Agents of Change |  Grandmother who saves forests

They create news. They are agents of change in their field. But we know little or nothing about them. Pres Gives you that all summer long.

Published at 5:00 am.

Carolyn Dussin

Carolyn Dussin

“I am a housewife and grandmother. »

Margot Heyerhoff is modest. Very modest.

This grandmother has a track record of persuading wealthy landowners to sell or directly donate their vast tracts of land to environmental conservation trusts.

An area of ​​1200 acres (nearly 485 hectares) has been protected so far, representing 900 American football fields. The Massavippi Foundation, of which he is chairman – the foundation of the same name – does not want to stop there.

“If I had known how much work it was, I don’t know if I would have gotten into it,” she says before bursting into laughter.

“It’s very hard, long-term work,” he adds seriously.

A 69-year-old grandmother receives us in a shed converted into an artist’s studio behind her house. From his farm, located a few kilometers from North Hadley village in East Township, there is a magnificent view of the valley of Lake Massavippi.

On one wall of the workshop, a large woman with immaculate white hair has pinned a humorous postcard on which we can see a woman exclaiming with a smile: “Remind me not to volunteer anymore. »

Some negotiations with owners or sometimes their successors drag on for months, even years.

Mme Heyerhoff pulled out a large laminated map of private property bordering the lake. Each red area represents land that is now protected.

First there was this lady from New York – who turns 100 today – who donated five and a half acres of land very close to the lake. Then three of America’s neighbors eased to protect 220 additional acres. Movement started.

“The owner is a real estate developer,” he says, pointing to the 57-acre plot with lake access. “He was hard to convince. He wasn’t going to give us a gift,” she said with a smile still in her voice.

The promoter, as he was getting old, had decided to subdivide the land and sell it in haste. “Find $1.2 million in six months – mortgage free – and it’s yours,” he told Heyerhoff.

Collecting that amount is a race against time. “I invited a lot of friends,” he recalls, adding that other partners and “invaluable” volunteers have been working with him since the project’s inception.

“I would never have succeeded at this alone,” he insists (humbly, it is said).

Patty is assertive and persuasive. For a landowner who wanted to sell an estate—a house, a lakeside boathouse, and a large wooded lot—he suggested three sales instead of one to the highest bidder.

“It’s a win-win,” he says. One person bought a house and another a boathouse, and the trust took over part of the land to hold it. In the end, the seller may have made more money. »

On forest land acquired near Saint-Catherine-de-Hatley, hiking trails have been developed (more than 8 km so far). Another route (2.5 km) was made in a conservation park in North Hadley. A third will be built at Stanstead-Est in Burrow Falls.

The foundation has hired a trail designer of Cree descent. “He’s a genius!” exclaims Heyerhoff, he creates sustainable pathways with minimal disturbance to flora and fauna. »

During epidemics, these pathways are acquired. “Our trails have been beneficial to people’s mental and physical health,” he observes.

Initially, the municipalities — five of which surround the lake — viewed the fiduci plan with skepticism because it could cost them potential property taxes, he says.

But in 11 years, moods have evolved, note Mme Heyerhoff.

Municipalities realized that this was not a loss, but a boon to their population, and added to the savings of the cities.

Margot Heyerhof

A public beach created in 2020 by the Trust is now accessible by canoe or on foot. As public access to the lake is so rare in the region, the project is of capital importance, he explains.

“We protect what we love”

How is it that this “housewife” – and the painter, even if it bothers her to underline it – knocks on the doors of wealthy landowners and other promoters to protect nature?

“We protect what we love,” he replied, quoting oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

Photo by Olivier Jean, The Press

Growing up in Toronto, Margot Heyerhoff fell in love with eastern cities as a teenager.

Mme Heyerhoff was born in Montreal and raised in Toronto. As a teenager, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Compton in the Eastern Townships. This was the beginning of his love affair with the region. Later, he studied at Bishop’s University, where he would later return to work. “For me, this is the most beautiful place in the world. »

In 2000, she and her husband lived in Toronto with their two sons. She visits the area when she sees this beautiful nature farm on a rural row in Hadley County.

The couple bought it to eat a pièce-à-terre in their favorite area. Two years later, her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and decided to retire. The family leaves Toronto and settles on a farm.

A sense of urgency

For 11 years, Heyerhoff and his partners are driven by a sense of urgency. “Many of the owners are elderly. You have to convince them before they die, because then it’s too late; We are losing ground. It is sold by heirs to the highest bidder. »

The lands on the western side of the lake have high ecological value. As a member of the Corridor Appalachian organization, the foundation has partnered with researchers from Université de Sherbrooke to conduct research on fauna and flora there.

Already, several species are listed as endangered in Canada, including the eastern pio – and some stream salamanders (the northern dusky and purple).

Beginning in the fall, the foundation will host three annual visits to eight elementary schools in the region for three-year trails to allow youth to connect with nature. “Children will see the forest in three different seasons,” he marvels.

Want people from surrounding communities to thank you when they pass you by? We ask Heyerhoff. “They change sidewalks,” she laughed again. They knew I was going to ask them for a donation. »

One of her grandchildren, a 5-year-old boy with the same piercing blue eyes, visited her grandmother as she passed. Pres.

During the interview, she looks at him affectionately as he draws on the floor with chalk. It is a little – a lot – that she devotes all her time to this cause, for her generation and for those to come.

“I feel a climate emergency,” Patty says. I can’t save the world, but I can act on my environment in the hope that others will act on theirs. »

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