|Town of Pelham
Open Space and Recreation Plan
Town of Pelham
Open Space and Recreation Plan
The Pelham Conservation Commission
The Pelham Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee
Mary Stuart Booth
With mapping assistance from
Charles S. Eiseman and the
Technology Planning and Management Corporation
Table of Contents
Section 1: Plan Summary 1
Section 2: Introduction 2
A. Statement of Purpose 2
B. Planning Process and Public Participation 3
Section 3: Community Setting 4
A. Regional Context 4
B. History of the Community 6
C. Population Characteristics 7
D. Growth and Development Patterns 8
1. Patterns and Trends 8
2. Infrastructure 9
3. Long-Term Development Patterns 9
Section 4: Environmental Inventory and Analysis 10
A. Geology, Soils and Topography 10
1. Essential Structure 10
2. Effects of Natural Features 10
B. Landscape Character 10
C. Water Resources 13
1. Watersheds 13
2. Surface Water 13
3. Aquifer Recharge Areas 13
4. Flood Hazard Areas 14
5. Wetlands 14
D. Vegetation 14
E. Fisheries and Wildlife 15
F. Scenic Resources and Unique Environment 16
G. Environmental Challenges 17
Section 5: Inventory of Lands of Conservation and Recreation Interest 18
A. Private Parcels 19
B. Public and Nonprofit Parcels 20
C. Inventories of Private, Public and Nonprofit, & Chapter 61 Lands 20
1. Inventory of Protected Private Open Space 21
2. Inventory of Protected Public Open Space 22
3. Inventory of Chapter 61 Lands 24
Section 6: Community Vision 25
A. Description of Process 25
B. Statement of Open Space and Recreation Goals 26
Section 7: Analysis of Needs 26
A. Summary of Resource Protection Needs 26
B. Summary of Community Needs 27
C. Management Needs, Potential Change of Use 28
Section 8 Goals and Objectives 28
Section 9: Five Year Action Plan 31
Section 10: Public Comments 33
A. Public Notices 34
B. Letters of Review and Approval
Section 11: References 35
A Growth Study Committee 2006 Progress Report and Survey, Press 36
Release and Final Report
B Pelham Hills Forest Conservation Project 2007 Summary & Mailings 37
C Information from Natural Heritage and Endangered Species 38
Program Obtained in 2007 Regarding Pelham
D Butter Hill Sanctuary Species Data 1998 – 2007 39
E Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Report 40
F Maps 41
1. Zoning Map
2. Soils and Geologic Features Map
3. Unique Features Map – Landscape Points of Special Interests
3A. Mills and Shops of Pelham, MA from 1740 to 1937
3B. Pelham, MA Stone Quarries
4. Water Resources Map
5. Open Space Inventory Map
6. Action Plan Map
7. FEMA, Hazardous Sites and Public Water Supplies Map
Pelham Open Space and Recreation Plan 2008
SECTION 1: PLAN SUMMARY
The 2008 Open Space and Recreation Plan for the town of Pelham reflects both the wish to preserve the best parts of Pelham’s rural legacy and to increase community awareness of the town’s natural resources. Better awareness will lead to more community involvement in protecting those resources. The entire Pelham Conservation Commission, together with other Pelham residents, formed the Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee (“Committee”) to review and update the town’s previous plan. Major goals of the 2008 plan include stewardship of existing conservation areas, protection of water and natural resources in town, greater environmental awareness in the community, and increased regional environmental cooperation. From these general goals an action plan emerged. Many of the specific actions suggested further multiple goals simultaneously, which is an additional benefit in times of fiscal uncertainty and a decreasing volunteer base. Although the town has changed very little over the past five years, any of a number of factors such as new technology, especially concerning septic systems, economic uncertainty or downturns, unanticipated state legislation, changing regional employment and unemployment patterns, or a changing population profile could significantly affect Pelham. This plan will enable the town to better meet the challenges of the years to come.
To encourage better stewardship of Pelham’s natural resources, the Committee hopes to establish groups of local volunteers to adopt particular conservation areas. The volunteers for each conservation area would be responsible for maintaining existing trails, creating new ones, posting signs, and removing debris. Working regularly with these volunteers, who will be called “The Friends of” followed by the name of the particular conservation area, the Committee hopes to develop a long-range maintenance program.
To better protect the town’s water supply and other natural resources, the Committee hopes to work with a group of interested volunteers to continue to collect information of all kinds about each conservation area. Graduate students from the nearby colleges might be a part of this process. The legal means that permanently restrict the private and public open space in town will be reviewed to ensure that any necessary steps to continue to protect their status are taken. Work with the Forest Conservation Project and Community Preservation Act supporters also might lead to more protected land and funds to further the plan’s stated goals.
To increase environmental awareness in town, the Committee hopes that “The Friends of” program will play an integral part. In addition, a brochure of the numerous conservation areas will be prepared and distributed to all residents and newcomers. As in many areas of the Commonwealth, invasive plants and insects threaten the town’s resources. A future informational public program will discuss which plants and insects are of concern and ways to bring them under control.
To encourage increased regional environmental cooperation, groups such as The Kestrel Trust, a local land trust serving nine towns in the region, will be invited to attend Conservation Commission meetings twice a year. A Commission member also may attend meetings of the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership twice a year to help develop a regional strategy. Efforts to maintain connections with neighboring towns will be encouraged.
The goals of this ambitious plan are prioritized and the town boards with major responsibilities in each area are identified. The Committee which wrote the 2008 Open Space and Recreation Plan will remain in place and meet with the Pelham Conservation Commission twice a year to review progress. As the plan progresses, other volunteers may come forward to help and even more work can be done to safeguard Pelham’s heritage.
SECTION 2: INTRODUCTION
A. Statement of Purpose
The purpose of reviewing and renewing the Open Space and Recreation Plan for Pelham is two-fold. First, completion of this plan fulfills an obligation implied in the Conservation Commission's enabling legislation and ensures the eligibility of the town for state and federal assistance for projects consistent with the plan.1 Second, and of perhaps greater importance, this process alerts townspeople to the changes as well as the continuity of various characteristics of the town’s resources and capacity. In developing this plan, the Commission has taken into account
the limiting physical characteristics of the land;
the realities of present and future land use and development pressures;
the financial probabilities of funding for various types of projects; and
the ability and number of citizens available to volunteer time to a wide range of needs and projects covering all aspects of town functions.
The plan emphasizes long-range planning that provides room for development but channels growth away from areas that are seen as vital to the preservation of the quality of life in Pelham. Most aspects of Pelham’s environmental situation remain the same as they were in the 2002 Open Space and Recreation Plan. Therefore, much of the content in this plan remains the same, while the goals and action plan received more careful consideration. The Conservation Commission plans to establish a system of biennial reviews and updates of sub-committee activities to monitor progress on achieving the open space protection goals found in this plan.
B. Planning Process and Public Participation
The entire Pelham Conservation Commission took a lead role in reviewing and updating the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan. All members of the Conservation Commission, together with other interested members of the community, formed the Pelham Open Space Committee. Because so little change and only limited development has occurred in Pelham for many years, the Committee relied heavily upon the excellent work done in previous plans. Although at this writing the town’s fiscal viability is a major concern, there is still a strong sentiment among townspeople of the need to maintain the rural character and essentially undeveloped nature of the community. There appears to be widespread understanding of Pelham’s unique role as a watershed for surrounding communities and as a haven and corridor for wildlife.
As a foundation, the Committee continued to rely upon two older resources, an excellent 1971 study entitled "Natural Resource Program of the Town of Pelham, Massachusetts" (“Natural Resource Program 1971”) and a Preliminary Strategic Master Plan prepared for the town in 1987 (“Preliminary Strategic Master Plan 1987”). Both studies provide useful background information since little has changed with respect to Pelham’s community setting or environmental inventory in the years since those studies were completed. The 1971 study was prepared by a Natural Resources Technical Team of Hampshire County with a Pelham Town Advisory Group in cooperation with the Hampshire Conservation District, state agencies and programs, especially those in the Department of Environmental Management (now DCR), and a variety of other local experts for information on natural and historical resources. The 1987 Preliminary Strategic Master Plan was prepared for the town by a University of Massachusetts Regional Planning Study headed by Professor John Mullin. That study included a projected build-out for the town, maps of natural and historical resources and recommendations for future planning objectives and methods of growth control.
The Committee also was informed by two more recent initiatives, the Growth Study Committee and the Pelham Hills Forest Conservation Project. Many townspeople have participated in gathering information and in drafting or commenting on town open space and recreation priorities over a several year period as a result of the Selectman’s establishment of the Growth Study Committee in 2004. Throughout the process, that Committee, which included a member from the general public, Planning Board, Health Board, Select Board, Historical Commission and the town’s representative to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, conducted open public meetings to receive comments and specific information on matters related to the town’s current situation and future prospects for growth. The 2006 Growth Study report and survey results confirmed the views expressed in the first paragraph. [See Appendix A]
The Committee also relied on the ongoing work of the Pelham Hills Forest Conservation Project. Pelham, together with Wendell, received a Massachusetts Smart Growth Assistance Grant to help both towns conserve working landscapes and intact forest ecosystems; the grant also was intended to spur regional forest conservation efforts. The resulting 2007 Pelham Hills Forest Conservation Project has hosted community forums and open public meetings with town boards and commissions for input. The Project has proposed various regulatory and policy measures to ensure the continued protection of Pelham’s values and characteristics. [See Appendix B] The Project is still receiving input from Pelham residents and will formulate its final recommendations and work on implementing them.
