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Harvard Forest and the Town of Petersham

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Harvard Forest is spread over 3,700 acres of land in Worcester County, Massachusetts (on ancestral Nipmuc land). About 40 people are employed full-time (see staff list) at the Forest’s main office in Shaler Hall at 324 N. Main Street in Petersham.  Each year, an additional 150 scientists and students use these lands to conduct scientific research. These researchers come from across the region, country, and world.


  • In Fiscal Year 2021, the Forest paid taxes to the Town on 5 residences.    
  • The Forest pays taxes on most houses but not on research/education property.


The Forest takes pride in supporting local contractors and businesses. In Fiscal Year 2021, HF made the following payments to local businesses:

Athol $15,392
Barre $30,048
Gardner $4,697
Orange $14,446
Petersham $15,424
Town of Petersham: taxes $20,114
Phillipston $1,543
Rutland $30,406
FY21 TOTAL Paid to Local Vendors $132,070















  • About a dozen full-time employees are resident homeowners in Petersham, Athol, Orange, or Barre.
  • HF hires local high school and college students for lab, research, and facilities work.


Current and recent employees serve on Petersham government committees and volunteer for local non-profits such as Mt. Grace Conservation Land Trust, N. Quabbin Partnership, East Quabbin Land Trust, Athol Bird & Nature Club, and Miller’s River Watershed Council.


Formal Education Programs

  • Teacher training for K-12 educators via the Schoolyard Program
    • Over 40 area teachers participate in at least one of the three Schoolyard teacher professional development workshops offered each year. 
    • Graduate credit from Fitchburg State University is now available to teachers participating in the Schoolyard program.
  •  Education programs for field trips by local schools and other groups. In 2017, we hosted
    • 23 guided K-12 field trips, each group ranging in size from 8-100 students (note: scholarships are available for 2018 K-12 field trips)
    • Over 30 university field trips, with some groups of more than 50 students
    • 15 professional conferences, including the Mass. Department of Conservation & Recreation, the Association of American Geographers and The Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

Fisher Museum

Open to the public from 9-4 on weekdays throughout the year and from 12-4 on weekends during the summer

  • A group of approximately 35 volunteers from Petersham and surrounding towns staff the museum on summer weekends. Each year they interact with1,000+ public visitors.
  • Throughout the year, the Museum receives between 4,000-6,000 visitors, who are frequently referred to nearby businesses and organizations.
  • 2 self-guided natural history trails are available for non-motorized use 365 days per year. Trail maps are available in the Museum.

Seminars and Talks

  • HF staff members give presentations at venues including local libraries and local non-profit organizations
  • Weekly seminars at Harvard Forest, held on Friday mornings from September to May, are open to the public and also viewable in real-time online
  • Public events in the Fisher Museum are publicly advertised and well-attended

Natural History Resources


All of Harvard Forest land is open to the public for recreation; visitors are asked to stay on the trails and not to disturb any experiments.  Motorized recreation, camping, and fires are not permitted.

  • Hiking
  • Dog-walking
  • Snowshoeing & cross-country skiing
  • Boating and fishing
    • Harvard Pond
    • Connor’s Pond (jointly owned by HF, TToR, and Mass Audubon; Swift River Trust)
  • Hunting – available on ~90% of Harvard Forest land (excludes intensive research sites and Harvard Pond due to migratory birds)
  • Several local and state hiking guide books include the hike from the main Forest campus to Prospect Hill (AMC, 50 Hikes in Massachusetts, etc.)


HF partners with local organizations to protect appropriate land from development:

  • Land trusts:  Mt. Grace Land Trust and East Quabbin Land Trust
  • Conservation groups:  The Trustees of Reservations, Mass Aubudon
  • Local and state Government:  MA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Fish & Game and Town of Petersham

HF has worked with the above partners to purchase abutting properties to keep them open space, including:

  • Gould Lot protected from plan to build 40 low-income housing units (MGCLT and Town of Petersham);
  • Wilson Lot protected from plan to build 17-27 houses on Prospect Hill Rd. (EQLT);
  • Bryant Woodlot and farmstead purchased to allow restoration and revitalization of abandoned farmland (MGCLT);
  • Parcel on Rt. 122 next to Slab City proposed for subdivision into 6 house lots.

HF has helped the Town of Petersham and individuals protect their land:

  • Helped discontinue some roads in Petersham and convert land to recreational footpaths; these were noncontroversial and supported by the town
  • Help private landowners establish conservation easements/restrictions (ex. St. Scholastica)
  • Assisted the town with elements of grant proposals related to land protection efforts

Agricultural support

  • Continue to develop pastureland on Forest lands and allow some local farmers to graze their cattle;
  • Purchase produce from local farms when possible for summer research program board;
  • Give away free sawdust to local residents including farmers, horse owners, etc.


  • 2013-Present: Annual sponsor of Petersham Police D.A.R.E. Program.
  • 2019: Donated $1,000 to the Petersham Memorial Library towards accessibility upgrades.
  • 2017: Donated $100 toward pancake breakfast hosted by the Petersham Center School to raise funds for playground updates.
  • 2014: Donated $5,000 in renovation funds to the "Restore the Country Store" effort, plus auction items and local red oak lumber that will serve as the foundation of the new seating area in the newly re-opened store.
  • 2013: Donated $2,500 to the Friends of the Athol Public Library for renovation fund.
  • 2012-2013: Purchased passes to the Harvard Museum of Natural History for the Petersham Memorial Library.
  • 2010: Provided $2,500 towards new Petersham fire truck.
  • HF Archive staff work with Petersham Historical Society members on projects;
  • HF staff help with planning and mapping for the Town that otherwise would require hiring independent contracts to complete. One successful past project was when HF staff helped develop tax maps for the Town;
  • Collaboration with the Petersham Art Center (a 2011 show by HF Artist-in-Residence Debby Kaspari) was very successful; there is potential for future partnerships for science-art programs.
  • HF staff assist with specialty equipment and labor such as:
    • Sawing wood for the dog pound and the fire department addition;
    • Providing bucket truck and trained tree operator to clean up the local cemetery;
    • Forest owns Prospect Hill Fire Tower which is staffed by state employees during times of high fire risk;
    • Local fire trucks fill tanks from Harvard Pond.  HF is working with the Fire Department to develop a 2nd pump on the main campus in north Petersham.