Lowell’s Incredible CPA Debut - Transforming “Rollie’s Farm” into the Pawtucket Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

Rollie's Farm in Lowell

Written by Chase Mack

First impressions can count for a lot, and the same can be said for CPA when it comes to a community’s first completed project. An impressive “CPA debut” can signal to residents that their investment into community preservation efforts is worthwhile, as well as setting the tone for what other successes await in the future. Shortly after the city of Lowell adopted the CPA program in 2021, an amazing opportunity was presented to the local Community Preservation Committee to save a piece of property known as Rollie’s Farm. This 20-acre farm had been owned by the same family for 70 years, and while Lowell had once been the home to a variety of agricultural properties, the woodlands of Rollie’s Farm were the very last of its kind in the area. But thanks to a grassroots collaboration between the municipality and both state and local nonprofits, the Lowell CPA program has just celebrated its very first CPA Success Story by permanently protecting Rollie’s Farm and transforming this conservation land into the Pawtucket Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.

Parron Family on Rollie's FarmRollie’s Farm was purchased by Roland and Carole Perron in 1953, and the couple raised their children on the property while cultivating the land as a small, local farm operation. In 1978, the Perron family took advantage of the newly created Chapter 61A in order to protect the property as farmland, which allowed them to keep the property in the family. Soon after, one of the Perron children, Roland Jr. (or Rollie, as he is known by in the community), took over operations - and over the ensuing years “Rollie’s Farm” became a local staple for corn and tomatoes, as well as 12 acres of the land dedicated to a “choose-and-cut-your-own” Christmas tree farm.

Across those many decades, the Perron family received several offers from developers to acquire this valuable piece of open space - but both Roland Sr. and Rollie Perron had turned down each of these proposals in an effort to maintain this rare piece of agricultural land as a family operation. However, by 2022, Rollie Perron was beginning to consider retirement, and he realized that the generational farmland in his possession would only be able to operate for a few more years. But instead of selling off the property for commercial or residential development, he instead decided to work with the City of Lowell to permanently protect his family’s legacy for generations to come.

Community Meeting for Pawtucket FarmCollaboration is always key when it comes to the best CPA projects, and in Lowell, several different stakeholders banded together upon recognizing the kind of opportunity that Rollie’s Farm presented. If properly protected, this family farmland could be an invaluable treasure for Lowell residents with opportunities not just for conservation interest, but also recreational trails, community gardens, and urban agricultural education. During the city’s first CPA funding cycle, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, Mass Audubon, and Mill City Grows (a Lowell-based urban food justice organization) submitted a joint application requesting a CPA grant of $1.5 million – their goal was to acquire the 20 acres of available land and place a permanent conservation restriction on each parcel. These three organizations also put together an impressive plan to transform Rollie’s Farm into a wildlife sanctuary and community farm, and their CPA application included letters of support from Congressperson Lori Trahan, State Senator Edward Kennedy, State Representatives Vanna Howard and Thomas Golden Jr., the Pawtucketsville Citizens Council, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

The Lowell Community Preservation Committee approved of the substantial CPA contribution to the total $12 million budget proposal, and by the end of 2023, the first phase of the project had come to fruition - Rollie’s Farm had successfully been protected, and plans were already underway to make the land open to the public the following year. At a ceremony marking the completion of the acquisition, Renata Pomponi from Mass Audubon made it clear that one organization alone could not have accomplished this significant feat.

“This is an example of longstanding, wonderful organizations coming together and working with the community to meet the needs that they have seen for years, if not decades, of open space in Lowell.”

Map Plan for Pawtucket FarmHowever, the acquisition of the property and the placement of a conservation restriction is only the first step towards creating what will be known in the future as the Pawtucket Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. While the local coyote, bobcat, deer, and fish that inhabit the woodlands abutting the existing Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsborough State Forest would certainly benefit from its protected status, an important priority for the organizations leading the project was to make this investment serve the surrounding community. The second phase of their plan is to provide public access to the property by creating more parking, improving the existing trail system, as well as building an outdoor classroom for educational opportunities. Following this, phase three would expand the use of the property by constructing an education center and permanent farm stand, as well as creating space for a community garden, which residents had overwhelmingly indicated was an important need for residents during local feedback sessions.

While Lowell has only had the Community Preservation Act for a few short years, permanently protecting the Rollie’s Farm property has already proven that CPA was a worthy investment. Recognizing the property’s longstanding significance as the city’s last remaining farmland, this triumph in the name of conservation and community access clearly shows that Lowell residents have a lot to look forward to. After such an impressive start, we can’t wait to see what Lowell does next with CPA.

Further Resources:

Pawtucket Farm Wildlife Sanctuary