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Photograph of Flora B. Peirce looking at plant

Spinner Publications

Conservation projects led by Flora Belle Peirce (1898–1990), the first chairperson of New Bedford’s Conservation Commission, made the city a better place. In 1963, Flora promoted the creation of the Commission and was a member for 20 years under four mayoral administrations. The Commission’s first major project was the development of a nature trail, named the Flora B. Peirce Nature Trail in 1973 in her honor.

Color trail map with legend
Trail map with legend and wildlife images (Buzzards Bay Coalition)

A nature trail in a wetland forest. Public parks with shading trees. Open spaces with lush greenery. These conservation projects led by Flora Belle Peirce (1898–1990), the first chairperson of New Bedford’s Conservation Commission, made the city a better place. In 1963, Flora promoted the creation of the Commission and was a member for 20 years under four mayoral administrations.

Flora was born in New Bedford to Walter H. Peirce, a stable keeper, and Susan R. (Sherman) Peirce. The Peirce family home and stable were located at 304 Kempton Street. Flora was the salutatorian of her graduating class at New Bedford High School. In 1921, she graduated from Pembroke College (Brown University’s women’s college 1891–1971), where she majored in history. For about five years after college, Flora taught English and citizenship to adults in preparation for naturalization. During World War II, she became deputy controller of the Civil Defense warning center located in the New Bedford Five Cents Savings Bank; after the war, she supervised the volunteer Civil Defense staff at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Flora’s involvement with the League of Women Voters fostered her interest in conservation and led her to spearhead the formation of the Conservation Commission. For the New Bedford league, she served as board member for 15 years and as president for three years. At the state level, she was board member and president for the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, where she served as its water resources chairperson. In 1963, while president of the New Bedford league, Flora asked then-Mayor Edward F. Harrington to form a Conservation Commission to save public lands. With support from the City Council, Mayor Harrington established the Commission, with Flora named as its first chairperson on June 1, 1964. Over the next 20 years, Flora would serve several times as chairperson and secretary of the Commission.

Guided by Flora, the first major project of the new Conservation Commission was the development of a 2½-mile nature trail in the northwest section of New Bedford, in the Turners Pond and Plainville Road area near the Municipal Airport. Beginning in 1925, in order to increase open space, the city began to acquire land in this area. Part of the trail system in this mostly wooded preserve was blazed in the late 1960s, and the area was named the Flora B. Peirce Nature Trail on September 27, 1973 in honor of her conservation work for the city. In the mid-1970s, more trails were blazed, and wooden bridges and walkways were added. In 1999, Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance, The Coalition for Buzzards Bay, and Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School collaborated to maintain the trail system through a project that included replacement of wooden boardwalks with recycled plastic lumber, cutting back trails for easy passage, and creation of a trail guide with accompanying numbered posts for self-education and navigation.

The Flora B. Peirce Nature Trail is located between two swamps, the Acushnet Cedar Swamp to the north and the Apponagansett Swamp to the south. It includes a scenic pond, a certified vernal pool, forested red maple-dominated wetlands, and drier white pine-dominated uplands, all offering protective habitats for diverse species. Frogs, turtles, salamanders, and dragonflies thrive in the large pond. The trail’s vernal pool is a temporary wetland where frogs, salamanders, and insects lay their eggs. Wildlife such as deer, turkeys, coyotes, and songbirds find a place to flourish in forests and meadows. Just minutes from the busy city, the trail provides a sanctuary for exploring and learning.

Flora was involved in numerous other initiatives. While on the Conservation Commission, she protested when Clasky Common Park was proposed as a site for a new skating rink and worked to preserve the park and its greenery. She also worked on beautification of Buttonwood Park, education programs, and the preservation of many small open spaces in New Bedford. Flora was also a member of the College Club of New Bedford, the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, the Friends of SMTI (later SMU and UMass Dartmouth), the Pembroke College Club, and the Council of Women’s Organizations. The Standard-Times honored her three times in their monthly “Hats Off” column.

A lifelong New Bedford resident, Flora lived at 52 Morgan Street for decades and later at Melville Towers. She passed away at St. Luke’s Hospital on January 2, 1990, at 91.

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

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