee whose long-range goal is to have well-marked, mapped, maintained, and described network of trails throughout Leverett and to involve the community through trail-related projects from trail-building to photography and poetry. Collaboration continues to be essential in accomplishing our goals.

RGT sponsors educational programs at the Leverett Elementary School and offers hikes and programs for the community. The Trust’s annual meetings, generally held in June, includes both the election of new board members and some kind of celebration. Most recently: a walk on a new property (Ellamoose Repose in 2009), an event honoring a major milestone – 1,000,000 bottles and cans – and the contributions of Gordon King (2010), a hike on the CPA-protected Friendship Trail with Philip Woodard’s stories of the area and an opportunity to enjoy Julie Collier’s excellent Birds of Prey presentation (2011), a celebration of the Teawaddle Hill Farm Conservation Restriction (2012), a celebration of RGT’s 25th year at the East Leverett Meadow (2013), an event on a beautiful day on the top of Long Hill honoring the lead volunteers of the Returnable Shed (2014), and a lovely gathering on the Congregational Church shoreline (2015).