Earlier this year, the Masters of Foxhounds Association presented its Conservation Award for the New England District to Dr. Gilbert Rodgers, Norfolk Hunt Club (MA). Rodgers was recognized for his efforts in preserving a large portion of land formerly owned by Medfield State Hospital for equestrian use. Over the past several months, Rodgers has continued to work with land conservation and public groups to clean up the site and create a gateway to the Charles River. A festive ribbon cutting ceremony was held on October 30, 2015, including Norfolk Hunt members.

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Gil Rodgers' efforts helped create this public overlook at the Charles River. Photo by Ruth Lawler, MFH.

With kennels located in Dover, a suburb of Boston, Norfolk has long needed creativity and initiative to preserve sufficient territory through which to lay their drag line. The Medfield State property, once home to a working farm and mental health facility, had welcomed Norfolk hounds for more than 100 years, but its future was uncertain when the hospital closed. Private development, a golf course, and other possibilities were discussed, but ultimately, the town of Medfield acquired the land. Some of it is in agricultural status, and charitable conservation organizations including the Trustees of Reservations, a friend of the hunt, own other portions. Rodgers' MFHA District Conservation Award noted his tireless work preserving the history of the land's use by the hunt, and its significance to area equestrians, in the effort to keep it open.

Not content simply to protect the property, however, Rodgers and others moved forward actively to improve it. One of the first projects was to clear out the contaminated soil from the hospital dump and create a beautiful overlook of the Charles River. The project was two-pronged in that it also allowed for floodplain preservation to help adjust the river level for the benefit of those living downstream. Rodgers, a dedicated student of local natural history and geology, provided the following description:

"Seldom are we able to witness land and waterways, that have been abused by mankind for over a century, restored to the natural landscape that mother nature created for humans and wildlife to appreciate and utilize. Years of deposits of building materials, waste products, hazardous substances, and refuse dumped along and in the Charles River were removed and the land environmentally restored to provide a beautiful vista and promontory park. Four and a half million gallons of floodplain storage and 3.3 acres of wetlands and riverine habitat were created. 

The project has special significance for the Norfolk Hunt as it reconnects one of the most picturesque riding trails in the area along the Charles River, linking to a vast network of riding and hiking trails encircling the greater Boston area. In special recognition of the 125-year close and compatible relationship between the Hunt Club and the Medfield State Hospital, riders from the Norfolk Hunt Club participated in the inauguration of the Charles River Gateway." 

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Owen Hughes, MFH; Ros Smythe, NHC member and Medfield resident; Ruth Lawler, MFH; Dominic Cammarata, MFH. Amey Moot photo.
 
The ribbon cutting for the Charles River overlook was attended by several dignitaries from the town, the state, and conservation organizations. Norfolk was represented by four beautifully turned out and braided horses and their riders in formal hunting attire. The horses added a festive air to the event and were very popular with the attendees and spectators. 
 
Rodgers notes that the project was funded and managed by the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, in close cooperation with the Town of Medfield, Massachusetts and other conservation organizations. This type of cooperative engagement by multiple local, state, volunteer, and nonprofit groups sharing a central vision is common in hunting countries where territory is hard-pressed by pressure to develop.
 

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