Mass Audubon drops plan to purchase Little Harbor Country Club

Aug 25, 2021

Citing primarily an unexpected level of support for maintaining the Little Harbor Country Club’s status as one of Wareham’s two golf courses, the Massachusetts Audubon Society has announced it is abandoning plans to purchase and restore the property to its natural state.

Mass Audubon had planned to turn the golf course into conservation land by restoring the forests and salt marshes that once existed there. The organization also planned to convert existing golf cart paths into accessible walking trails. The group had hoped to secure $400,000 of the town’s Community Preservation Act funds for its efforts.

Mass Audubon representatives had explained that purchasing and restoring the Little Harbor Country Club land would be a step toward preserving the larger ecosystem in the area. The land would have acted as an addition to Mass Audubon’s other nearby conservation land — Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.

After facing criticism from town officials and citizens alike, Mass Audubon has announced it will be abandoning its plans. 

“When we began the purchase discussions, it was against a backdrop of research suggesting that golf as a sport was on the decline and had been for some time,” Mass Audubon said in a statement. “Mass Audubon prides itself in practicing conservation at the local level — implementing projects that yield a broad array of timely and well-received benefits to the host community. Due to the stronger-than-realized support for continued golf on this site — including by those in town government — our conservation vision came into question, and even became the target of unfounded public criticism from some quarters.”

Some of that criticism came out during a Community Preservation Committee meeting on July 28.

Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside expressed frustration that Mass Audubon — an organization that she said had a gross income of $64 million in 2019 — was asking the town for $400,000 “to take a community, well-loved resource, which is recreational” and turn it into conservation land. She added that the town had already expressed its lack of desire to partner with Mass Audubon on the project at prior meetings. 

Bernie Pigeon, a Wareham resident and the chair of the Finance Committee, said he didn’t see the value in investing CPC funds to take away what he described as “an asset to the community” that serves many of the town’s seniors. 

“I don’t feel that the people of the community want to invest in removing [the golf course],” Pigeon said. “It’s not worth our tax dollars to do that. There’s no value in it from my point of view.”

Following the criticism, Mass Audubon announced it would be walking away from its plans for the country club on Aug. 25:

“Mass Audubon has made the difficult decision to step away from the project,” Mass Audubon said. “This decision was made with the mutual agreement of the sellers, who are now witnessing far greater support for continuation of the sport that they provided so well for over the last four decades.”

Mass Audubon’s full statement is attached as a PDF.

The owners of Little Harbor Country Club declined to comment.

Mass Audubon said it hopes to be part of the country club’s future, should it ever cease to be useful as a golf course.

“While we are no longer pursuing the purchase of this land for conservation and restoration at this time, we remain hopeful that, perhaps if it is determined that golf use is no longer practicable on the site, we can be a part of the solution,” the statement said. “Mass Audubon will continue to serve the Wareham as we have been doing — providing access to, and teaching about, nature for all, and preserving habitat for future generations.”