The double peaks and ridgeline of Horse Mountain create an iconic landmark separating the Towns of Williamsburg and Hatfield. Now, Kestrel Land Trust and its municipal partners have succeeded in permanently conserving 128 acres on Horse Mountain to benefit wildlife, enhance recreational opportunities, and to help fight the impacts of climate change.
The towns now each own their portions of the conserved land—34 acres in Williamsburg and 94 acres in Hatfield—and in addition, Kestrel now holds a Conservation Restriction on the Hatfield portion. The conservation area provides an opportunity to bring together these two towns to protect the landscape they share
The area’s steep forested uplands and lower wetlands provide an excellent diversity of wildlife habitat, and its dramatic topography helps make the area resilient to the impacts of a changing climate. As a large undeveloped area with terrain that varies from wetlands, to sheltered areas, and rocky outcrops along the steep ridgeline, it allows for a diversity of plant and wildlife species to find refuge on the land. The dramatic elevation change also supports species of plants and animals that might need to shift their homes due to new environmental conditions as our climate changes.
The area is also critical for large animals like black bear and bobcat that require wide ranges, as it provides connections to hundreds of acres of other conserved lands. But smaller species rely on it as well: Portions of Horse Mountain are recognized by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program to support several endangered species.
The Cole family owned this land for decades, and managed the forest well, helping to maintain its high-quality habitat. Kestrel Land Trust worked with the family, as well as the towns, to not only protect the land for wildlife, but also for the potential of miles of new hiking trails that could be accessed from either town.
This new conservation area will have public access points in both towns. Trails will be built in the upcoming years to invite visitors to hike and bike along the ridgeline. The new conservation area also has great potential to be connected directly to the 600 acres of Hatfield’s Terry Blunt Conservation Area in the future.
This complex project was made possible by $163,000 in grants from the Massachusetts LAND Grant Program to the Towns of Williamsburg and Hatfield, as well as $40,000 from Hatfield’s CPA Fund approved this spring. The project was also supported by the Amelia Peabody Foundation, which provided $45,000 in grant funding, as well as a $40,300 grant from the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative. The Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which is made possible with a lead grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, seeks to educate, train, and build capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change.
“The successful conservation project at Horse Mountain will ensure that these precious acres remain available to human, plant and animal communities, even as the climate changes,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president in charge of the Conservation Capital Program. “As we look to the future, land conservation is a critical tool in the fight against climate change. We commend Kestrel Land Trust and its partners on this huge land protection win.
Kat Deely, Kestrel’s Community Conservation Manager who managed this project credits its successful conclusion to the commitment and support of the partners. “Everyone involved—the landowners who gave a bargain sale, the Town Select Boards, Conservation Commissions, Open Space Committees and Trails Committee—have worked very hard together to make this project happen. The Open Space Committees and Conservation Commissions of both Towns were instrumental in supporting this project and seeing it through to completion.”