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Kestrel Founder Robert McClung’s Family Forest Conserved in Pelham

McClung forest and brook

Kestrel Land Trust returns to its roots with the conservation of forestland in Pelham owned by the family of one of the organization’s founders, the children’s book author and illustrator, Robert M. McClung.

Fifty years ago, Bob McClung was one of a small group of passionate conservationists who saw that forests and wildlife in the town of Amherst were increasingly vulnerable to development. They came together in 1970 to create The Kestrel Trust and  support the Town’s efforts to protect its special natural places.

Today, Bob McClung’s son, Bill, and his wife Emily, have contributed to his father’s legacy by conserving the majority of their family’s land as an addition to the recently created Buffam Brook Community Forest in Pelham. Nearly 40 acres off of Buffam Road are now permanently conserved thanks to the generous sale of their land to the town of Pelham for a substantially reduced price.

Bob and his wife Gale McClung moved to Amherst in 1962 with their two young sons, Bill and Tom, and purchased a 55-acre parcel of forested land in Pelham two years later. Bob would visit and explore his land every day after lunch with his dog, and would regularly bring his sons to play there as well. Eventually, this land would become Bill’s home, when his father deeded him 2 acres to build a house for his own family. Bill and Emily have lived there for 34 years, raising their children while enjoying and caring for the surrounding forest as his father had.

Family’s Land Expands Buffam Brook Community Forest

Now, approximately 40 acres of this family’s forest is permanently conserved as part of the Buffam Brook Community Forest, owned by the Town of Pelham, with the project facilitated by Kestrel Land Trust. With the addition of the McClung’s land, the Community Forest totals approximately 200 acres among several adjacent parcels, but it is also part of much larger contiguous network of conserved lands totaling 3,400 acres.

Robert McClung with dog
Author/illustrator and Kestrel founder Robert McClung with his dog in 1970. Photo courtesy of The Jones Library, Amherst.

This large, interconnected block of conserved forest includes land set aside for protecting drinking water for Amherst, Pelham, Belchertown and Springfield, as well as other public and private lands under conservation restriction. It also ensures that critical habitat will remain intact for a wide variety of wildlife, including large mammals like, black bear, bobcat, moose, and amphibians and woodland songbirds. This area’s matrix of forests can also provide an important north-south corridor for wildlife adapting their ranges to a changing climate.

The McClung’s land in the eastern Pelham Hills contains upland forests and a scenic, fast-flowing stretch of Buffam Brook, a headwater of the Fort River, which provides habitat for trout. The land will be managed as part of the larger Buffam Brook Community Forest, with a balance of sustainable forestry, wildlife habitat conservation, water resources conservation, and non-motorized public recreation.

Existing hiking trails on the McClung parcel will be connected to other new and existing trails for public use. The area also allows for hunting and fishing. Public access to the property will be available from the new Buffam Brook Community Forest trailhead and parking area on North Valley Road, one of several public access projects Kestrel has managed in partnership with the Town.

“Kestrel is grateful to the McClung family for their commitment to conservation for the benefit of future generations. It is a wonderful family legacy for the land in the Valley.”

Bill McClung said, “I thank all of you involved for your time and hard work to bring this land purchase to fruition. Aldo Leopold wrote that ‘we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.’ I believe as he did that direct contact with the natural world is crucial in shaping our ability to extend our ethics beyond our own self-interest.”

Dana MacDonald, chair of the Pelham Conservation Commission, said, “The Pelham Conservation Commission is grateful to Kestrel Land Trust and its staff for helping us create this Community Forest. Without Kestrel’s work to navigate complex grant programs and engage multiple landowners, this project simply would not have been possible.”

The project was only the second in Massachusetts funded primarily by a USDA/US Forest Service Community Forest Grant encouraging sustainable forest management, public education, and recreation. Additional funding was provided by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Conservation Land Tax Credit Program.

Kristin DeBoer, Kestrel’s Executive Director, said, “Kestrel is grateful to the McClung family for their commitment to conservation. Not only was Bob McClung one of Kestrel’s founders, and designer of the original seal, but his wife Gale left Kestrel a bequest, and now their son Bill and his wife Emily have generously contributed their family’s land to the community for the benefit of future generations. It is a wonderful family legacy for land conservation in the Valley.”


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