Land Conservation

Shortly after acquiring property to protect watershed lands, the Town began its open space and farmland protection efforts with purchases along the Mill River in 1963. Since then, Amherst has amassed 1,965 acres of conservation land, and has been integral to the acquisition of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions on 1,842 acres of farmland on 32 properties and an additional 157 acres protected by Conservation Restrictions. 

Amherst has gradually acquired conservation lands that will eventually constitute a system of fully protected blocks of wildlife habitat and green space, with correspondingly high scenic, recreational, and educational value.

Approximately 30 percent of Amherst’s surface area (total land area equals 17,765 acres) is permanently protected open space.   The permanently protected lands range from Town-owned conservation land with public access to privately owned land with Conservation Restrictions to land owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts such as much of the Mount Holyoke Range. The permanently protected land is distributed throughout town so that it is only a short walk from the village centers or town center until one can enjoy the preserved open space or walk along the network of trails that connects many conservation areas in town.

Although Amherst has a long history of planning for both recreation and conservation lands, it is important to realize the distinction between preserved land and recreational open space. Preserved land is managed by the Conservation Department to maintain Amherst‘s natural resources, and may provide for passive recreation and outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing without being dedicated solely to playing fields or formal recreational facilities. Preserved land may include woodlands, pastures, trails or highly managed areas. Recreational open space is land set aside for either active recreation such as Ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, and baseball, or for passive recreation such as picnicking and bird watching. Active recreational open space is typically found on flat, well-drained soils where the turf is managed to maintain a level playing field.

The philosophy of open space and recreation planning and protection in Amherst has been established as follows: 

  • Protected land is essential to Amherst‘s appearance, economy, and well-being. Conservation land helps maintain the town‘s rural character, provides adequate land area for traditional and modern forms of outdoor recreation, and protects important wildlife habitat for both game and non-game species. Protected farmland provides a permanent base on which present and future farm businesses depend, and helps farm supported (i.e. grain/dairy processing, equipment repairs) businesses maintain a significant presence in Amherst and adjacent towns. Protected land also ensures clean water for wells and reservoirs supplying Town drinking water.
  • Amherst is tremendously diverse in its flora, landscapes, wildlife, and land use. Continued protection of all types of open space and farmland will help maintain that diversity in the face of mounting development pressures.
  • Traditional resource-based economic activities such as agriculture and forestry, and traditional forms of recreation such as fishing and hunting, continue to play major roles in Amherst. The Conservation Commission and Conservation Department continue to help keep these traditions and their associated cultural practices viable by working closely with farmers and farmland owners to encourage the farm economy; carrying out ecologically-sound forest and open land wildlife habitat management on Town watershed lands in the three adjacent communities of Belchertown, Pelham, and Shutesbury; and renting out fields for farm production and community gardening.
  • Amherst Conservation Land 038_thumb.jpgOpen space is not just the land left over after development, but preserved land that is actively planned to contribute to the character and quality of the town‘s total environment, and to ensure the continued existence of a ‘critical mass’ of connected land areas needed to sustain traditional resource-based economic activities, recreation, and wildlife. 
  • Preserving unprotected open space and farmland in outlying areas of town is one aspect of Amherst‘s long-established planning goal: to direct new growth toward existing developed centers. This preserves Amherst‘s historic settlement pattern (village centers separated by open land) and reduces the need for continual expansion of expensive public utilities and services as Emphasis is given to the protection of key wetlands, rivers and tributaries, and associated ecosystems to ensure viable habitat, biodiversity, and wildlife corridors. This includes the two major watersheds of the Fort and Mill Rivers that drain Amherst into the Connecticut River, as well as the Lawrence Swamp and key tributaries.

Priorities for Land Conservation
The town is focusing land preservation efforts in areas that are identified as priority habitat (for rare and endangered species), containing valuable natural resources, farmland and prime agricultural soils, watershed lands that supply Amherst’s drinking water, and areas with large contiguous blocks of undeveloped open space. We do this by:
  • Haskins 030_thumb.jpgIdentifying and prioritizing key parcels for acquisition or protection to help preserve lands for conservation (trail, habitat and biodiversity), recreation, watershed protection, and agriculture. 
  • Increasing the size and quality of wildlife habitat along riparian corridors and wooded uplands. 
  • Protecting scenic points from which to view important natural features such as the Lawrence Swamp, Mount Holyoke Range, the Pelham Hills, local ponds and rivers, and farmland. 
  • Protecting wetlands, vernal pools, and water supply sources. 
  • Protecting and encouraging productive farms and agricultural businesses in areas traditionally farmed and where those businesses are currently operating.
  • Working with the Agriculture Commission to promote and preserve the local agricultural economy.
  • Educating the public about the value of working landscapes. 
  • Continuing to expand funding of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR) and Conservation Restrictions (CR) for the acquisition of farmland, forest land, riparian corridors, and water supply sources.
The following categories of preserved land are found within the town boundaries:
 Protected Open Space  Commonwealth of Massachusetts
 Agricultural Land  Town Parks and Recreation Areas
 Forest Land  Town Commons
 Town Conservation Lands  Partially Protected Open Space

*For a definition of these protected lands please see the Open Space & Recreation Plan, Section 5.

Corridors for Wildlife Migration
The town has preserved the following corridors for wildlife migration, providing critical habitat connections among conservation areas and other protected land:

  • The Mount Holyoke Range and its linkages to the Connecticut River, Lawrence Swamp, and Plum Brook, and the Quabbin Reservoir to the east. 
  • The Lawrence Swamp with connections northward to Hop Brook and the Fort River north of Station Road and to South Amherst farmland via the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
  • The University Drive area and linkages westward to the UMass Hadley Farm, Mt. Warner, Lake Warner, and the Connecticut River via lower Mill River. 
  • The Amethyst Brook area with linkages eastward to the Amherst watershed in Pelham, the University‘s Cadwell Forest, and the Quabbin Reservoir.
  • The Mill River-Puffer‘s Pond area with connections northeasterly along Cushman Brook into Leverett and north over Pulpit Hill and up the Eastman Brook watershed to the Leverett Knobs, Mt. Toby, and the Montague Wildlife Corridor. 
  • The Central Vermont Railroad (CVRR) Corridor from Main Street north through the Wildwood and Eastman Brook areas into Leverett. 
  • The Adams Brook area north from Pelham Road along the North East Street farms to Atkins Reservoir via the Banfield farm and on to Brushy Mountain in Leverett.