The University of the Wild sits in the middle of a beautiful, rural region of central Massachusetts. To the south are the massive, 18-mile-long Quabbin Reservoir and its surrounding wilderness. To the north are forests and lakes, rolling farmland, and small New England villages.
Petersham is a picture-postcard New England village with white, steepled churches and a country store on the town common. Gate 40 of the Quabbin Reservoir is just south of the village. A hiking trail leads to the tip of the reservoir and the remains of several buildings of the town of Dana – the rest of the town is underwater. The famed Harvard Forest is just three miles from the University of the Wild. Petersham, and much of central Massachusetts, is on the ancestral land of the Nipmuc Tribe and Nipmuk Cultural Preservation land abuts the University of the Wild.
Harvard Forest, a department of Harvard University, is a world-renowned ecology research facility of 3850 acres in Petersham. It is one of North America’s oldest managed forests and includes educational and research facilities, a museum, and miles of trails. Benton MacKaye, the co-founder of the Wilderness Society and founder of the Appalachian Trail, taught at Harvard Forest in the early twentieth century.
From 1927 to 1941, the state flooded the Swift River Valley to create a huge reservoir. The reservoir is one of the largest unfiltered water supplies in the United States and the primary water supply for Boston, 65 miles to the east. The surrounding forest is now an equally huge wilderness.
“Relatively free from human disturbance, this sizable area of protected land with a diversity of habitats has resulted in varied and abundant wildlife communities. Wild turkey and white-tailed deer are common, along with smaller species of rodents and birds, which provide food for fox, bobcat, coyote and hawks. More uncommon wildlife, such as bald eagles, common loons, bear and moose are also found at Quabbin…” Quabbin Park and Reservation brochure, Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Massachusetts Audubon Society
Several Mass Audubon sanctuaries are located within a short drive of UofWild, and one of them is in Petersham.
Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary
The 1,500-plus-acre Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary of Mass Audubon is adjacent to the Swift River Reservation of the Trustees of Reservations, both part of one the most extensive areas of uninterrupted protected land in central Massachusetts.
The Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees of Reservations is a Massachusetts nonprofit that protects and stewards over 100 places of ecological, scenic, and historic importance throughout the state. Their biodiverse protected land highlights iconic landscapes, agricultural heritage, horticultural spaces, and other ecologically important areas. Three of their properties are in Petersham.
Brooks Woodland Preserve
Stone walls, abandoned farm roads, and other remnants of old farmsteads weave through the 700-acre quiet forests of towering red oaks, hemlocks, and white pine. Trails follow the Swift River and small brooks, skirting beaver dams and beaver-built wetlands. The Roaring Brook Tract of the preserve is just a short walk from campus.
Swift River Reservation
Three beautiful tracts of land totaling over 400 acres and connected by the East Branch of the Swift River make up this reservation. The river attracts a large number of wildlife species and is one of the most scenic trout streams in the state. Seven miles of trails follow the river, which is the largest tributary of the massive Quabbin Reservoir.
North Common Meadow
Close to the village center, the 25 acres of meadows sport wildflowers, a working hayfield, and a lily pond. The half-mile trail connects with the Buell Woods Trail (through property owned by the family of UofWild founder Larry Buell) which leads to the Brooks Woodland Preserve.