Belchertown dedicates town forest in honor of late UMass forestry department head Don Mader

  • Family and friends celebrated the dedication of the Don Mader Town Forest in Belchertown, Sunday. From left are Mary Mader’s grandson Morgan Aldrich, Mary Mader, Jeremy Aldrich and his wife, Sue Aldrich, Mary Mader’s daughter, Rosalina, Mary’s Mader great-granddaughter, Russell Mader, Amity Deangelis and her boyfriend Rusty. SARAH ROBERTSON

For the Gazette
Published: 9/24/2018 12:44:19 AM

BELCHERTOWN — The newest piece of protected land in Belchertown commemorates a naturalist and educator who made significant contributions to the environmental movement of the 1960s.

Donald Mader was a professor and eventual head of the University of Massachusetts forestry department. He studied soils, particularly how pesticides, herbicides and pollutants affect the health of plants, animals and people. Rachel Carson even cites his 1960 doctoral thesis in her renowned book, “Silent Spring,” that prompted a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT.

In 1965, Mader purchased a piece of land in Belchertown where he practiced the sustainable forestry practices he studied. After death in 1987, he left his family with 86 acres of forestland filled with memories.

For Mary Mader, 82, conserving the forest was the perfect way to honor her husband’s legacy.

“It feels like his spirit is in this forest and shining down on the land,” she said at a dedication ceremony Sunday morning.

Belchertown partnered with Kestrel Land Trust to apply for grant money and place the land under a conservation restriction, which is a legal agreement with the nonprofit that permanently limits some uses of the land to conserve it for wildlife.

“It’s a commitment that the forest remains a forest forever,” said Kristin DeBoer, executive director of the Kestrel Land Trust.

The new conservation area will permanently protect a recharge area for Jabish Brook, a water source for Springfield and Belchertown, and preserve a wildlife corridor between the Mount Holyoke Range State Park and Quabbin Reservoir.

DeBoer continued work started by Kestrel’s conservation manager, Kat Deely, and the town’s former conservation administrator, Leeanne Connolly, to protect the parcel of land. After working for three years to secure the Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity (LAND) grant, Connolly finally received $243,636 in December from the state Division of Conservation Services. When Erica Cross took over as conservation administrator in March, she saw the project to completion. It was their third time applying for the grant, which paid for about 70 percent of the parcel, with the rest covered by Community Preservation Act funds and private donations.

Don Mader’s passion for forestry began when he was in junior high school after he received a copy of “The Young Forester” by Zane Gray. Always the top of his class, Mader’s friends and family wondered why he did not become an engineer or a doctor, but his wife said it was because he found his love in the forest.

“Don would be delighted that this forest will be nurtured and preserved for ages and ages hence,” she said.

One of Mader’s influential studies showed that the Clean Air Act not only improved air quality nationally, but also decreased the amount of lead found in forest soils. He also pushed for the use of natural fertilizers, studied the decline of maple trees, and recorded findings from one of the first acid rain monitoring stations in the Northeast.

Teaching at UMass Amherst, Mader encouraged students to earn their doctorates in forestry, helping them overcome frustration and find inspiration. Today, a scholarship is offered to forestry students in his name.

“He said he learned as much from them as they did from him,” Mary Mader said of his students.

A family affair

Driving from Vermont to attend the dedication ceremony Sunday morning, family members saw a moose on their way through Belchertown. They said that in the decades since Mader purchased the lot, wildlife sightings have increased significantly.

One son, Russell Mader, forested the land for years after his father passed away, while their daughter, Sue, prided. Another son, Jim Mader, lived off the land in a teepee in the 1970s. Unable to make it to the dedication, he wrote about his experience.

“For the next year and a half that hill was my home, through a couple lovely summers and one interesting winter,” Jim Mader wrote. “Eventually I followed some other dreams to the coast of Washington State, but my time on that hill will always be some of my fondest memories.”

Mary Mader developed her own appreciation for the outdoors, too, growing up in Adirondack Park in New York. She loves hearing peepers in the springtime — small frogs that hatch in the vernal pools in their Belchertown forest.

“Later I sometimes wondered, as our sons or daughter walked through that peaceful forest, if its beauty and quiet mystery gave them courage to dream, permission to pursue whatever it was that their own inner spirit required of them,” Mary Mader said. “For generations to come, many people will walk through this and other forests. Will they too, in that quiet space, find their own call in the world?”

Preserving the land

Belchertown now owns the Mader Town Forest land, where sustainable timber harvesting will continue. Like Don Mader, the town will use selective harvesting of local wood with an emphasis on protecting water resources and wildlife habitat. Kestrel Land Trust will also maintain a small network of hiking trails around the property.

“The hard part is the conservation. The fun part is the trails,” DeBoer said.

Conservation Commission Chairman David Haines and Cross joined attendees on a short walk through the forest after giving their thanks to everyone involved. Near the intersection of Allen Road and Route 202, the entrance to the Mader Town Forest is actually the grown-over remnants of the original Pelham Road, Haines said.

“It’s not just an environmental conservation, it’s also part of the town’s history, and a family love,” Cross said. “It’s amazing to be able to preserve all those things in this land — not just the history but the love in your family.”

Since 2005, Kestrel has helped conserve over 1,000 acres of forest and farmland in the Belchertown area, including the Holland Glen, Scarborough Brook, Wentworth and Topping Farm conservation areas.

“We love working with towns that want to conserve land, and Belchertown is one of the leaders in the Valley, really proactively working with private landowners to protect a parcel almost every year,” DeBoer said.

Kestrel is currently pursuing other projects to protect parts of the Mount Holyoke Range and built a new public access point to Mount Tom in Easthampton.

During the dedication, DeBoer quoted the famous environmentalist and philosopher Aldo Leopold, who inspired Kestrel’s focus on “land ethic.”

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how,” she read. “To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at

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Northampton, MA 01061


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