Student-focused Wilderness Stewardship Program takes shape at Muddy Pond

Innovative partnership with Plymouth-based Map Academy introduces wilderness to local youth

Map Academy teacher, Lance Merritt, and students at Muddy Pond.

“It has been really rewarding partnering with Joe and Northeast Wilderness Trust so far.  There is a well-established benefit to getting students out in the field and making a tangible difference in their community.”


Lance Merritt, program partner and teacher at Map Academy

At the Muddy Pond Wilderness Preserve in southeast Massachusetts, Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Joe Falconeiri has been spearheading a quiet effort to better connect local youth with a wilderness ethic through specialized programming. 

In a partnership with the Map Academy of Plymouth, MA, students have joined Joe in the field to assist the Wilderness Trust in cleaning up the preserve and flagging old trails for closure and maintenance–the first step in a long rewilding process for this special property.  Founded in 2018, Map Academy recognizes that learning is not limited to the traditional school day or the traditional school walls, and believes the high school experience should not be limited in those ways either.

Northeast Wilderness Trust Southern New England Land Steward, Joe Falconeiri, digs into the natural history of the Muddy Pond Wilderness Preserve with students from Map Academy.

In the first three months of this new partnership, seven students have joined their teacher and Joe on five different occasions.  The founder of Map Academy, Rachel Babcock, attended the first session. 

“It has been really rewarding partnering with Joe and Northeast Wilderness Trust so far.  There is a well-established benefit to getting students out in the field and making a tangible difference in their community,” said Lance Merritt, a teacher at Map Academy.  “In just a few visits, they have been able to see the impact of their hard work.” 

Muddy Pond was conserved by the Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2018.  At 322 acres, it is one of the largest privately conserved forever-wild preserves in the Greater Boston Area.  Northeast Wilderness Trust is currently implementing a three-year short-term management plan to curtail illegal motorized trespass, clean up litter, decommission trails, and develop a long term wilderness management plan. 

“A growing partnership with Map Academy is good for the Preserve and good for the future of wilderness in southeast Massachusetts,” says Joe Falconeiri, Southern New England Land Steward for the Wilderness Trust.  “During work projects on the property, the students have been getting introduced to the concepts of self-willed land and why Northeast Wilderness Trust’s management style is different than most other organizations.” 

Map Academy students explore the shore of Muddy Pond on a recent visit.

As the partnership grows, programming will evolve to include ecological lessons and discussions on how the Preserve and wilderness, generally, enrich our lives—whether in an exurban setting like Kingston or in the furthest reaches of northern New England. 

“Partnerships with groups like Map Academy will always focus on valuing and appreciating nature for nature’s sake.  Northeast Wilderness Trust is firmly rooted in recognition that forever-wild landscapes have intrinsic value worth protecting…it’s part of the DNA of this organization,” said Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of Northeast Wilderness Trust.  “But, we also celebrate wilderness’s many clear benefits to people.” 

Students investigate the impacts of illegal motorized recreation.

Moving forward, Northeast Wilderness Trust hopes to welcome Map students on a regular basis to work with Joe to steward the globally rare Coastal Plain Pond and Pine Barren ecosystems on the property.  A primary goal is to offer students courses and research opportunities at the Preserve that can earn them credits at school. 

In the next few weeks, Map Academy will be partnering with a local ecologist and botanist, Tim Simmons, to lead lessons and days in the field centered around vernal pools. 

Programming like this was part of the vision when the Wilderness Trust took on this “pocket” wilderness, as it’s often referred to.  Such wild forested pockets in an otherwise developed area are still places where nature can direct the ebb and flow of life and set the agenda.  We hope Muddy Pond becomes a resource to the people of Kingston and Plymouth; a physical place to get to know wild nature and become part of the land community that is larger than any one of us.  Northeast Wilderness Trust is excited to help foster a sense of place and pride in the local landscape, tied firmly to wilderness ethics, and to cultivate the next generation of conservation champions in southeast Massachusetts and beyond.

Would you like to volunteer to help us steward and rewild the Muddy Pond Wilderness Preserve, or share your knowledge of local natural history with students and the public? Contact Joe Falconeiri to lend a hand at or (802) 505-5594.

Late day light at Muddy Pond.


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