Easthampton, trust close on land for Mt. Tom trail project

  • This is one of several towering oak trees on land recently saved from development between East Street and Mount Nonotuck in Easthampton. On Friday, August 2, 2019, Easthampton City Planner Jeffrey Bagg and Kestrel Land Trust Conservation and Stewardship Manager Mark Wamsley gave a tour of the two parcels of land, a combined 23 acres, forming the proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Planner Jeffrey Bagg looks over what he calls his “dream board” picturing two parcels of land that were recently saved from development to form the proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Land recently saved from development, situated on the west side of Mount Nonotuck near East Street in Easthampton, provides a view to the west from a lot where a house once stood. Photographed Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kestrel Land Trust Conservation and Stewardship Manager Mark Wamsley talks about a joint effort to save from development two parcels of land on the west side of Mount Nonotuck in Easthampton. Photographed Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kestrel Land Trust Conservation and Stewardship Manager Mark Wamsley walks through a lightly wooded area on land off East Street in Easthampton that was recently saved from development. The combined 23 acres form the proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park. Photographed on Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This open area at the top of what remains of Old Mountain Road, off East Street in Easthampton, provides views to the west. It's part of two parcels of land on the west side of Mount Nonotuck that were saved from development for the proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park. Photographed Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Land recently saved from development, situated on the west side of Mount Nonotuck near East Street in Easthampton, provides a view to the west from a lot where a house once stood. Photographed Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Planner Jeffrey Bagg looks over what he calls his "dream board" picturing two parcels of land that were recently saved from development to form the proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park. The combined 23 acres lie below the west side of Mount Nonotuck and would be accessed from a 50-foot frontage in the 100 block of East Street, where he is pointing. Photographed Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kestrel Land Trust Conservation and Stewardship Manager Mark Wamsley walks past the white rectangular blazes of the New England National Scenic Trail, which incorporates the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, in the Mount Tom State Reservation on Friday, August 2, 2019. The proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park will give Easthampton its own easy access onto the trail which runs here along the west side of Mount Nonotuck. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This 50-foot frontage along the 100 block of East Street in Easthampton is part of 23 acres recently saved from development and would provide access to the proposed Mount Tom North Trailhead Park. Photographed Friday, August 2, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2019 11:58:17 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A vision to have an official public access point to trails on Mount Tom in Easthampton has cleared a major hurdle as the city and Kestrel Land Trust acquired a total 23 acres of land for a park project.

The two separate parcels of land off East Street were purchased with a $400,000 state grant, $380,000 in Community Preservation Act funds and another $85,000 from a state Conservation Partnership grant on June 24. The city purchased a 12.2-acre parcel, while Kestrel purchased an adjacent 11.5-acre plot of land.

“I think the acquisition was a super-critical step,” said City Planner Jeffrey Bagg, who noted that the area has been identified by the city for a recreational space for years.

Called the Mount Tom North Trailhead Park Project, the city is now moving toward securing funds for the design of the park. According to Bagg and Mark Wamsley, conservation and stewardship manager at Kestrel, the park is planned to include a new parking area on East Street, handicapped-accessible trails and a lookout area.

The park would serve as the city’s first official trailhead to the Mount Tom State Reservation and the New England Scenic Trail, Bagg said. In addition to the accessible trail, another course on what’s known as Little Mountain, situated on the Kestrel land, would be available for those looking for a more moderate hike.

As of now, hikers looking to gain access to the New England Scenic Trail have to park on the side of Underhill Avenue to hike.

“It’s often that you see a lot of people, from Holyoke, too, parking on the sides of the road so they can’t get in and they’re putting themselves in a dangerous spot,” Wamsley said. “So to have one more access point where they can pull over and be safe … this was kind of a no-brainer.”

The original landowner planned a residential subdivision on the land. However, the city, with help from Kestrel and the Pascommuck Conservation Land Trust in 2018, managed to secure an option agreement that allowed the city until September 2019 to purchase the land.

CPA funds were allocated to the project in October 2018 and, soon after that, the city was reimbursed in January by the state PARC grant.

“The state saw our commitment,” Bagg said of the city’s monetary contribution.

Kestrel’s parcel is now protected and will not be developed. Wamsley said that, originally, Kestrel was denied the Conservation Partnership grant — prompting the organization and city to scramble to close an $85,000 gap in funding for the site’s purchase.

In early May, the state came back and told Kestrel that it would receive the much-needed funds if it could close on the property by June 30, because another project dropped out of the grant program.

“Suddenly it was ‘Run to get everything done to close on two properties on a huge project in a month and a half,’” Wamsley said, noting that the transaction was closed days before the deadline.

Now the city is looking for avenues to raise funds for the design of the project’s parking area and accessible trail. The city had originally applied for a $40,000 MassTrails grant this year to fund that design study, which was declined. Bagg believes the grant was not awarded because the city had not yet officially owned the property.

When the city does find money for a design consultation, Bagg said he is planning to have outreach meetings to get public input on what should go into the park. One area of the land could lend itself nicely to a pavilion area for people to sit and relax, he said.

In all, Bagg said the park project would not be finished for a few more years. There are even some short-term hurdles the city needs to face, namely securing required conservation restrictions approved by the City Council and the state. However both Bagg and Wamsley are confident attaining these will not be an issue.

“We were in the first phase of acquiring,” Bagg said. “Now it’s definitely an investment of time and effort on a longer view to make this become something that people can envision ... This is not immediate.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy