Published on July 2, 2021

Bear Hole Protected for People & for Nature—Forever

Looking north from the dam at Bear Hole Reservoir
Looking north from the dam at Bear Hole Reservoir

Map of Bear Hole's location relative to other protected properties in West Springfield

What’s big, green, near lots of people, and will now be here forever? The answer is the Bear Hole landscape—a beautiful open space of 1,400 acres, comprised of intact forest and diverse habitats in West Springfield at the southern end of the Connecticut River Valley. 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.

This massive landscape was permanently protected on June 29. On that date, a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR), to be jointly held by Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), was purchased for $1 million. While the CR will ensure that the property is well managed and will never be developed, West Springfield will continue to own and manage the land.

With this project completed, Mass Audubon now protects more than 40,000 acres throughout Massachusetts.

It’s amazing that an unprotected natural area of this size still existed in such a densely populated part of Massachusetts—the third most densely populated state in the nation. Nearly half a million people reside within 10 miles of Bear Hole, and three Gateway Cities—Springfield, Holyoke, and Westfield—are within five miles. There are a wide variety of trails on the property, including the New England Trail (formerly known as the New England Scenic Trail), enjoyed by many. 

The Town of West Springfield used the Bear Hole Reservoir as a source of drinking water for more than a century, and maintained the surrounding landscape in a pristine, undeveloped condition to protect the water source. The future of this land came into serious question when the community secured drinking water sources elsewhere about a decade ago.

Looking up at the forested canopy in fall at Bear Hole
Bear Hole

Natural Gem Will Benefit Many

Bear Hole is a diverse landscape that includes rare species habitat, vernal pools, streams, beaver ponds, and a heron rookery. It encompasses a portion of the East Mountain/Metacomet ridgeline along its western boundary, which then extends north through existing protected lands to Mt. Tom and the Holyoke Range.

The diversity of this landscape, combined with its connection to a large swath of already protected, connected land, will provide powerful benefits to plants and animals residing within Bear Hole—boosting their resilience to the impacts of climate change in the years ahead.

The now-conserved Bear Hole will also provide tremendous benefits to people, enhancing our physical and mental health with its welcoming trails, storing floodwaters and massive amounts of carbon, and providing needed cooling to nearby urban areas.

Thanks to West Springfield Mayor Reichelt and many other preservation leaders in West Springfield, our longtime partner DCR, and the hundreds of donors that helped make the conservation of this land possible, the Bear Hole landscape will continue its many benefits to people and wildlife—forever!

Conservation Restrictions (CRs) are a tool used to conserve/protect land without involving a change in ownership. The primary impact of a CR is to permanently “retire” the potential for the land to ever be developed/converted from its natural condition. It preserves aspects of a property deemed worthy of conservation through articulated permitted and prohibited uses, and applies to all future owners of the property.