North Hadley, MA - August 22, 2008 - Through its Western Massachusetts Protection Fund, the Open Space Institute (OSI) recently made loans to two western Massachusetts land trusts to protect threatened properties, both of which represent vital links in creating connectivity among conserved lands in the state.
"Both projects exemplify the continuing challenge of stitching together the fabric of landscapes upon which humans and wildlife depend," said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. "We are pleased to have helped facilitate this important conservation work."
OSI loaned $375,000 to The Trustees of Reservations in partnership with The Kestrel Trust. Together, the two organizations acquired a 33-acre tract in North Hadley that was under threat from development and is now part of an assemblage of protected agricultural lands. Fifty miles to the east, in Holden, OSI also loaned $60,000 to the White Oak Land Conservation Society to purchase a 50-acre mature forest parcel that contains significant wildlife habitat and connects hundreds of acres of preserved land.
The Scott property in North Hadley, a prime agricultural parcel in the still-rural village, has long been viewed as a key acquisition in the land trusts’ multi-year plan to assemble high quality agricultural lands along the Connecticut River.
North Hadley has struggled to combat the urban sprawl that threatens its agricultural heritage, and the highly developable Scott property is an important piece in the puzzle, with two small streams that provide aquatic habitat on the property and protected or soon-to-be protected land on three sides. Its 33 acres will ultimately be conveyed to the state for inclusion into the Connecticut River Greenway State Park.
"We were thrilled to lend a hand with a project that protects such an amazing piece of Hadley farmland," said Lee Alexander, community conservation specialist with The Trustees of Reservations, a longtime successful land trust in Massachusetts. "We hope this project will inspire more communities to create similar partnerships to preserve the natural and cultural character of their towns."
The land is located within a few hundred feet of the Connecticut River and is a very visible part of a larger scenic landscape, including rolling farmland, the Mount Holyoke mountains and the river itself.
"All of the partners spent countless hours over the last two years figuring out the details of this agreement," said Kristin DeBoer, executive director of The Kestrel Trust, now a two-time borrower from OSI. "Fortunately, every acre was worth the effort. We are grateful to the public agencies and private citizens who donated the funds to make this conservation project possible."
In Holden, the White Oak Land Conservation Society used an OSI loan to purchase a 50-acre mature forest parcel known as Porcupine Hill.
Used many years ago as a summer camp, the property is now completely forested with hardwood and white pine. It is mostly upland with rock ledges that form caverns where porcupines build dens during winter, hence the name of the property.
Like the Scott tract, Porcupine Hill also forms an important conservation link in its region, as it connects hundreds of acres of preserved land to the north and south both, providing a migration corridor for wildlife including several species of bats and turtles. The parcel abuts the Asnebumskit Reservoir, a reserve drinking water supply for nearby Worcester and other surrounding towns, so its acquisition will boost the region’s water quality protection efforts as well.
Porcupine Hill will also supplement recreation resources for residents in the region.
"After access and trail work is complete, the property will be used for hiking, skiing and wildlife observation by many people, as it is within easy reach for the 20,000-plus residents of Holden and Paxton, as well as the citizens of Worcester," said Judith Haran, vice president of the White Oak Land Conservation Society. "Although we were fortunate to purchase it during a housing contraction, the property is eminently developable, as it is almost all upland. We're gratified to know that the many creatures that live there (including porcupines) will remain safe due to our actions."
After creating the Western Massachusetts Protection Fund three years ago, OSI has made loans to locally based land trusts totaling $2.8 million, helping to protect more than 1,300 acres in the state. The Fund grew out of the Western Massachusetts Assessment, an OSI study that identified working farms, forests and other biologically important landscapes as conservation priorities in the western part of the Bay State.