Area land trusts receive $250,000 each from Kay Burnett’s estate

  • This photo, provided courtesy of Bill Finn, shows Kathryn “Ka y” Burnett, who earned the nickname “Trail Lady” for her volunteer efforts maintaining hiking trails at Mount Tom State Reservation. Nearly six months after her death, two local land trusts are receiving a combined $500,000 from her estate. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/20/2017 10:14:43 PM

Kathryn “Kay” Burnett’s dedication to maintenance of the 22 miles of hiking trails at the Mount Tom State Reservation, including the K.B. Trail named in her honor, earned her the nickname “Trail Lady.”

Nearly six months after the longtime Smith College employee and outdoorswoman died, two local land trusts are receiving a combined $500,000 from Burnett’s estate to continue their work of preserving land and making it accessible to the public.

Kestrel Land Trust, in Amherst, and Franklin Land Trust, in Shelburne Falls, have been given $250,000 each.

Burnett, who died May 28 at the age of 87, worked for 50 years at the college’s Josten Performing Arts Library, where she was a pioneer in music cataloging. But the Northampton resident also helped to establish numerous trails at Mount Tom and would construct wooden bridges in her garage before hiking them up the mountain. Her work is still seen on the Beau Bridges Trail, which has seven bridges that cross Cascade Brook.

Bill Finn, who served on the Mount Tom State Reservation Citizens Advisory Committee alongside Burnett, said in a statement that she was a guiding force who made significant contributions.

“She believed that trails are essential for connecting people to the land,” Finn said. “There is so much about Kay’s life that should be an example and inspiration to future generations, encouraging people to enjoy and care for the land.”

Kestrel Executive Director Kristin DeBoer said the organization is honored to receive the gift.

The hope, DeBoer said, is to use the money to continue expanding public access to mountains and trails of Mount Tom and the Mount Holyoke Range, which have a combined 16,000 acres in Amherst, Hadley, Belchertown, Granby, South Hadley, Holyoke and Easthampton. About 5,000 acres remain at risk of development.

“Kay has already left a tangible legacy by helping other people to explore the beautiful landscape of Mount Tom,” DeBoer said. “Now, with her generous financial gift, Kestrel and our partners will be able to do even more to preserve and share the land she loved.”

Kestrel has conserved more than 25,000 acres of forests and farms since 1970, including more than 1,000 acres on the Mount Holyoke Range in 2015.

In fact, DeBoer said, that project was stimulated by a $350,000 anonymous donation from a local resident, which in turn helped Kestrel raise $1.5 million from the state’s Landscape Partnership program.

For the Franklin Land Trust, development director Mary Lynn Sabourin said the gift is the biggest in its 30-year history.

“This is our largest to date, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for us,” Sabourin said. “We’re hoping more folks think about us in estate planning.”

While there is no specific project at this point, the trust works to conserve farms and forests and other natural resources that promote the quality of the region’s environment, economy and rural character.

“The money will go into a fund to use our work going forward, as well as stewardship of our conserved properties,” Sabourin said.

“Kay’s generous gift will leave a lasting legacy for the community and reaffirms the impact that land conservation has on so many people,” Rich Hubbard, executive director of the Franklin Land Trust, said in a statement.

 Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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