Edge Hill Golf Course in Ashfield to be conserved

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-03-2023 3:20 PM

ASHFIELD — Having successfully completed its fundraising ahead of schedule, the Franklin Land Trust is set to purchase and conserve the Edge Hill Golf Course.

“We are so grateful to our friends and neighbors in Ashfield and beyond for their generous support in making this project a reality,” Franklin Land Trust Executive Director Mary Lynn Sabourin said in a statement.

A year and a half ago, the Franklin Land Trust entered into an agreement with golf course owner Mark Graves to purchase the land within three years. The land trust exceeded expectations by raising the money needed, $755,000, in half that time and is now beginning the process of transferring ownership.

The golf course is set to be open for the 2023 golfing season and possibly longer, according to Sebastian LaMontagne, outreach an development associate with the Franklin Land Trust. A land restoration project will commence after that, although a timeline hasn’t been finalized.

The golf course on Barnes Road consists of about 150 acres. The Franklin Land Trust already owns 40 acres directly next to this parcel, and 975 acres in the Bear River region. This sale will mean the land trust has acquired more than 1,000 acres for conservation in this area.

LaMontagne explained a study found that the land contains mostly road frontage, so it could be turned into 17 house lots. If the golf course was developed instead of conserved, it would have led to light and noise pollution in the already conserved areas.

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The land already contains a population of otters and turtles. The Franklin Land Trust plans to restore the property to a high-quality wetland and shrubland habitat for species such as bobolinks and other ground-nesting birds.

This project is unique because the Franklin Land Trust is aware of only one other instance of taking land that was once a golf course and restoring it for conservation in the Northeast. The land trust hopes this effort can serve as an example of what other closing golf courses can do. Many new golf courses opened during the early days of the pandemic, LaMontagne noted, but those that are now closing create more opportunities for conservation efforts.

The Franklin Land Trust plans to reach out to local colleges and universities to take part in the restoration work.

“There is not a lot of literature on restoring golf courses,” LaMontagne noted, as this project can also be used for research and as a teaching tool.

With the development of the golf course, the terrain has been flattened and non-native grass was planted. Prior to its use as a golf course, the land was the site of a dairy farm.

“When we restore it, it will be hard to know what the land looked like,” LaMontagne explained. “We are looking at the landscape around it and the specific needs of the area to determine what to do.”

LaMontagne said the land has been owned by Graves and his family for a “long time.” He said Graves is happy to see the land conserved and used as open space. Graves could not be reached by press time on Friday.

After the restoration project is complete, the land will be open to the public for hiking and cross-country skiing.

“We are excited to begin the process of creating a vibrant wildlife habitat at Edge Hill,” Sabourin said in a statement. “We believe it will provide a rare foothold for species struggling across our region.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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