BELCHERTOWN – The newest piece of protected land in Belchertown commemorates a naturalist and educator who made a significant contribution to the environmental movement of the 1960s.
Donald Mader was a professor and eventual head of the forestry department at the University of Massachusetts. He has studied soils, in particular how pesticides, herbicides and pollutants affect the health of plants, animals and people. Rachel Carson even quotes her 1960 doctoral thesis in her famous book “Silent Spring,” which prompted a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT.
In 1965, Mader purchased land in Belchertown where he practiced the sustainable forestry practices he studied. After his death in 1987, he left his family 86 acres of forest filled with memories.
For 82-year-old Mary Mader, conserving the forest was the perfect way to honor her husband’s legacy.
“It feels like her spirit is in this forest and shines on the earth,” she said at a dedication ceremony Sunday morning.
Belchertown has partnered with Kestrel Land Trust to apply for a grant and place the land under a conservation restriction, which is a legal agreement with the non-profit organization that permanently limits certain uses of the land to conserve it for wildlife.
“It’s a commitment that the forest will remain a forest forever,” said Kristin DeBoer, executive director of the Kestrel Land Trust.
The new conservation area will permanently protect a recharge area for Jabish Creek, a water source for Springfield and Belchertown, and preserve a wildlife corridor between Mount Holyoke Range State Park and Quabbin Reservoir.
DeBoer continued the work started by Kestrel Conservation Officer Kat Deely and former town conservation administrator Leeanne Connolly to protect the plot of land. After working for three years to secure the Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity (LAND) grant, Connolly finally received $ 243,636 in December from the state’s Conservation Services Division. When Erica Cross took over as Conservation Administrator in March, she brought the project to fruition. This was their third grant application, which paid off about 70 percent of the plot, with the rest covered by Community Preservation Act funds and private donations.
Don Mader’s passion for forestry began when he was in college after receiving a copy of “The Young Forester” by Zane Gray. Still the top of his class, Mader’s friends and family wondered why he hadn’t become an engineer or a doctor, but his wife said it was because he found his love in the forest.
“Don would be delighted if this forest could be maintained and preserved for centuries and centuries,” she said.
One of Mader’s influential studies showed that the Clean Air Act not only improved air quality nationwide, but also decreased the amount of lead found in forest soils. He also advocated the use of natural fertilizers, studied the decline of maple trees and recorded the results of one of the first acid rain monitoring stations in the Northeast.
A teacher at UMass Amherst, Mader encouraged students to earn their doctorates in forestry, helping them overcome frustration and find inspiration. Today, a scholarship is offered to forestry students in his name.
“He said he learned as much from them as they did from him,” Mary Mader said of his students.
Driving from Vermont to attend the dedication ceremony Sunday morning, family members saw a moose pass through Belchertown. They said that in the decades since Mader’s purchase of the lot, sightings of wildlife have increased dramatically.
A son, Russell Mader, afforested the land for years after his father passed away, while their daughter, Sue, was proud. Another son, Jim Mader, lived off the dirt in a tipi in the 1970s. Unable to make it to the dedication, he wrote about his experience.
“For a year and a half this hill has been my home, for a few lovely summers and an interesting winter,” Jim Mader wrote. “Eventually I followed other dreams to the coast of Washington State, but my time on this hill will always be one of my fondest memories.”
Mary Mader also developed her own appreciation of the outdoors while growing up in Adirondack Park in New York City. She loves to hear spring peepers, little frogs hatching in the spring pools of their Belchertown Forest.
“Later, I sometimes wondered, as our sons or our daughter walked through this peaceful forest, if its beauty and silent mystery gave them the courage to dream, permission to pursue whatever their own inner spirit required of us. ‘them,’ said Mary Mader. “For generations to come, many people will pass through this forest and others. Will they too, in this quiet space, find their own call in the world? ”
Belchertown now owns the Mader Town forest land, where sustainable timber harvesting will continue. Like Don Mader, the city will use selective local timber harvesting with an emphasis on protecting water resources and wildlife habitat. Kestrel Land Trust will also maintain a small network of hiking trails around the property.
“The hardest part is conservation. The fun part is the trails, ”DeBoer said.
Conservation Commission Chairman David Haines and Cross joined participants for a short walk through the forest after thanking everyone involved. Near the intersection of Allen Road and Route 202, the entrance to Mader Town Forest is actually the remains of the original Pelham Road, Haines said.
“It’s not just about preserving the environment, it’s also part of the history of the city and of family love,” said Cross. “It’s amazing that you can preserve all of these things on this earth – not just the history but the love of your family.”
Since 2005, Kestrel has helped conserve over 1,000 acres of forest and farmland in the Belchertown area, including Holland Glen, Scarborough Brook, Wentworth and Topping Farm Conservation Areas.
“We love to work with cities that want to conserve land, and Belchertown is one of the leaders in the valley, working really proactively with private landowners to protect a piece of land almost every year,” DeBoer said.
Kestrel is currently pursuing other projects to protect parts of the Mount Holyoke Range and has built a new public access point to Mount Tom in Easthampton.
During the dedication, DeBoer quoted the famous environmentalist and philosopher Aldo Leopold, who inspired Kestrel’s emphasis on “the ethics of the earth.”
“Acts of creation are usually reserved for gods and poets, but more humble people can get around this restriction if they know how,” she read. “To plant a pine, for example, you don’t need to be a god or a poet; all you need is a shovel.
Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected]