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Bridge along a wooded trail
Bridge along the New England National Scenic Trail
NPS / James Bialey
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Supporting Connectivity Along the New England National Scenic Trail

By Sophia Grande

The National Park Foundation (NPF) supported the Trust for Public Land (TPL) in the acquisition of a vital 205-acre property in Southwick, Massachusetts for the New England National Scenic Trail, one of the newest units of the National Park System. The addition safeguards the route of this historic trail, ensuring its continuity and accessibility for future generations.

The New England National Scenic Trail covers 235 miles of woodlands and panoramic vistas from Connecticut to Massachusetts, primarily consisting of three trails: Metacomet, Mattabesett, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trails, which are indigenous names associated with the peaks and rivers and tribal history of the region. Since its designation as a national scenic trail in 2009, it has become a cherished destination for outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, backpackers, and nature lovers, and in 2023, the trail was recognized as a unit of the National Park System. Now, thanks to a land conservation project supported by NPF, even more of the trail will be conserved for future use and enjoyment.

Mapping the Path in Partnership

For most of the trails in the National Trail System, being designated as a National Trail does not immediately result in the trail footpath existing uninterrupted for the entirety of the line drawn on the map. In the case of the New England Trail, approximately half of the trail’s 90 map-miles in Massachusetts run through land that’s already set aside for conservation. The remaining half lies on roads or across private lands – vulnerable to changing landowner desires, which poses a threat to the trail’s long-term connectivity and jeopardizes the public’s recreation experience.

Pond along the New England National Scenic Trail (NPS / Diana Quninones)

In Southwick, Massachusetts, NPF supported a project with TPL to acquire and transfer a particularly important trail section to the National Park Service for conservation. The 205-acre property is a crucial component of creating a connected and complete New England National Scenic Trail. This large parcel of land contains 1,700 feet of the trail’s footpath and a significant portion of the trail’s viewshed from its ridgetop location. Beyond its significance for the trail itself, the land also boasts vital wildlife resources that support the goals of the nearby Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge. The property’s forest land, vernal pools, and wetlands contribute to its ecological significance and provide an ideal access point and campsite location.

National trails are uniquely managed through partnership between federal agencies and local partners, and the same is true when there are land acquisitions and transfers along these trails. Thanks to financial support from NPF who provided the funds for due diligence for the Southwick property, TPL successfully entered into a purchase agreement in Spring 2022. The purchase was officially completed in July 2023 and transferred over to NPS as an addition to the New England National Scenic Trail.

Trails have a unique power to connect, perhaps more than other green spaces, and protecting this Southwick section of the New England National Scenic Trail will create many more opportunities to bring people together outdoors.
J.T. Horn, Director of the National Trails Initiative at TPL

In the day to day of the trail, the route is managed by NPS in partnership with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) in Connecticut and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in Massachusetts. The Southwick property is NPS’s first acquisition along the New England Trail, only made possible because of the nonprofit partners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to manage the property long-term. In addition to land conservation, local partners like these also work with NPS to interpret and manage the trail. In 2021, NPF made a grant to CFPA to conduct an indigenous site survey, part of a larger initiative to better understand the indigenous history of the trail. The project brought native youth for a hike on the trail and conducted research on oral histories and place names.

It’s crucial that NPF continues to support local organizations like these, facilitating innovative partnerships to protect these vulnerable places alongside NPS. This acquisition project is just one of many that NPF and its partners are undertaking to ensure that America’s trails remain accessible and protected destinations for trail lovers for generations to come.

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