WCLT Awards Scholarships 2017

In 2017, its 20th anniversary year, the Westborough Community Land Trust (WCLT) was pleased to award two $1,000 scholarships and two honorable mentions to graduating Westborough High School (WHS) seniors. Awards were made on the basis of essays written for WCLT’s annual Earth Day Essay Contest.

John O’Connell won a scholarship for his essay describing his Eagle Scout experience of building a section of trail and two bog bridges and the feelings, values, and plans that the experience inspired. He plans to attend the University of San Diego after taking a gap year that will include doing volunteer trail conservation in the national parks and hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Kaleigh Wright received a scholarship for her essay describing her experiences of walking Westborough’s trails, introducing a Styrofoam recycling initiative, watching wildlife in her back yard, and promoting wildlife safety as her Girl Scout Gold Award project. She will attend Stonehill College in the fall.

Nicole Bates was recognized with an honorable mention for her essay describing her experience of discovering Indian Pond and becoming connected to nature and the feelings, actions, and plans that resulted. She plans to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Joseph Liebert was recognized with an honorable mention for his essay describing his experiences and appreciation of the Charm Bracelet trails, his feelings about Westborough’s natural heritage, his Eagle Scout project building bog bridges, and other service work done to improve and protect the Charm Bracelet trail system. He will attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“It’s clear from this year’s Earth Day essays that families, WHS classes and clubs, and the Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations all play vital roles in creating a new generation of environmentalists,” said Annie Reid, chair of the WCLT Scholarship Committee. “Congratulations on their fine essays to all the WHS seniors who entered our Earth Day essay contest.”

John O’Connell’s Earth Day essay 2017:


Describe an experience or place in Westborough that has brought you close to nature or has inspired you to see the world from an environmentally conscious perspective. Explain why and anything you have done or plan to do as a result.

I could hear the gentle pitter patter of raindrops on the wood as I looked down at the bridge beneath my feet. I pause; I focus on the feel of the rain as it hits the top of my raincoat. A shiver emanates through my body while I breathe in deeply, the smell of damp autumnal air and fresh rain filling my nostrils. I look up at the path that extends in front of me and smile at the thought that I built this, and because of that, I am now able to stand here, my sole companion being the sound of the rain, at peace.

A little more than two years ago now I completed my Eagle Scout project, for which I put in a new section of trail to replace an older section that was being eroded by water from a drainage pipe put in on Adams Street. After first clearing away extensive brush to make way for where the new path was going to be located, I then removed the topsoil layer so that the trail would become more durable and would not have plant growth. On top of this, I put in two 16-foot bog bridges over an area that was very wet for most of the year and could not be avoided, and I also had to stain the wood with an environmentally safe preservative so as to prevent premature decay. On the last day of the project we put in some stone steps and blocked off the old trail.

This endeavor increased my appreciation for our environment and inspired me in a number of different ways. I had never really had any trail building experience before, so the technical aspect was completely new to me. Learning how to build a trail I think gave me a greater sense of gratitude for how much work people do to make the outdoors accessible and how awesome it is to be a part of that. I would also say that being able to look back on something I helped make made me proud, and also made me feel closer to nature because I worked in tandem with it to create something special, the trail.

The enjoyment I reaped from helping open up the outdoors inspired me to continue hiking and volunteering on trails. For example, over the summer going into my senior year I traveled to Maine with the Appalachian Mountain Club where I performed ten days of volunteer trail conservation work, which I enjoyed immensely. That same summer I also organized a 5-day 50-mile backpacking trip on the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway for some friends, one of which had never been backpacking before. I really savored the chance to introduce him to it and increase his appreciation for the outdoors. Looking into the future, I would say that my Eagle Project has also inspired me to do a month of volunteer trail conservation after graduating, as well as to hike the Appalachian Trail starting in March 2018.

Working in nature is a passion of mine, and I really love the feeling of giving back, and my experience with my Eagle Project on the Westborough Charm Bracelet allowed me to realize those values and thus has inspired me to do even more volunteering on the trails in the hopes of making the outdoors a more enjoyable experience for others, as well as to continue hiking and introducing others to the wonders of the outdoors.

Kaleigh Wright’s Earth Day essay 2017:


Describe an experience or place in Westborough that has brought you close to nature or has inspired you to see the world from an environmentally conscious perspective. Explain why and note anything you have done or plan to do as a result.

I remember sloshing through the muddy trails at Walkup and Robinson Memorial Reservation and Bowman Conservation Area as a young Girl Scout, lathered up with sunblock and drenched with bug spray. Whether it was a day hike or a letter box adventure, I loved connecting with Mother Nature. When I was in middle school, I helped the environment in Westborough by introducing Reduce, Reuse, ReFoamit!, a Styrofoam recycling initiative. My friend and I earned our Silver Award by helping to remove polystyrene foam from landfills. In high school, I have enjoyed walking around Mill Pond at Veterans Freedom Park. It has become my go-to place to decompress and simply enjoy the pond, the views, and the wildlife, especially the swans. These experiences all brought me close to nature, but the place that has brought me closest to nature is my very own back yard.

It amazes me that I can look out my window at home and possibly see a fox, coyote, turkey, chipmunk, bunny, squirrel, deer, mouse, possum, cardinal, bluebird or woodpecker. I remember one time when I was in my driveway with my friend and our moms, and all of a sudden a tiny baby bird fell to the ground near us. I was so sad that it didn’t survive. My neighbor came over with a small shovel and we gently scooped it up and buried it in the back yard. We even made a rock “headstone” with “Wiggles” written on it. That was the name we gave it because it wiggled out of its nest.

All of the wildlife in my back yard inspired me to do my Girl Scout Gold Award on wildlife safety in Westborough. Two other things inspired me, too: I heard about pets being attacked by coyotes and I saw a turtle on Route 135. My Mom and I drove by this small turtle in the road and we didn't stop because we didn't think we should touch it. About an hour later, we drove by that area again and the turtle had been run over by a car. I was heartbroken. I wondered if we should have tried to move it off the road to protect it. I have since learned we should have moved the turtle off the road in the direction it was going.

It was that day that I decided to focus on wildlife safety. I thought maybe I could help to educate residents about how to keep animals, pets and themselves safe when interacting with back yard wildlife. I met with Dr. Pokras at Tufts Wildlife Clinic and he gave me some general guidance and information, like feeding turkeys in your back yard is not a good idea. Turkeys that become accustomed to humans and human-associated foods are likely to lose their fear of people and cause problems. I also learned that it’s not a good idea to get rid of mice with poison. They’ll eat it and die, but another animal might eat the dead mouse and die.

My relationship with Tufts Wildlife Clinic grew when I spent some time observing at the front desk. I held a supply drive to collect blankets, towels and containers to donate to them. Several times when I visited to drop off newspapers for the animals’ habitats, they invited me to tour the facility and see the wildlife they were rehabilitating. It was a great learning experience.

In the end I will have completed over 90 hours on my Wildlife Safety Gold Award. My favorite part of the project is the children’s book I wrote, “Living with Wild Neighbors.” I am printing 100 books and plan to donate some to the Westborough K-6 schools, as well as the library. The book has a poem for each animal (12) and some fun facts. I’ll also be completing a web site with more information on wildlife.

Living in Westborough has definitely brought me closer to nature. It feels good to give back a little bit by helping to protect its wildlife, pets and people with my book and site. No matter where I travel in life, I will always bring with me my love for wildlife thanks to Westborough.

Westborough Community Land Trust, PO Box 838, Westborough , MA 01581
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