A Kestrel founder’s son helps trust preserve family land

  • Robert McClung is seen with his dog in a photo courtesy of Jones Library special collections. He was known for visiting the family’s land in Pelham daily with the dog.

  • Bill McClung at a pedestrian bridge at the Buffam Brook Community Forest in Pelham.  —Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Saturday, March 07, 2020

PELHAM — Children’s book author and illustrator Robert M. McClung was among a handful of local residents who came together in 1970 to form an organization to protect wildlife habitat in Amherst.

As the Kestrel Land Trust, which McClung helped to found, begins a celebration of its half-century anniversary this year and gets several projects underway, his family recently participated in the first Kestrel effort of 2020, selling at a steep discount a nearly 40-acre piece of forestland to the town of Pelham that’s connected to the Buffam Brook Community Forest.

On Friday, Kestrel announced that McClung’s son, Bill, and his wife, Emily, contributed to the family legacy by permanently conserving the majority of the family’s land off Buffam Road.

“I thank all of you involved for your time and hard work to bring this land purchase to fruition,” Bill McClung said in a statement, citing Aldo Leopold, an environmentalist who wrote that “we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

“I believe as he did that direct contact with the natural world is crucial in shaping our ability to extend our ethics beyond our own self-interest,” McClung said.

Kestrel Executive Director Kristin DeBoer said her organization is grateful to the McClung family for the continued commitment to preserving open spaces. “It is a wonderful family legacy for land conservation in the Valley,” DeBoer said.

The 40-acre site was appraised for $155,000, with McClung agreeing to sell it to the town for half that amount, or $77,500. The project was supported by a USDA/U.S. Forest Service Community Forest Grant encouraging sustainable forest management, public education and recreation. Additional money was provided by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Conservation Land Tax Credit Program.

Kestrel was founded when Bob McClung, who with wife, Gale, had come to Amherst in 1962, joined a group that included Janet Dakin, Charles Chase, Bradlee Gage, Robert Garrabrants, Dona Motts and William Sheldon, aiming to protect land from development as the University of Massachusetts began to grow.

The McClungs purchased a 55-acre parcel of forested land in Pelham in 1964, which Bob McClung would visit and explore every day after lunch with his dog. He would also bring his two sons to play on the property, which eventually became the location of Bill McClung’s home after his parents deeded 2 acres to him.

With the addition of the new land, the Buffam Brook Community Forest is now a 200-acre site that is part of a large network of conserved lands totaling 3,400 acres, including properties set aside for protecting drinking water for Amherst, Pelham, Belchertown and Springfield. The habitat is home to black bear, bobcat and moose, as well as amphibians and woodland songbirds.

Public access to the property will come from the new Buffam Brook Community Forest trailhead and parking area on North Valley Road.

The property is managed as part of the larger Buffam Brook Community Forest, with a balance of the use including sustainable forestry, wildlife habitat conservation, water resources conservation and non-motorized public recreation. The area also allows for hunting and fishing.

Existing hiking trails on the McClung parcel will be connected to other trails that the public will be able to use.

The latest acquisition is one of several public access projects Kestrel has managed in partnership with Pelham.

Dana MacDonald, chair of the Pelham Conservation Commission, credited Kestrel and its staff.

“Without Kestrel’s work to navigate complex grant programs and engage multiple landowners, this project simply would not have been possible,” MacDonald said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.