Editorial: Placing value on our natural landscape by protecting it

  • Part of the Dauchy property, being referred to by the Kestrel Land Trust as the Whately Center Woods Project, in Whately. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MARK WAMSLEY

Published: 12/5/2019 10:10:07 AM
Modified: 12/5/2019 10:09:57 AM

From atop Mount Sugarloaf, farmland stretches as far as the eye can see — to the distant Seven Sisters range in Hadley and beyond. It’s a beautiful landscape that’s for the most part untouched by large swaths of commercial development. Wooded areas and open spaces afford opportunities for recreation and provide a buffer for busier economic hubs to the south.

This isn’t a coincidence.

The Pioneer Valley’s residents have historically valued its natural landscape and, as such, have taken steps to protect it. Through concerted conservation efforts over decades by a host of local agencies, including the Amherst-based Kestrel Land Trust, thousands of untouched acres throughout Western Massachusetts provide refuge for native wildlife.

The work continues today. Soon, there will be an additional 120 conserved acres in Whately.

The land, known as the Whately Center Woods Project, encompasses Westbrook, Chestnut Plain and Haydenville roads. According to the Kestrel Land Trust, the agency working on the project, small streams run through the property, providing a cold-water habitat for brook trout. They feed into the Mill River, which is considered by The Nature Conservancy to be possibly the most significant river in the state for rare and endangered species. At least one classic vernal pool on the property supports healthy populations of spotted salamanders and wood frogs.

Currently owned by husband and wife Charles Dauchy and Judith Weinthaler, the land also has tree species associated with northern forests such as sugar maple, American beech and basswood, which intermix with species including tulip poplar, sassafras and black gum. To purchase the land, the trust was given an $85,000 state grant that must be matched and a Conservation Partnership Grant from the Division of Conservation Services at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

For the remaining expenses, officials intend to apply for a local Community Preservation Act grant. Besides the property itself, an additional $30,000 is required for trail improvements, signs, bridge repairs if necessary, and to build a kiosk with a trail map and information about the land and construct a small parking area, according to Mark Wamsley, a conservation and stewardship manager at the land trust. He noted the agency will hold a public fundraiser at some point to further offset costs.

“It’s really a gorgeous, unique property,” Wamsley said. “It was a nice property just to begin with, but (Dauchy and Weinthaler) took care of it very, very well.”

It’s easy to take for granted the amount of conservation land in our region because those who work to preserve it usually do so quietly and behind the scenes. Without conservationists, however, the Pioneer Valley wouldn’t be the vibrant and beautiful place it is.

One way to say “thank you” is to contribute within one’s means to fundraising efforts to preserve open space. Another is to take a hike and enjoy the untouched land that we’re fortunate enough to have in our backyard.


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