Giving back to the land: One-day event will help trusts conserve trails, forests, farms and waterways

By MADDIE FABIAN

For the Recorder 

Published: 04-19-2023 6:39 PM

HADLEY — With Earth Day around the corner, four regional land trusts are joining together for their fourth annual Give Back to the Land Day, which will take place on Thursday.

The 24-hour online fundraising event, organized by Kestrel Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust, Hilltown Land Trust and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, will raise money to conserve Massachusetts trails, forests, farms and waterways.

Collectively, the trusts have conserved more than 104,000 acres of land, which has had immediate local impacts for the land, wildlife and people.

“Earth Day comes with a growing awareness about environmental issues. … People are more and more aware that taking action now to prevent further climate change … is critical,” said Katie Karr, engagement manager for Hilltown Land Trust. “Land conservation is an important tool that we have as part of the natural solution to climate change.”

The event was born out of Valley Gives Day, which had been run by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts from 2012 to 2018. The first Give Back to the Land Day was organized in 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People at that time felt such a connection to the land, and it was such an important part of people’s mental and physical health,” said Sally Loomis, executive director of Hilltown Land Trust. “I think that it’s always been that way, but it came more into the forefront of people’s consciousness.”

The land trusts noticed the importance of natural spaces for people’s mental and physical health during the early days of the pandemic, and came together to engage community members to support land conservation.

The first three Give Back to the Land Day events raised a total of $189,284 from nearly 1,000 donations, according to Franklin Land Trust Executive Director Mary Lynn Sabourin. This year, the land trusts aim to raise $80,000.

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“When we conserve the land, we’re safeguarding fertile places to grow our food, clean air to breathe and water to drink, places for wildlife to make their homes,” said Kari Blood, community engagement director at Kestrel Land Trust. “At the same time, we’re also providing ourselves with the chance to live healthier lives — physically, mentally and socially.”

This year, to highlight the multifaceted nature of land conservation work, each land trust is emphasizing its work on a specific theme.

Kestrel Land Trust, based in Amherst, is highlighting the importance of access to parks and trails for everyone, regardless of mobility.

“Part of Kestrel’s mission has always been to nurture an enduring love of the land, which is only possible when people are able to connect with nature in their own ways,” Executive Director Kristin DeBoer said.

To expand access, Kestrel is working to create new universally accessible trails, like the Mount Tom North Trailhead Park in Easthampton, as well as the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge in Hadley.

Over at Hilltown Land Trust, which serves 13 rural towns in western Massachusetts, recent work has involved preserving land so that wildlife can move freely through their habitats.

Land conservation, said Karr, “can help create corridors for wildlife that needs large swaths of undeveloped land to roam, to breed and to feed.” She added that the hilltown area connects a corridor of wilderness that goes from the Hudson River area in New York up to the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Meanwhile, Franklin Land Trust is showcasing its work on farmland conservation. Since it was founded in 1987, the trust has protected more than 14,000 acres of farmland, and an additional 21,000 acres of working landscapes, according to Sabourin.

“Land trusts are such a great way to support an environmental cause because it’s local,” Karr said. “We are rooted in the community and we’re responding to community needs and community interests.”

For this year’s Give Back to the Land Day, community members can donate directly to the land trusts or through the event website, givebacktotheland.org.

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