In addition, the Committee has relied upon the technical assistance of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and information from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program in drafting the current plan. Finally, as background for this document, the Commission examined the town's recent growth and development patterns, the effectiveness of the 1987 Wetlands Protection Bylaw and recent revisions to its regulations, and the susceptibility of the town's important natural and historical resources to loss through development.
The Pelham Conservation Commission initiated the process for updating the 2002 Open Space and Recreation Plan in the fall 2007. Through a series of public meetings a draft of the 2008 Open Space and Recreation Plan was prepared for comment at a public forum on February 28, 2008. Attempts to involve Pelham residents in the process included the creation of a flyer available in the town library and mailed to each Pelham resident, special notice of initial meetings in November and December 2007 in the elementary school news bulletin and notice of the February 2008 public forum in the local newspaper and in the Pelham Slate, a newsletter sent to all Pelham residents. Individuals who had expressed an interest in such issues were also notified by telephone or e-mail. Several residents gave input and indicated a willingness to work on implementing a specific goal although they did not want to be formal members of the Committee. The plan has been reviewed and endorsed by the Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, the Historical Commission and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
SECTION 3: COMMUNITY SETTING
A. Regional Context
Pelham lies just west of the Quabbin Reservoir and is bounded by Amherst on the west, Shutesbury and New Salem to the north, and on the south by Belchertown. The town is almost entirely forested, with a significant network of streams and associated "headwater" and other wetlands resources. Of its total area of 16,896 acres approximately 15,000 are in woodland with development scattered along the major roads with some penetrating into areas farther from those via long driveways. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission's map from Valley Vision 2: the New Regional Land Use Plan for the Pioneer Valley (2007) demonstrates that Pelham is expected to play a protective role for the region’s environment. The general concurrence is that, given Pelham's soil resources, which are of limited value for intensive uses, Pelham is best left largely in an undeveloped and forested state in order to ensure protection of its significant natural resources and habitat.
The entire town has been designated through zoning as a Watershed Protection District due to its unique situation as vital watershed not only for its own townspeople's private wells, but also for public and private water supply – aquifers and watersheds – in Amherst, Shutesbury, Belchertown, Springfield and Metropolitan Boston. Thirty percent of Pelham's total population receives water from the Amherst water supply system. That system includes Hawley, Hills and Intake Reservoirs, which are fed by streams originating in northern Pelham. Amherst owns some 1,550 acres of the watersheds of those reservoirs; the protected acreage represents about 40 percent of the total physical watershed. The remaining 70 percent of Pelham's residents depend upon individual on-site wells that are easily susceptible to ground water contamination and lack alternative sources of supply in case of contamination (Preliminary Strategic Master Plan 1987). All residents and municipal buildings, including the elementary school and the community center and library, have on-site sewage disposal (septic) systems. In recognition of the critical role Pelham plays in water supply and watershed protection, the Board of Health has enacted septic regulations that are more restrictive than the state's Title 5 Sanitary Code. By acknowledging the potential for human error in construction or operation, these regulations provide an extra margin of safety for groundwater and the public health given that Pelham's soils are highly variable on any given site.
The town is a part of both the Quabbin region of west-central Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley area dominated by the Five Colleges—Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In terms of acreage of conservation land and its heavily wooded, undeveloped character, Pelham has much in common with other low population density towns surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir. However, the towns to the west—especially Amherst and Hadley—influence much of the Pelham's social and economic activity.
Pelham shares a sanitary transfer station and recycling center (located one half mile west of the Pelham line on Route 9) with the Town of Amherst. The landfill and transfer station is used by Pelham, Shutesbury and Amherst. Pelham also has co-sponsored, with Amherst and adjacent towns, hazardous waste collection days designed to safely handle domestic toxic substances.
Cultural and recreational resources shared by Pelham and Amherst include athletic facilities at the regional junior high and high schools, town libraries in Amherst and Pelham, libraries at Amherst and Hampshire Colleges and the University of Massachusetts, hiking trails that link the area towns, and several parks and elementary school ball fields in Amherst.
