Protection Strategies for the NET

Josh Weeks, A.T. Committee Chair
The New England National Scenic Trail (NET) was established as part of the National Park Service's (NPS) National Trails System (NTS) in 2009 through an amendment to the National Trails System Act (NTSA) which establishes the nation's National Scenic and Historic Trails (NSHTs). The NET is a 235-mile trail that traverses southern New England from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Designated as one of the nation's eleven National Scenic Trails in 2009, the NET consists of the Metacomet-Monadnock, Metacomet, Mattabesett, and Menunkatuck trail systems that cross central Connecticut and west-central Massachusetts. The NET is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and managed by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) in Connecticut (CT) and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in Massachusetts (MA) in cooperation with many other partners.

The NET must be protected along its route to safeguard the recreational experience and national significance of the trail.

The NET must be protected along its route to safeguard the recreational experience and national significance of the trail.

Both AMC and CFPA have developed state-level land protection strategies for the NET. In early 2023, AMC, CFPA, and NPS staff collaborated to develop a trailwide Land Protection Plan using these state level plans as a foundation. This plan aims to identify and prioritize parcels for protection along the trail and will also address preliminary options for potential partners and methods of acquisitions for parcels identified as priorities. As noted in the NTSA, any potential protection project will only be undertaken with the agreement of a willing seller.
Various tracts along the NET are protected through conservation easements or conservation restrictions, or are owned and protected by state or municipal agencies, local land trusts, or other non-profits. No tracts are protected by any other special federal, state, or local laws. Currently, there are more than 500 landowners along the NET corridor, approximately 250 in each state. About 60% of the trail lies on parcels with existing protections.

Recent and Upcoming Projects in Massachusetts

Bear Hole Watershed

Since the NET was designated as a National Scenic Trail, a number of previously unprotected portions of the trail have been permanently protected in MA. Most significantly, the 1,500-acre Bear Hole Watershed in West Springfield – which contains three miles of the NET – was protected with a conservation restriction co-held by Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and Mass Audubon in 2021. According to Mass Audubon, "This land is a critical link in an extensive wildlife corridor extending from central Connecticut to the Holyoke Range. Hosting a large network of trails, it is also a beloved destination for low impact recreation activities." Seen in context with a mosaic of other conserved lands, this quickly becomes clear.

Mt. Tom North Trailhead Park

Officially opened in September 2022, the Mt. Tom North Trailhead Park provides a new and improved access point to the NET and Mt. Tom Reservation for a range of experience levels and mobility types. The trail consists of a 2,000-ft crushed stone path which provides a consistently even surface with slopes that meet US Forest Service standards for accessible trails. There are six level-ground rest areas throughout the trail with seating and informational kiosks highlighting the unique nature of the area and providing local context. The trail culminates in a restored meadow area and final loop of the gravel trail with excellent views of the valley and multiple accessible picnic tables. At the top there is also access to the NET as indicated by white blazes and the Kestrel Loop Trail as indicated by blue blazes.
The parcel was acquired and the trail installed through the state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities Grant Program with vital support provided by the Pascommuck Conservation Trust, Kestrel Land Trust, the Easthampton Community Preservation Act, and the residents of Easthampton. The trail was designed by Dodson & Flinker, Inc. Landscape Architecture & Planning and is maintained by the Easthampton Parks Department's dedicated staff.

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

In 2023, the NPS hopes to acquire approximately 200 acres of land in Southwick, MA which the NET traverses. This critical habitat parcel is made up of tobacco fields, forest and a network of footpaths. According to town records, there is a tobacco barn on the property. The new parcel, and about 1/3 of a mile of the trail itself, will be managed as part of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.
The property is currently at risk of development. With no active land protection partners or land trusts operating in this service area and no options for relocation considering adjacent parcels, NPS hopes to use funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase this parcel. If purchased, USFWS has agreed to manage the land as a wildlife refuge with allowance for continued usage of the trail.
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