Lester Frank Whitney, born in 1928, grew up on a family farm in Hampden, Maine. After studying agricultural engineering at the University of Maine, he earned both a masters degree and PhD from Michigan State University. Lester then relocated to western Massachusetts with his wife, Phyllis, to join the UMass Agricultural Engineering faculty, where he taught for several decades until retiring in 1991.
Lester and Phyllis lived in Amherst and raised a daughter and six sons there. In the mid-1960s they built a cottage near Lake Wyola in Shutesbury. The cottage was close enough to Amherst to be convenient, but Shutesbury felt like a different world. When a landlocked 5-acre forested lot, not far from the cottage, came on the market Lester jumped at the opportunity. According to the seller, the land had been logged in the 1930s but for decades had been left to its own devices. For the Whitney boys—all of whom were active in the Boy Scouts—the fact that it was accessible only on foot, following well-worn trails, made it a perfect camping spot.
Lester’s son Scott describes the land as fairly level and abutting a rather steep ledge to the east. To the west, a very small brook feeds into Ames Pond. Since the land is at the foot of the ledge and in a low spot in the landscape, the trees grow tall and straight in search of light. Scott recalls: “I always remember a spectacular forested environment there, mostly White Pine. The peace and tranquility of the old stand of pines is noticeable and I don’t think there are many places in the Commonwealth that feel so far away from everything as that piece of land.”
The peace and tranquility of the old stand of pines is noticeable and I don’t think there are many places in the Commonwealth that feel so far away from everything as that piece of land.”
In 1999 Lester and Phyllis passed the land along to Scott and his wife Kathryn. Lester passed away in 2008. Over the years, nearby lots along Wendell Road were sold off and new houses built. Accessing the Whitneys’ back land became more challenging. Several times over the years the owners of adjoining land harvested timber and invited the Whitneys to piggyback onto their cuttings. Scott and Kathy felt adamantly, however, that leaving the land alone was its highest and best use.
Recently, Scott and Kathy learned that through a bequest from Julian Janowitz, Kestrel Land Trust had become owner of the land to the north of their back parcel. In 2023, the Whitneys gifted their 5 acres of forest to Kestrel in memory of Lester Whitney. Their generous gift expands Kestrel’s nature retreat that surrounds Ames Pond. The land will remain in its wild and natural condition, cared for by the land trust and open to the community to enjoy.
Conservation Options for Your Land
Donating land, or your rights to develop land, to a qualified conservation organization is a powerful way to protect a place you love. It’s also a financial decision that may offer significant tax benefits.
- Land with conservation values that benefit the public—such as wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, or scenic qualities—may be donated either in its entirety (“fee simple”) or more commonly by donating certain rights through a Conservation Restriction (CR).
- Conservation Restrictions are voluntary, legal agreements that permanently limit some uses of the land in order to protect important conservation values, while allowing you to continue to own, enjoy, and manage the forest or farmland, as well as to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
- Charitable donations of conservation land or development rights—either at full value or through a “bargain sale”—currently enjoy federal income tax benefits that can be spread over a number of years to help landowners realize the full value of their donation.
- Conservation Restrictions can also help a landowner pass on land to the next generation. Limiting land’s development potential lowers its market value, which lowers estate and sometimes property taxes. Whether the CR is donated during life or as directed in your will, it can make a critical difference in heirs’ financial ability to retain ownership of the land.