Kestrel Land Trust nears $5 million fundraising goal to preserve 5,000 acres 

  • Logo for Kestrel Land Trust’s the Promise to the Valley campaign. SUBMITTED IMAGE

  • This view to the north from Mount Holyoke in Hadley includes Rainbow Beach, foreground, in Northampton and the town of Hadley, center, nestled between bends in the Connecticut River. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2022

AMHERST — A $5 million campaign for Kestrel Land Trust, aimed at preserving 5,000 acres of land in the region, including portions of Mount Tom and the Mount Holyoke Range, enhancing existing sites and creating new trails, is nearing completion.

The land trust recently announced that its Promise to the Valley campaign, launched quietly in the early stages of the pandemic, is within $200,000 of the finish line to achieve the largest private fundraising goal in Kestrel’s 52-year history.

“We’ve been thrilled and inspired by the generosity of nearly 100 visionary members of the community who have already committed $4.8 million to invest in the future of the Valley,” Executive Director Kristin DeBoer said in a statement.

Kestrel’s hope is that by July the final money will come in so its mission to protect forests and farmland can continue, and that it can confront both the climate crisis and development pressures, shown by the 24,000 acres of land lost in New England annually to development projects.

Joel Russell, chairman of Kestrel’s board and a professional conservation attorney, observes that many properties in the region could be sold over the coming years.

“Thousands of acres of forests and farms will change hands in the next generation,” Russell said. “This may be our last chance to act while there’s still time to preserve what’s left.”

Many communities and families are requesting Kestrel’s help, says Rosemary Arnold, a member of Kestrel’s board and of the Holyoke Conservation Commission.

“The future of the Valley depends on the decisions we all make today,” Arnold said. “Conserving land is not a luxury for some, but a necessity for everyone.”

The campaign has three components, each with a specific purpose.

First, $3 million is being directed to what is being called a conservation opportunities fund, where over five years, 5,000 acres will be preserved in perpetuity. Focus areas for preservation include the Mount Holyoke Range and Mount Tom, the Quabbin Reservoir area, Brewer Brook, and agricultural fields. To do this work, it costs about $2,000 to save an acre of forest and $10,000 to save an acre of agricultural land.

“We’re confident that by expanding Kestrel’s capacity to act quickly and strategically, we can seize the opportunity to ensure that what we love about the Valley is sustained for generations to come,” DeBoer said.

About $1.5 million goes into a special places fund, with that money to aid the seven nature retreats owned by Kestrel. Those include the site of its new headquarters at the Sweet Alice Conservation Area at the base of the Mount Holyoke Range in Amherst, the new Whately Center Woods, an accessible trail next to the new Mount Tom North Trailhead Park in Easthampton and a 140-acre forest around Ames Pond in Shutesbury.

Finally, $500,000 will be directed to the Valley trails fund, to give Kestrel the resources to create or enhance 10 new local trails over five years

Founded in 1970, Kestrel in 2011, merged with Valley Land Fund, and the two organizations together have helped to conserve more than 27,000 acres.

“As Kestrel launches our next 50 years of service to the Valley, we’re preparing to remain a vibrant community presence and an effective force for conservation in the region,” DeBoer said.