ROWLEY — A recent call by Mass Audubon to help purchase and protect a 75-acre parcel of the spectacular Great Marsh land located in Rowley has been heeded by the town's Community Preservation Committee, which recently granted $250,000 of Community Preservation Act funding toward the initiative.

The Great Marsh Conservation Initiative, led by Massachusetts Audubon in partnership with Essex County Greenbelt Association and the town of Rowley, is an effort to raise $3 million to purchase and protect these acres of salt marsh and coastal forest in Rowley, some of the most significant coastal open space remaining in the Northeast.

If secured, the parcel, which lies at the end of Patmos Road off Route 1A, will become part of the Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, which will then be approximately 200 acres of protected land in Rowley.

"What makes this land so important is that within a very small area there is such diversity of nature, from upland forests to open fields to the salt marsh, that attracts a wide variety of animals, such as woodpeckers, orioles, deer, rabbits, great blue herons and many shorebirds," said Bill Gette, director of Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Wildlife Sanctuary in Newburyport. "The key to this area is that it links other conservation areas and keeps these beautiful vistas open to enjoy for people and wildlife alike."

This past spring, Mass Audubon was awarded a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant toward this purchase and is optimistic about reaching its $3 million goal, said Liz Albert, manager of land campaigns at Mass Audubon. "Rowley's support of this effort is essential to our reaching our goal," she said.

The community of Rowley has the opportunity to further assist the effort by providing funds to match a $50,000 challenge grant before the Sept. 30 deadline.

"Everyone in town was in support of contributing to this initiative," said Curt Turner of Rowley's Community Preservation Committee. "This is an important piece of land in the area with significant implications for the future if it becomes protected. This is a wonderful opportunity to protect this open land and preserve the Great Marsh for wildlife enthusiasts."

Gette said that Mass Audubon would be good stewards of the town's gift of land and has already envisioned the endless educational opportunities available with the land.

"Rowley has taken a leadership role in this initiative," said Gette. "For a small community like Rowley to make such a generous donation says a lot about its commitment to preserving the special features of Rowley's landscape and its desire to maintain the special characteristics of the town."

A walking tour of the property at Patmos Road will be led by Mass Audubon and Essex County Greenbelt Association members tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. All are invited to attend to learn more about the area and the Great Marsh Conservation Initiative.

For additional information, to RSVP for the walk or to pledge support (gifts will be doubled until the challenge grant is matched), contact Albert at 781-259-2104 or lalbert@massaudubon.org.

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