Mickey Rathbun: The invaluable work of the Kestrel Trust

  • Kestrel Land Trust logo

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Every few weeks, it seems, I read something in the Gazette about important work being done by Kestrel Land Trust, a nonprofit organization in Amherst that works to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Pioneer Valley. Just this morning, for example, I learned that it permanently protected 31 acres of grassland and wetland on Maple Street in Hadley. The land was acquired from Eversource Energy, expanding the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge to 280 acres.

You may not know it, but all around you there are open spaces preserved through the dedication and hard work of the Kestrel Trust. Next time you drive past the intersection of Maple Street and Moody Bridge Road in Hadley, take a moment to appreciate the lovely expanse of emerald fields stretching to the southwest. It is Kestrel Trust’s work that helps make the Pioneer Valley such an exceptional place to live.

Since its founding in 1970, Kestrel (with Valley Land Fund which Kestrel merged with in 2011) has preserved more than 25,000 acres of wildlands, woodlands, farmlands and river lands in our area. It aims to preserve an additional 1,000 acres each year. It has done so by working creatively with landowners, government agencies, citizens groups and other nonprofit organizations to protect the landscape we cherish. The Kestrel Land Trust serves the Amherst-Northampton-Holyoke area, focusing on the iconic landscapes that define the Valley, including the Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom ranges, as well as smaller neighborhood conservation areas in nearly 20 towns.

Kestrel’s work has significantly enhanced the quality of life for me and my family. Several years ago, it orchestrated the preservation of a parcel of land adjacent to our home that had been slated to be developed as a luxury condo park. It has helped to conserve Amethyst Brook and Puffer’s Pond in Amherst. I can’t begin to count the number of times I wrangled two grumpy youngsters (and a happy dog) into the car for a visit to one of these places, where they were suddenly transformed into cheerful, inquisitive kids who could spend hours playing in the water, chasing each other through the trees and doing all those things kids find to do when freed from the siren song of the television and computer.

Kestrel also has helped preserve two of our favorite local organic farms, Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, where my son Nick worked one summer weeding strawberry patches, and Red Fire Farm in Granby. Among other public lands, Kestrel has protected Fitzgerald Lake and the Mineral Hills in Northampton for the community’s enjoyment.

But the land trust does more than fund land conservation. It trains volunteers in a range of tasks, including building and maintaining trails for hiking, mountain biking and birdwatching; restoring damaged wildlife habitat for its namesake — the American kestrel; and eradicating invasive weeds that choke out healthy, native plants. Kestrel Land Trust also offers guided hikes to explore newly designated natural areas.

“By bringing people together to conserve, care for and connect to the land, Kestrel wants to create a sense of community around a shared love for the Valley as our home,” said Kristin DeBoer, Kestrel’s Executive Director. “We aim to protect cherished natural places close to home and to help people from all walks of life feel that they belong to the community and to the land.”

When you’re considering making a charitable donation to a worthy local organization, consider Kestrel. This spring it is running a membership drive to inspire 500 new people to join. On May 20 and June 2, the community is invited to two garden parties at members’ homes in Amherst and Belchertown. Check out the website, www.kestreltrust.org, to find out details and learn more about Kestrel’s work and opportunities to support it as a member or a volunteer.

Good works in the Berkshires

The Lenox Garden Club recently received a 2018 Founders Fund Runner-up award from the Garden Club of America. The $10,000 Award will support a nonprofit teen-run food truck in coordination with Roots Rising, an agriculture-based youth development program in Pittsfield. Roots Rising was conceived and launched by Berkshire Botanical Garden and Alchemy Initiative. The program pays teenagers ages 14 to 19 to work on farms, in community gardens and in local food pantries. Berkshire Botanical Garden, founded in 1934, is one of the nation’s oldest public gardens. Alchemy Initiative was founded in 2009 to use food as the foundation for community building.

The Founders Fund award will be used toward the purchase of a food truck that will function both as a work site and mobile classroom. Offering ingredients from local farms and prepared by teens, the food truck will enable at-risk youth to gain entrepreneurial, horticultural and culinary skills, increase community access to healthy food and generate income for wages.

Amherst Garden Club plant sale

The Garden Club of Amherst will hold its annual plant sale Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. under the tent on the Amherst Common, next to the Farmers Market, rain or shine. This is a great opportunity to purchase wonderful locally grown plants among hundreds of perennials, hostas, woodland species, grasses, shrubs and trees. There will be plants for sun and shade — plants for everyone. Cash only.

Tovah Martin at Tower Hill

On Sunday, from 1 to 2 p.m., garden guru and prolific garden writer, Tovah Martin, will give a lecture at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston titled “The Garden in Every Sense and Season.” She will explain how to awaken your senses and tap into sensory subtleties you seldom notice in your garden. Martin is the author of many gardening books, including “The Indestructible Houseplant,” “The Unexpected Houseplant,” “The New Terrarium,” as well as the popular “Tasha Tudor’s Garden.” A book signing will follow the lecture. Cost: Members: $10/nonmembers: $20.

Inspecting your honey bee hive

Attention, all beekeepers! Beehives should be inspected every week or two. Do you know what to look for? Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge is offering a course May 26 from 10 a.m. to noon that will guide participants through a basic hive check. Topics covered will include monitoring hives throughout the seasons; finding eggs, larvae and queens; record keeping and checking for mites and other signs of diseases. A hands-on demo of a hive check will take place, weather permitting. Participants are advised to bring their own veils or other protective equipment.

Instructor Richard Clapper is the president of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages 30 hives at several locations in the Berkshires. He has given many educational talks and beekeeping demonstrations, serves as a mentor to new beekeepers and enjoys teaching and sharing information in both group and individual formats about bees and beekeeping. Cost: Members: $5/nonmembers: $10.

Berkshire Botanical Garden Fete des Fleurs

On May 26 from 5 to 7:30 p.m., Berkshire Botanical
Garden will host its annual Fete des Fleurs.

Wear your best hat and celebrate the opening of BBG’s summer exhibition “Beautiful Strangers: Artists Discover the Garden,” a collection of contemporary sculptures on display throughout the grounds. The show features works by Alice Aycock, Wendell Castle, E.V. Day, Fitzhugh Karol, Mark Mennin, Michele Oka Doner, Toni Ross, Ned Smyth, Stephen Talasnik and Rob Wynne. This year's Fete includes “Plants as Art,” a silent auction of artistically displayed plants, trees, shrubs and container plants. All proceeds from the auction support the garden's horticulture and education programs. Cocktails and refreshments will be served. For more information call: (413) 320-4794.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at mickey.rathbun@gmail.com.