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Friends Groups Bring Neighbors Together to Care for Special Places in their Communities

View of Mt. Holyoke Range from old orchard at Mt. Pollux

Is there a special place near your home that you love? It’s likely to be a conservation area where you can take a nature walk, watch birds, or just enjoy a scenic view. Kestrel has helped protect many of these places, but after that, they need to be taken care of so you can continue to enjoy them.

That’s where friends come in. Neighbors and others who regularly visit a conservation area come to know it well. “Friends groups” often emerge when people feel this place needs help in some way, like keeping trails open or keeping the area clean.

This happened last summer with the emergence of the Friends of Mt. Pollux. Prompted by a news article raising concerns about the appearance of the Amherst conservation area, a group of neighbors and visitors came together to look for solutions. One of those neighbors was Thomas Johnson, who now co-leads the group.

“What makes Mt. Pollux unique is that it’s not a wilderness area or a public park, but something in between, with potential for many uses.” Thomas said. One use he witnesses often: “People come here to watch the sunset or sunrise, or to gaze at the stars. Lots of people came to watch the meteor showers recently.”

Creating Partnerships to Support Public Goals

Thomas said it’s important to the Friends that Mt. Pollux remain accessible for people to enjoy, with trails regularly mowed, and the scenic qualities maintained. Eventually they’d like to see educational signs and events, like a Mt. Pollux Day. Their interest in the conservation area prompted the Town of Amherst to develop a formal management plan, involving the Friends in the process. The Friends and the Town are drafting an agreement to specify management goals and define responsibilities going forward. Kestrel has agreed to be the Friends’ fiscal sponsor, enabling them to collect charitable donations to support their work.

Kestrel is also the fiscal sponsor for the Friends of Puffer’s Pond and the Friends of Scarborough Brook. We work with other groups around the Valley as well, including Friends of the Fort River, Mineral Hills, and Lake Warner. “We’re providing support for their efforts, which is key for a volunteer-led group,” said Kat Deely, Kestrel’s Community Conservation Manager. “That can include collaborating on public events or volunteer workdays or fundraising efforts.”

In the spring of 2016, Kestrel brought together a few representatives from both new and long-established groups in recognition that they share common goals. After a lively discussion and cross-pollination of ideas, participants left inspired to try new strategies, stay in touch, and help promote each other’s places. More meetings are planned in the future, with the possibility of a Valley-wide Friends gathering.

“The beauty of a Friends group is that it helps create a strong sense of place in our communities centered around local conservation areas,” said Kat. “What better place to start than in your own backyard?”

To join or start a Friends Group, please contact Kat Deely, our Community Conservation Manager.

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