With campuses shuttered and classes moved online, most college students in our region had to complete their coursework from home this spring semester. For many, home is across the state, across the country, or around the world.
Each year, Kestrel Land Trust partners with the Natural Resources and Conservation (NRC) department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to connect students to the land. The NRC 185 class, taught by professor Lena Fletcher, has hundreds of students who are divided into small groups and assigned civic engagement projects to help benefit a local nonprofit. Because of the pandemic, Kestrel asked students to visit their local conservation areas—whether here in the Valley or wherever “home” is for them—and share their reflections on being outdoors during this historic moment in time. Dozens of students responded, sharing photos and experiences from around the state and the country.
At a time when we’ve all been asked to stay home, students have been grateful to have nature nearby. “While outside appreciating these beautiful days I have been exploring the Amethyst Brook which (luckily for me) is just minutes down the road from my house,” writes Isis Badone. She continues “While being outside I feel renewed and rejuvenated, I try to stay as mindful as possible and remind myself that not everyone has amenities such as this one at the tip of their fingers.”
Bailey Buckley also spent time here, writing, “Amethyst Brook has been one of my most-visited and cherished conservation areas over the course of my studies at UMass. From field trips to study tree species to recreational strolls, Amethyst Brook has been a wonderful resource for me.” Bailey’s photo of Amethyst Brook is featured at the top of this article.
“The Connecticut River Valley is a truly beautiful place, and my appreciation for it only increases the longer I live here,” wrote Tony Ferranti who also visited Amethyst Brook.
Jimmy Mahoney found his new favorite spot during quarantine: Mount Sugarloaf in Deerfield. “I’ve found it can be relaxing to walk up the trails and be able to take in all of the views such as the surrounding farms, the Connecticut river, and the mountains,” wrote Jimmy. David Hamilton also visited Mount Sugarloaf, finding peace and quiet on a rainy day.
In Sunderland, Cole Casto enjoyed some solitude during these uncertain times at Gunn Brook Falls, “There are so many places at this waterfall to just sit down and take in the falls’ beauty while listening to the running water, this was pretty much my go-to location if I was ever having a tough day and knew I just needed to take a deep breath and relax.”
Cameron Cyr gets perspective in a place she grew up, “I usually like walking on the trails or climbing the viewing tower at the top of the hill in Ware to get a good view of my town and surrounding towns,” she writes of Quabbin Reservoir.
Conservation areas close to home connect us to place and with our roots. “I decided to take a few hikes in conservation areas near my hometown of Hadley,” wrote Khristopher Olson. Kristopher ran on the trails at Rattlesnake Knob for wide views of Amherst and wandered along the Connecticut River at the Alexandria Dawson Conservation Area in Hadley. “Throughout much of my life, my father and I spent countless hours fishing and swimming in the river. My walk along the river reminded me of all of the amazing memories I have of the river, and that despite the fact that things are tough right now, I’ll be able to make many more memories on the river with important people in my life.”
Gabe Dickinson explored Rattlesnake Gutter Conservation Area in Leverett. “Personally, conservation areas such as this have had an increase in value over the past month,” Gabe wrote. “We are coming out of winter, itching to get outside into the sunshine and also facing challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic; so what better time than now to enjoy some social distancing in the great outdoors? As residents of Massachusetts we have been lucky enough to have continued access to our outdoor environment.”
Kestrel Land Trust conserves and cares for forests, farmland, and riverways in the Pioneer Valley. We are protecting spaces to enhance food security and creating refuges for wildlife and for people too. “I am thankful for conservation areas like Amethyst Brook for giving the community a place to gather and share the joys of nature,” wrote Benjamin Plucinski.
We invite you to get outdoors following best practices to protect the health and safety of yourself and out community. During such uncertain times, you may find calm and hope in the natural world as Megan Itzkowitz does at the Mill River Conservation area. “Sitting and simply existing in nature, whether it be cold, warm, sunny, or beachy, a solace is brought over us to allow us to accept what we usually ignore. The sound of wind brushing through the trees, the smells of a waterfall, the crunch of leaves beneath our feet, all bring us moments of peace.”