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Promise to the Valley Campaign Will Raise $5 Million to Save 5,000 Acres

Promise to the Valley sunrise

After 52 years of service to the Valley, Kestrel Land Trust is excited to announce our first-ever comprehensive campaign, called A Promise to the Valley.

Our goal for the largest private fundraising effort in our history is to raise more than $5 million to secure the future of forests, farms, waters, natural parks, and trails for communities throughout the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts.

While the quiet phase of the campaign began at an inauspicious moment in early 2020, Kestrel’s board and staff began reaching out to dedicated supporters despite the pandemic. Kestrel’s Executive Director, Kristin DeBoer said, “We’ve been thrilled and inspired by the generosity of nearly 100 visionary members of the community who have already committed $4,800,000 to invest in the future of the Valley.”

Today, Kestrel is inviting the wider community to participate in the Promise to the Valley Campaign to raise the final $200,000—or more—by July to meet the many challenges facing the Valley’s lands, environment, and communities. Those challenges include sprawling development, the impacts of climate change, and the lack of access to public lands for recreation in both urban and rural areas.

New England is losing 24,000 acres to development every year—and the Valley is experiencing this head-on. Forests are vulnerable to these pressures as never before and they can’t thrive if they’re fragmented by development.

At the same time, the Valley has some of the best soils in the world for growing food, but farmers who have owned farms for generations can’t afford to hold on to their land unless it is conserved. Development pressures on Valley farmland are nearly as great as in the Boston-Metro area, which drives up the price out of reach of many new farmers.

“Thousands of acres of forests and farms will change hands in the next generation. This may be our last chance to act while there’s still time to preserve what’s left,” said Joel Russell, Kestrel Land Trust Board Chair, professional conservation attorney, and planning consultant.

Thousands of acres of forests and farms will change hands in the next generation. This may be our last chance to act while there’s still time to preserve what’s left.”

While sprawling development is a familiar threat to land, the climate crisis is adding to the urgent need to protect it.

“A changing climate is already disrupting life in the Valley as floods, drought, and storms take their toll,” said Scott Jackson, UMass Professor of Environmental Conservation, Kestrel Board member, and Whately Conservation Commission Chair. “This crisis demands action: Protecting our forests and farms helps buffer us from the impacts—and slow the progression—of climate change. Land conservation matters now more than ever.”

The Promise to the Valley Campaign is composed of three primary funding goals:

  • Conservation Opportunities Fund, $3 Million: To conserve 5,000+ acres of wildlands, woodlands, and farmlands over 5 years, in partnership with landowners, towns, and the state to benefit the entire region. Focus areas include the Mount Holyoke Range and Mount Tom, the Quabbin Reservoir area, Brewer Brook, and Valley farmlands.

The average cost to conserve 100 acres is between $2,000 per acre for forests and $10,000 per acre for family farms, and another $50,000 in professional staff time and due diligence such as appraisals, attorney fees, site assessments and surveys. With a $3 million Conservation Opportunities Fund, Kestrel will work to leverage an estimated $15 million in public funds by engaging municipal, state, and federal agencies and grant programs.

“We’re confident that by expanding Kestrel’s capacity to act quickly and strategically, we can seize the opportunity to ensure that what we love about the Valley is sustained for generations to come,” DeBoer said.

The Promise to the Valley Campaign will also enable Kestrel to make natural parks and trails more welcoming to people from all walks of life. Recent studies have shown that people of all ages today spend less time outside than any previous generation in history. This is in part due to a lack of easy access to public parks and trails, which is especially true in increasingly urban parts of our region.

  • Special Places Fund, $1.5 Million: To enhance and care for 7 nature retreats that Kestrel owns, including its new headquarters at the Sweet Alice Conservation Area on the Mt. Holyoke Range in Amherst; the new Whately Center Woods; an accessible trail next to the new Mt. Tom North Trailhead Park in Easthampton; and a 140-acre forest around Ames Pond in Shutesbury.

The Special Places Fund will provide the financial resources to create safe parking, welcoming trails, maps and signs to help people feel at home on the land, and to develop inclusive programs to engage new communities, while maintaining habitat for wildlife.

  • Valley Trails Fund, $500,000: To create miles of new public trails within community conservation areas, urban and  rural, throughout the Valley. The fund will enable Kestrel to create or enhance 10 new local trails over 5 years to provide a welcoming place for everyone to connect with nature, close to home.

Implementation costs for trail projects range from $50,000 to $75,000 per trail for design, project management, parking, signs, benches, and developing community programs. With a minimum of $500,000 for our Valley Trails Fund, Kestrel pledges to raise at least another $500,000 from local communities, foundations, and businesses, as well as engage volunteers to help improve trails with hundreds of hours of sweat equity and in-kind donations.

The future of the Valley depends on the decisions we all make today. Conserving land is not a luxury for some, but a necessity for everyone.”

“Many communities and families are asking for Kestrel’s help to protect their forests and farms, and we need increased financial support to keep up with that demand,” said Rosemary Arnold, Kestrel Board member and Holyoke Conservation Commission member. “The future of the Valley depends on the decisions we all make today. Conserving land is not a luxury for some, but a necessity for everyone.”

DeBoer said, “As Kestrel launches our next 50 years of service to the Valley, we’re preparing to remain a vibrant community presence and an effective force for conservation in the region. The Promise to the Valley Campaign will enable Kestrel to continue building collaborative partnerships that we need to support the urban, rural, and suburban communities we serve.”

Please visit kestreltrust.org/promise to learn more and to make your Promise to the Valley.

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