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Region receives $2.1 million from state to preserve 361 acres of land, build two parks

The money awarded by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs will boost local land protection efforts in Northampton, Southampton, Amherst, Belchertown and Granby, and park creation plans in Northampton and South Hadley.

Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. announced the grants at a pair of press conferences in Amherst and Northampton. He said it is critical for the state to invest in resources that are important to citizens, who consistently rank open space, park space, recreational opportunities, diversity of habitat, forest, lakes and more environmental elements near the top of their lists.

“It’s why people choose to live where they live and raise the families where they choose to, and it’s why people come and visit,” Sullivan said.

In Amherst, Sullivan outlined $3 million in grants to 13 communities in the state through the agency’s Land Acquisition for Natural Diversity program. Those communities will use the money to protect 880 acres for recreation, aquifers, wetlands and wildlife habitat statewide. Five Hampshire County communities landed grants totaling about $1.2 million.

Later in the day in Northampton, Sullivan announced $2.25 million in grants to seven western Massachusetts communities through its Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities program. Northampton and South Hadley each won $400,000 grants for projects in their communities.

Statewide, the agency is giving out 25 parkland grants totaling about $8 million, Sullivan said.

Here’s a look at the grants by community:

■ Northampton, $726,400 in two grants. The city is the only local municipality this year to receive a grant from both the programs.

Officials intend to use a $400,000 parkland grant for the creation of a new Connecticut River Greenway park off Damon Road, just north of River Run Condominiums. The park will provide access to the Connecticut River.

The $708,000 initial phase will include construction of docks, a walkway along the river, a parking area and access to the historic New Haven and Northampton Canal. Future plans call for construction of a community boathouse.

The City Council is expected to vote tonight on whether to award a $190,000 Community Preservation Act grant that would be used as a match for the state grant. The balance of construction costs for the site work would come from Northampton Youth and Community Rowing, which aims to raise $118,000.

The other grant to Northampton is for $326,400. It will help it protect 80 acres in the 900-acre Broad Brook/Fitzgerald Lake Greenway. The so-called Broad Brook Gap will fill one of the largest gaps in the Broad Brook Greenway. The land includes wetlands, forested uplands, open fields, frontage along Broad Brook and important habitat.

The state money, combined with a city-approved CPA grant in the amount of $273,000, will enable the city to close on the $499,125 transaction.

■ South Hadley, $400,000 parkland grant for improvements to the 34-year-old Buttery Brook Park off Route 33.

The project includes construction of new skate and water spray parks, rest rooms, and reconstruction of the basketball court. Other work calls for improvements to the park entrance, tree plantings, installation of additional playground equipment, roof repairs at both pavilions and the creation of a new green space with a walking path.

“It’s a very quaint area. ... This is going to help us make some great improvements,” said acting Town Administrator Jennifer L. Wolowicz.

The state grant will pay for half of the project’s $800,000 cost, with previous grants covering another $375,000. Wolowicz said the town will raise funds for the last $25,000.

Construction is expected to start next summer and be completed by June 30, 2014.

■ Amherst, $353,500 grant to protect one of the largest remaining unprotected parcels along the Holyoke range.

Known as the Ricci acquisition, the deal calls for the town to acquire 20 acres next to town conservation land and to the Mount Holyoke Range State Park. The land would be preserved and open for passive recreation and would include a scenic overlook.

■ Belchertown, $340,000 grant to acquire 88 acres in the northeast section of town next to the Quabbin Reservoir.

The town is purchasing the former Jackson Farm property, at the intersection of Gold Street and Gulf Road, for $500,000 and intends to rename it Meads Corner Conservation Area. The area will also include another 10 contiguous acres donated in the town of Pelham to the north. Meads Corner will be open to the public for passive recreation and hunting.

LeAnne Connolly, conservation administrator for the town, said the land is in a key location next to the 1,200-acre Cadwell Memorial Forest owned by the University of Massachusetts, the Quabbin Reservoir and Knights Pond, a backup drinking water supply owned by the Springfield Water District.

“Regionally, this is a well-connected project,” Connolly said.

In addition to the state grant, Town Meeting allocated $160,000 from Belchertown’s CPA funds for the purchase and Kestrel Land Trust privately raised $20,000. Connolly said she is pleased that residents see the value in conserving land within the town’s borders.

“The town and town citizens realize the importance of protecting open space for future generations,” she said. “Let’s face it, we’re not making any more land.”

■ Southampton, $225,720 grant to purchase 26 acres of unused rail bed to create a recreational trail that will allow residents to access more than 600 acres of protected land, forests and farmland.

Michael Buehler, a member of the Southampton Greenway Committee, said members of the committee and the Conservation Commission, which submitted the grant application, were thrilled to hear the news.

“It’s a combination of a sigh of relief, because our application was nonstandard in that it was for a linear trail, rather than a traditional parcel,” he said. “But it’s also remarkably energizing and satisfying. It’s exciting to think the wind is really in our sails now.”

Town Meeting voted to allow the purchase of the land from New England Railroad for its appraised price of $340,000. After the state grant is applied, the town will pay for the remaining $115,600 through CPA funds.

What’s next is for the town’s newly formed negotiating committee to sit down with representatives from New England Railroad to work out a price. Since the land was appraised at $340,000, the town cannot pay more than that amount according to law.

“We’re confident that there are challenges ahead in negotiating, but I know both sides are approaching this with good will and a real interest in making it work,” Buehler said.

■ Granby, $37,365 grant to help preserve a 147-acre wooded property in the Emily Partyka Conservation Area, including most of the frontage around Forge Pond.

The project will provide a launch for non-motorized boats, parking and access to existing informal trails. The town plans to construct a foot bridge that will allow pedestrian access to the eastern portion of the property.

More land preserved than developed

In remarks at Wednesday’s press conference, Sullivan said the Patrick administration has preserved more than 100,000 acres of land since 2007 and created or reinvested in more than 150 parks at the municipal level.

“We now have more land that is preserved than is developed,” Sullivan said.

He said that while many states have “backed away” from similar grant programs in the face of tough budgets, Massachusetts has held firm.

“Here in Massachusetts we have in fact doubled down on these investments, and I think they will pay dividends for us right now and certainly for generations to come,” Sullivan said.

Ware was the seventh Hampshire County community to receive a grant.

Staff writer Rebecca Everett contributed to this report. Chad Cain can be reached at ccain@gazettenet.com.

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