The Kestrel Trust, the regional land trust serving Amherst, Belchertown, Granby, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Sunderland, works cooperatively with these communities to help create a network of conservation lands and trails that link Pelham with its neighbors. Pelham residents make significant use of Amherst conservation lands, especially Puffer's Pond, Amethyst Brook, and portions of the 33 mile Robert Frost Trail. As one of the nine towns served by The Kestrel Trust, Pelham is therefore actively involved in regional open space protection efforts not only within its borders but also through the increasingly active efforts of the broader based land trust community. Several of its neighbors, including Amherst and Belchertown, have current Open Space and Recreation Plans supporting cooperation within the region served by the Kestrel Trust. Recent projects completed by the Trust in Belchertown, Pelham and Amherst help maintain the regional forest and trail connections both to the Quabbin and the Mount Holyoke Range.
The trails that run through Pelham and connect with neighboring towns are an important recreational feature in Pelham, used by hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and hunters. These trails are one of the primary ways in which people can enjoy Pelham's natural features and vistas from the Pelham Hills across the valley toward the Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom Ranges. In addition to the Robert Frost Trail, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail runs through town as well as a network of smaller paths and woods roads. Unfortunately, much of the trail system is not under any form of formal protection.
B. History of the Community
The land in Pelham has undergone many changes before reaching its current state. Before European colonization, Nipmuck Indians located in and around the former town of Enfield (now submerged in the Quabbin Reservoir) used the area that is now Pelham for hunting and fishing. When English settlers arrived in the seventeenth century, the area was a patchwork of forest and clearings, burned regularly by the Nipmucks to facilitate hunting and create browse for game. This practice was later continued by the English settlers in Hadley and Northampton, who subsequently used the Pelham area for grazing.
Pelham's first European settlers were Presbyterian Scots-Irish proprietors who drew lots in late 1739 and became residents in 1740. While the settlers lived dispersed on their farms instead of in a central village, company families received land divisions in several parts of the town, which originally included half of Prescott (now submerged). While the settlers originally attempted to maintain a closed community, yankees of English descent from southeastern Massachusetts and less strict Scots-Irish came to create a more diverse town. Throughout this period, agriculture, with some raising of cattle and sheep, was the dominant activity. By the late 19th century, about 85 percent of Pelham was in fields. Although the people of Pelham turned to pastoral pursuits during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as many as 20 small sawmills and gristmills used water power sites. Industries included charcoal making; wagon and scythe shops; a potash shop (potash was an ingredient used for making soap); carding, spinning and related industries as well as the making of palm leaf hats. By the end of the nineteenth century a flourishing fishing rod industry in Pelham gave the town a national reputation.
The opening of the Midwest led to a steady out-migration and depopulation of Pelham for about 130 years. The population of Pelham reached a peak in 1820 and declined until after World War II. As the population declined further and further, many farms were abandoned. By 1910, many boarded-up farmhouses and roads could be seen. Forests took over fields and many old farms were bought by timber companies, including some that are still in existence today. The first third of the 20th century saw active logging in Pelham, and by 1930 the forests had once again been cut through. Thus, the thick forests that blanket Pelham today are only the most recent in a series of regenerations that stretch back to the burning activities of Native Americans.
In the 20th century, the land in Pelham has been used primarily for residences when it has not been used for forestry. With the abandonment of farming, people from Amherst and area towns began to buy old farmhouses for summer homes, then as permanent homes from which they commuted to work. Several other land uses flashed then faded. Among these were a trolley line operating from 1902 to 1930 from Amherst to Orient Springs used by people from as far away as Holyoke who came to enjoy an afternoon in the Pelham woods and the "healthful" waters of Amethyst Brook. The trolley line was originally built to bring in workers from Amherst to a fishing rod factory in West Pelham on Amethyst Brook. However, the trolley and Pelham's popularity as a recreation spot declined with the increased mobility afforded by the automobile.
During the 1920s and 30s Boston's Metropolitan Water District was empowered to clear the eastern half of Pelham while constructing the Quabbin Reservoir. Villages at Pelham Hollow, which is now under water, and Packardville, the former site of which is within the protected lands of the reservation, were wiped out. With the growth of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and economic expansion in the Pioneer Valley, Pelham's population began to rise again after World War II and increased even more dramatically after the mid-1960s. Pelham became and remains a "bedroom community."
The town has a rich assortment of historical sites, landscapes, and buildings that are in the process of being surveyed by the Pelham Historical Commission. This group hopes to protect some of the more significant places through public education, easements, and historic district designations. Among these places are several old cemeteries, old mill sites, a quarry, an old asbestos mine, and many old houses. Some of these places are mentioned in Section 4.