The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has announced announce the award of a $49,725 grant to Mount Grace to create the first universally accessible nature trail in Northfield.
The Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey S. Ames Nature Trail will be a half-mile loop trail at Northfield’s new Alderbrook Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, located south of town with parking on Route 63. The new trail will meet the standards of the American Disabilities Act and will travel through groves of mature trees to arrive at an accessible wildlife observation platform overlooking a beaver pond. The new trail will provide a place for families with young children, seniors, and people of all levels of mobility access to a beautiful hidden pond. The sanctuary was donated to Mount Grace in 2016 by Bill and Nancy Ames, who also protected their abutting land with a conservation restriction held by the Town of Northfield.
“Mount Grace is committed to ensuring that all people have access to the benefits of our region’s amazing natural environment and this collaboration to create a universally-accessible trail is another great step in that direction” says Sarah Wells, a Director of Land Protection at Mount Grace. “We are excited to address a real community need by making outdoor recreation more accessible and to build strong local partnerships at the same time. We are partnering with local residents, businesses, and institutions to make this project a reality and without their generous support this project would not be possible.”
Northfield completed the acquisition of a conservation restriction on Bill and Nancy Ames’ 142-acre property, located just off Route 63 south of town, after a gift from Greenfield Savings Bank completed the fundraising campaign for the conservation of the land. “Greenfield Savings Bank is proud to support community efforts to protect and enhance our scenic landscapes,” said John Howland, President of Greenfield Savings Bank. “We are excited to partner with Northfield, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, the Ames family, and local businesses to help create a new destination accessible to all in Northfield.”
"This new conservation area has something for everyone," added Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood, "a future trail with benches and a waterfront wildlife observation deck, a dedicated snowmobile trail, farmland conservation, proximity to historic sites, and scenic beauty. Best of all for the public is that the trailhead is right on Route 63. The planned parking area will provide passersby with an invitation to explore and history buffs improved access to well-known places of interest."
The November 2014 Northfield Town Meeting voted unanimously to protect the land, a landscape of farmed fields, woods, beaver ponds, and brooks just south of the historic Beers Mountain. Support for the project came from state grants, Town CPA funds, and gifts from residents, the Fields Pond Foundation, the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts, the Greater Northfield Watershed Association, and the Northfield Area Tourism and Business Association. "With the loss of Northfield's largest employer in 2004, we have been working to re-build a local economy based on heritage, outdoors, and agri-tourism,” explained Joan Stoia of the Tourism and Business Association. “Alderbrook Meadows has the potential to draw significant numbers of visitors from a variety of audiences and multiply the impact of other private and public investments such as the Northfield Golf Club, the New England Scenic Trail, and the Schell Bridge."
Mount Grace began working with Bill and Nancy Ames to protect the land in 2010. The Trust has submitted a grant request to fund the half-mile loop trail, which would be the area’s first American Disabilities Act compliant accessible nature trail. Additional plans include the installation of a bike rack and a parking area at the new trailhead on Route 63 about two miles south of the center of Town.
“We are so pleased to be able to protect this land, that we cherish, forever,” said Nancy Ames, “especially since the new trail will make it possible for people to come out here and bear witness to the beauty of the land. Bill and I are truly thankful to the many neighbors and partners who helped make this possible. It took a real team effort to protect this remarkable place.”