TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee is being featured as a case study throughout the month of March at the Massachusetts Open Space Conference. The conference is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Merrimack River Watershed Council, North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Sudbury Valley Trustees, and the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barren Alliance.
The committee is being highlighted for its pollinator garden project, established in 2020. While writing their Open Space and Recreation Plan, the Tewksbury Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee (OSRPC) realized that protecting local open space wasn’t sufficient. OSRPC needed to get the community excited about open spaces and understand that protecting local open space alone was not sufficient.
Through implementation of a pollinator project the OSRPC saw an opportunity. The group planted seven native plant gardens that promote natural pollinator habit while giving residents a new way to engage with open space.
Through partnership with the Tewksbury Cultural Council, the OSRPC received a $2,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The grant request generated strong local support. Planting sites were chosen by reaching out to town organizations such as the garden club, the library, and schools.
Ultimately, the OSRPC chose to establish native planting sites at the high school, one elementary school, and on town conservation properties — some at trailheads and some deeper in the woods.
The project was shared in the local paper, the town newsletter, and on social media. While planting sites are still young, OSRPC members have already noted significant community interest in each garden. Funds were used to buy seven native plant kits from the Native Plant Trust.
Each kit contained 70 to 80 plugs ready for planting and had species tailored to different types of sites (full sun, partial sun, or wetland conditions). The kits saved a significant amount of time that would have been required to research and choose native plants.
Prior to planting, OSRPC members prepped each planting site by cleaning up trash (a particular problem at trailheads) and removing invasive species. Sites deeper in the woods needed less prep but required mindfulness.
While native plants were being used, the OSRPC didn’t want to replace what was already there; instead, they strove to choose sites where a garden would be an addition to the landscape. After plugs were delivered, OSRPC members conducted plantings at each site — sometimes individually, sometimes in small, socially-distanced groups.
Once planted, sites initially needed lots of watering due to a hot and dry summer. However, as native plants, they’re expected to naturally adapt and require only minimal maintenance over time. In coming years, the OSRPC hopes to create additional native plant gardens at other sites such as the senior center.
Once the original plantings are well established and germinating, seeds can be gathered and used to expand to these new locations. This growth will also offer new ways for the community to get involved with open space. The OSRPC had planned to involve community volunteers in planting the initial gardens but the pandemic prevented this.
In the future, interested residents will be able to help maintain sites, gather seeds, and create new native plant sites once it’s safe to do so. By opening plantings to volunteers and utilizing the first pilot gardens for seed, the project can further expand.
Member Chris Mullins reflected on the project after its first year: “the Tewksbury OSRPC’s only regret was not starting a pollinator project sooner.”
Chairperson Jennifer Balch-Kenney said, “The work increased community engagement, provided new partnerships, and improved open space habitat, all with minimal funding… and it was a blast to put together!”
The OSRC welcomes residents to their meetings each month and inquiries may be sent to email@example.com.