Published on June 1, 2020

Better Than a Birdie

Aerial view of newly-protected former golf course in Northampton
Nashawannock Brook

On April 29, 2020, Mass Audubon acquired a Conservation Restriction (CR) on a former golf course in Northampton. Purchased in February by the City of Northampton, the property adds 105 acres to the southwestern section of a large forested area known as the Rocky Hill Greenway.

The Greenway has been the target of a conservation partnership between the City of Northampton and Mass Audubon over the last decade.

In addition to this latest success, the partnership previously protected three adjacent parcels.  The conserved area of the Greenway is currently over 200 acres.

View of a managed waterway on the former golf course
Managed waterway on the course

Treeing it Up

Now, many of you may be wondering why Mass Audubon would be interested in a CR protecting a former golf course. We are usually involved in the protection of intact forests, rare and endangered species, or wetlands full of special plants, birds and salamanders. In this case, Mass Audubon saw a chance to restore a stream flowing across a golf course, through the western portion of Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, and into the surrounding landscape, as well as reforest the land around it.

It is an unusual opportunity to reforest a substantial portion of a small degraded watershed and to restore the natural shape and function of the Nashawannock Brook—boosting resilience for nature and people in the process.

According to Mass Audubon Regional Scientist Tom Lautzenheiser, "As a golf course, a primary interest was getting stormwater off the greens and fairways and into the brook as quickly as possible, which has led to increased erosion problems downstream."

"The City has already taken steps to dismantle parts of the stormwater management system that contributed to this problem, but with reforestation and other work on the site, we have a great chance to further slow the flow," he said. "And by planting a wide variety of tree species chosen in part for future climate conditions, we can ensure that the future forest will thrive."

This ecological restoration is a clear example of a climate change adaptation project: predicted increases in the frequency of severe rainstorms will worsen Nashawannock Brook's unstable dynamics over the coming decades; restoring the watershed now will be an investment in protecting Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary while providing additional flood storage benefits to nearby residential areas.  Plus, the reforestation and stream restoration will greatly enhance the wildlife corridor that the Rocky Hill Greenway provides.