A total of 130 acres in Amherst, Belchertown and Hatfield added to the list of conservations lands in the area

Last modified: Thursday, July 03, 2014
A total of 130 acres of newly conserved land in three Valley towns will support outdoor recreation while protecting wildlife and natural resources in the Pioneer Valley.

Kristin DeBoer, executive director of the Amherst-based Kestrel Land Trust, announced deals this week in Belchertown, Hatfield and Amherst.

The land, which cost $309,000, includes 91 acres to nearly double the Jabish Brook Conservation Area in Belchertown; 20 acres to extend the Terry Blunt Conservation area in Hatfield; and 19 acres to create the new Fort River Farm Conservation Area east of the Fort River School in Amherst.

Preservation of the Amherst land, which cost $169,000, came with the help of $41,785 in Community Preservation Act money approved by the Amherst Town Meeting this spring. The rest came from state and private grants.

In an interview Friday, DeBoer said Amherst recognized the land acquired from Bob Saul as a top property for conservation because of two major attributes. “One, that it contains 1,300 feet along the Fort River which is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in Massachusetts and home to a federally endangered species, the dwarf wedgemussel.”

The other major attraction of the land was “the prime soil and the high demand for agriculture in town and the increasing call to have public land available for agriculture,” she said. Part of the plan is “to create plots to help small farmers get a start in farming.”

Using public land to encourage small-scale farming “is a growing trend nationally,” said DeBoer, and there is precedent for it in Amherst at the nearby Amethyst Brook Conservation Area.

The dwarf wedgemussel, which is found on North America’s Atlantic Coast as far south as North Carolina, is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature endangered list, meaning that it faces a “high risk of extinction in the wild,” according to the IUCN’s website. DeBoer characterized it as “one of those non-charismatic fauna” that has been receiving increasing study in the last decade, adding that “the Fort River is an ideal habitat” for the dwarf wedgemussel.

In addition to promoting education together with the Fort River Elementary School and Grow Food Amherst, a group promoting community agriculture, the Amherst Conservation Commission will blaze interpretive trails on the land, she said.

In Belchertown, the newly acquired acreage, located in the northern part of town east of Route 202, will nearly double the size of the Jabish Brook Conservation Area. It cost $98,000. In addition to expanding the amount of land in the town set aside for passive recreation, the new tract fits into a broader strategy of maintaining a wildlife corridor between the Holyoke Range and the 38 square miles of protected land surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.

“From a bear or a moose’s point of view, they are going to go wherever they can and our job as a land trust working with the town is to ensure that that forest land remains forest land so that the moose and the bear and the bobcat and the otter are able to navigate safely between” large parts of their habitats, DeBoer said.

The 20 Hatfield acres expand the conservation area named for Terry Blunt, who DeBoer described as “a land conservation leader” who died four years ago. Blunt led the state Department of Environmental Management’s Connecticut Valley Action Program for more than a quarter century.

“He was responsible for lots of land conservation along the Connecticut River and along the Holyoke Range,” DeBoer said. The land that includes a small peak on Chestnut Mountain in the northern section of town, cost $42,000.

Besides promoting outdoor recreation, much of the land set aside for preservation not only protects wildlife habitat but also “provides security for our drinking water,” she said.

In Belchertown and Hatfield the money came from a combination of town, state and private contributions. The Kestrel Land Trust assisted with all three projects.