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Critical Habitat, Trails, and a Cherished Farm Conserved on the Mount Holyoke Range

Mount Holyoke Range sunset in fall

Kestrel Land Trust announced today the permanent conservation of 583 acres of land on the Mount Holyoke Range, with six landowners, as part of a second Landscape Partnership Project in partnership with the Towns of Hadley, South Hadley, Amherst, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation & Recreation.

The Mount Holyoke Range is a beloved recreational area. The Department of Conservation & Recreation estimates that more than 150,000 people visit Mount Holyoke, Skinner, and Mount Tom Range state parks every year. The area offers residents and visitors outstanding opportunities for hiking, wildlife observation, and picnicking—opportunities that are ever more important during the pandemic when being outside is one of the healthiest places to be.

The Mount Holyoke Range also supports more rare species of plants and animals than any other area in the Massachusetts portion of the Connecticut River valley. At 16,000 acres the Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom Ranges comprise one of the largest remaining blocks of forest in Massachusetts. The rare east-west orientation and geologic history of volcanic activity gave rise to numerous rare microhabitats and are home to hundreds of different kinds of plants and animals: 27 of these are rare or endangered, while other wide-ranging species such as black bear, bobcat, and migratory birds also call the Range home.

Focusing on the Range video
Watch this short video highlighting WGBY’s “Focusing on the Range” documentary created in partnership with Kestrel, the MA Dept. of Conservation & Recreation, and other partners 15 years ago in a community-wide effort to raise awareness and appreciation for this important landscape.

The threats to the forests on the Mount Holyoke Range are increasing. Covering a five-town region, the Range is in danger of becoming isolated from other protected lands, such as the Quabbin Reservoir, and fragmented by housing development where land is unprotected. And the increasing effects of climate change make it critical to conserve forests, like these, that are more resilient for wildlife habitat over the long-term.

Three of the parcels involved in the project, totaling 560 acres, will remain in the ownership of the current landowners—in this case, the Town of Hadley’s watershed land, Amherst College, and the Adams Farm in South Hadley—with conservation restrictions that make permanent each landowner’s conservation goals for their property. View a map here.

360 Acres of Hadley Watershed Lands

This Conservation Restriction donated by the Town to Kestrel Land Trust increases protection of the forest for drinking water and guarantees public access for hunting and fishing, and to a vast trail network, which connects to the New England National Scenic Trail.

According to David J Fill II, Chair of the Select Board of the Town of Hadley:

The Town’s vote to donate this Conservation Restriction was an enthusiastic town-wide endorsement of the importance of the Mount Holyoke Range to the heart of Hadley.

“As a result, access for hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling on designated trails, as well as hiking and mountain biking will be guaranteed for residents and visitors to this natural treasure in our town.”

96 Acres on Tinker Hill Owned by Amherst College

The Amherst College Board of Trustees committed to permanently protect the college’s land on the Range to protect the scenic views of the Valley, conserve forests as a natural climate change solution, continue using the land for outdoor education and research, and guarantee public access to a network of trails, popular for mountain biking and hiking. This steep incline off Chmura Road in Hadley includes a former ski-area used by the College in the 1960-1980s.

The President of Amherst College, Biddy Martin remarked:

Amherst College strongly supports the conservation of the Valley’s most scenic and treasured mountain range. We are happy to participate in this community-wide effort to conserve the entire Mount Holyoke Range for this and future generations.”

104-Acre Forest and Farm in South Hadley

This is a private farm and cherished view of the Range from Pearl Street, which is now permanently protected for agricultural use and sustainable forestry by the Conservation Restriction funded by the Landscape Partnership grant and conveyed to Kestrel Land Trust and the Town of South Hadley. Public access for hunting, fishing and hiking is allowed on the backland portion of the property abutting state park land near the ridge.

 The Adams Farm off Pearl Street in South Hadley has been a top priority for protection in the Town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan for decades,”

said Anne Capra, Conservation Planner of the Town of South Hadley. “Thanks to Mr. Adams’ willingness, this Landscape Partnership grant, and Kestrel’s leg work, we are so pleased to be able to preserve this private farm.”

More Public Forest Lands Created

Another 22 acres of forestland in three smaller parcels were purchased by Kestrel from three different local landowners, and added to the public land in Mount Holyoke Range State Park and the Town of Amherst’s Sweet Alice Conservation Area, which connects to the Robert Frost Trail from Bay Road.

Kestrel Land Trust was able to initiate this proactive landscape-scale project thanks to the participation and generosity of these institutional, municipal, and private landowners, as well as a bequest from Kay Burnett, grants awarded by the Friends of the Mount Holyoke Range, Amelia Peabody Charitable Trust, Fields Pond Foundation, AEC Trust, the William P. Wharton Trust, the Mifflin Memorial Fund, and generous gifts by local residents and the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Landscape Partnership Program.

“The conservation of land is critical to protect the Commonwealth’s abundance of natural resources,” said Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.

“This land will support the unique habitats, biodiversity, and recreation opportunities of Mount Holyoke Range for the continued use of the public.”

“The Baker-Polito Administration continues to foster public-private partnerships, like the one DCR shares with Kestrel Land Trust, in an effort to collaboratively reach shared goals,” said Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Jim Montgomery.

“Mount Holyoke Range is a beloved recreation area offering unique opportunities for residents and visitors to get outdoors and the newly conserved land will preserve its beauty for all to enjoy.”

Kristin DeBoer, executive director of Kestrel Land Trust, said “As a community-supported conservation group, we couldn’t do this work without the financial support of our members and supporters, grants from foundations, and state grants to purchase and protect these lands. We are grateful to all the partners who made this project possible.”

There are many reasons Kestrel is dedicated to helping local landowners, towns, and the State Department of Conservation and Recreation conserve more land on the Mount Holyoke Range, according to DeBoer:

“The region is stronger, our water cleaner, and our community more resilient, when we balance the conservation of farms and forests with development.”

“In the face of climate change, there’s even more urgency to ensure that critical wildlife lands are connected to allow animals safe passage to find water and food. And during the pandemic, we have seen how vital it is for people to have access to nature and the healing power of being outside on trails close-to-home.”

The project was also made possible by the legislative support of Senator Joanne Comerford and Representative Dan Carey.

Senator Comerford shared this statement: “Cheers for Kestrel Land Trust and all the communities involved, for their painstaking, visionary work to protect and preserve critical land along the Mount Holyoke Range. Today’s announcement is a major win for our environment and will benefit generations to come in our beautiful region.”

Rep. Daniel R. Carey of the Second Hampshire District said: “I am excited that these beautiful lands are being conserved.  The Mount Holyoke Range is such a big part of what makes our area so special.  I love hiking along the Range and am glad that it will be protected for the enjoyment of all. It has been very rewarding to work with such an impressive group of individuals, organizations, and municipal leaders.  I’m proud to have collaborated with them, and my state colleagues, to help get this project across the finish line.”

The landscape conservation initiative for the Mount Holyoke Range and Mount Tom Ranges will continue by inviting landowners on a voluntary basis to protect their land, while seeking new sources of funding, including from the recently authorized federal grant program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Header image by Jamie Malcolm-Brown.

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