The Town of Amherst was successful in obtaining a State grant to improve the Town’s recreation facilities, the third in the past five years. This year’s grant, an award of $280,000, will go toward trail improvements at the former Hickory Ridge golf course. The two previous grants created the popular new playground at Kendrick Park and the exciting new splash pad at Groff Park.
The grant was awarded by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ (EEA) Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) program. The funding leverages Town Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to support the design and construction of a natural-surface looping trail that utilizes some of the existing cart paths and a new stretch of trail running along the scenic Fort River. The trail will be designed and constructed to meet or exceed the US Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines to allow users of all ages and abilities to enjoy the trail.
Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said, “We are so pleased to be awarded a PARC Grant from the Baker-Polito administration for this exciting project at Hickory. The proposed accessible trail will allow visitors to explore fields and wetlands, access the Fort River and enjoy views of the Mt. Holyoke Range.”
A new and improved system of walking trails was one of the most frequent comments suggested by community members to Town staff during a series of community engagement events and an online survey focused on the Town’s acquisition of Hickory Ridge and how to best utilize this new public resource. Based on this feedback, Town staff in the Conservation and Planning Departments have been developing plans for new trails and seeking funding for their construction. The existing allocation of $150,000 in CPA funds allowed Town staff to apply for the PARC grant with the necessary funds to provide the Town’s required 30% match. With the PARC grant awarded, it is expected that design of the trail will begin in early 2023 with trail construction beginning in the summer of 2023.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman added, “I am grateful the Town Council had the wisdom to purchase the derelict golf course and that the Council and the Community Preservation Act Committee had the foresight to set aside funds to develop it as a major new amenity for Amherst residents and others. I commend our staff for developing this project and securing this important grant.”
Hickory Ridge, at 191 West Pomeroy Lane, is a 150-acre former golf course in South Amherst which was acquired by the Town in March 2022. With over a mile of river frontage on the Fort River, many acres of floodplain and sensitive habitat, much of Hickory Ridge will be permanently protected conservation land to protect sensitive habitats and species. Walking trails and other passive recreation uses, such as walking, birding, picnicking, fishing, etc. will be allowed in this area as well. Meanwhile, the Town is also exploring which parts of the property could be developed with buildings, and the type and intensity of potential development, balancing community needs with the adjacent neighborhoods and sensitive habitat on the site.
A key goal in the Town’s acquisition of the course is the opportunity to connect South Amherst neighborhoods, previously disconnected by a private golf course, with each other and to the Pomeroy Village Center. Now publicly owned land, Hickory Ridge stitches together multiple neighborhoods, including Orchard Valley to the south, Mill Valley and the Brook to the north, and homes along West Street to the east. The Pomeroy Village Center, which will be revamped with a new roundabout intersection next summer, is in the southeast corner of Hickory Ridge, and the new trail system at Hickory Ridge will help the surrounding neighborhoods connect to the jobs, services, and businesses in the village center.
The Baker-Polito administration announced the awarding of over $12 million in grant funding for park improvements and open space acquisitions in 43 Massachusetts communities across the state. The PARC Grant Program was established in 1977 to assist cities and towns in acquiring and developing land for park and outdoor recreation purposes. The Hickory Ridge grant marks the third PARC grant Amherst has received in the past 5 years, having used PARC funds for the construction of the splash pad at Groff Park and the new playground at Kendrick Park.
Town staff are working towards the development of a land-use and management plan for Hickory Ridge which will outline various options for the types of activities and uses which can take place at Hickory Ridge and how the site can be maintained and managed to best serve the community and the sensitive habitat on the site. Stay tuned for more information about the plan development and how to stay engaged with the project.
Follow this and other Town projects here: www.engageamherst.org