This unit would encompass some 12,000 acres, a major portion of the scenic Mt. Holyoke Range that abuts the east side of the Connecticut River as it flows near Northampton. The Federal unit would front on the river for 4 1/2 miles, and would extend east from the river approximately 9 miles. The boundary would also enclose the river islands in that stretch as well as a strip 200 feet wide on the west bank of the river (see Map 5). The Federal Government would acquire up to the entire 12,000 acres in fee simple or through other protective devices.
The Mt. Holyoke Unit would provide a variety of high quality outdoor recreation opportunities while preserving tlie rugged character of the mountain range. It would be developed by the National Park Service to afford year-round outdoor activities. Because of the existing highway network, its land would lie accessible to nearby colleges and universities, as well as to more distant urban centers. The potential for recreation at Mt. Holyoke includes camping, hiking, climbing, nature study, sightseeing, upland game hunting, picnicking, and winter sports. Opportunities exist to construct small recreation reservoirs.
Across the river to the southwest rise the peaks of the Mt. Tom Range. Elevations for both ranges exceed 1,000 feet, and spectacular views of the Connecticut Valley are the hiker's reward. Silhouetted against the sky, they form a striking backdrop to the valley. The Mt. Holyoke Range rises abruptly from an almost level plain. Eastward from the river, the rocky-backboned ridge gradually falls away. It is covered with a mixed hardwood and conifer forest, and a few farms and orchards.
Mt. Holyoke has been a favorite attraction for many years. Such noted personalities as Samuel Clemons (Mark Twain) and Jenny Lind, (lie "Swedish Nightingale," rode the cable car to Summit House atop the mountain, attracted by the warm hospitality of this famous hostelry and by the promise of a panoramic view. A winding road in place of the former cable car now leads motorists to Summit House, located in the 375-acre Joseph Alien Skinner State Park. Deer and upland game hunters also flock to this mountain range.
The mountain range has been subjected to logging operations which still continue on a limited scale. Designated watersheds in this area provide for the needs of the nearby communities. Various roads probe the area and several cross the range at depressions in the ridge. The major threat to an otherwise largely unspoiled area is the urban sprawl manifested in an increasing number of residences being built along the peripheral and transverse roads. Another major intrusion is a rock quarry situated in the center of the area.
Of the approximately 12,000 acres located within the proposed Mt. Holyoke Unit, some 85 percent are in private ownership. The balance of the acreage, except for 500 acres in the Joseph Alien Skinner Park and other State holdings, and an Air Force radar installation, is owned by various towns and community watershed associations.
The region surrounding the proposed unit is a mixture of farm lands and wood lots. Nearby major colleges include Amhcrst, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, the University of Massachusetts, and soon-to-be-built Hampshire College. Five miles east of the unit is Quabbin Reservoir, Boston's primary water source. The flow of the Connecticut River is placid from Calvin Coolidge Bridge to Holyoke Dam, with sweeping meanders etched in a broad flood plain. Immediately north of Mt. Tom lies the Great Oxbow, flanked by the Northampton-Easthampton flood plain. At the Mt. Holyoke-Mt. Tom water gap, the river narrows.
Population pressures exerted by the cities of Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee (500,000 combined population) threaten to engulf scenic vistas along the river and Mt. Holyoke Range. These same pressures and those from Boston, which is only two hours away by auto, are also generating an increasing amount of demand for outdoor recreation.
To accommodate the expected heavy visitation and enable visitors to enjoy the full range of activities possible in the Mt. Holyoke Unit, a major portion of lands within the boundaries would have to be acquired, improved, and made available for public use. Some lands, however, would be excepted. Joseph Alien Skinner State Park would constitute a requested donation from the Commonwealth to the Federal Government. If the Commonwealth preferred to retain ownership, the park should continue to be administered as it is at present. The Air Force radar installation would continue in operation until no longer needed.
The proposed boundary of the Mt. Holyoke Unit is drawn to exclude the Hampshire College campus, as well as most of the private residences, farms, and associated lands lining the unit's peripheral roads.
Where unnecessary to acquire a tract for public access and use but desirable to maintain its scenic character, a scenic easement might be acquired. Purchase and leaseback might also be used to achieve the same objective. Agricultural lands under active farming operations might be allowed to continue as a conforming land use, thereby preserving the pastoral setting of the area.
Except where the lands would be needed immediately for put)lic purposes, residents could elect to have life tenancy.
Mt. Tom-Northampton State Park
A significant part of the recreation potential of the Springfield-Holyoke region is found in the Mt. Tom-Northampton area adjacent to the proposed Mt. Holyokc Unit. Therefore, this report recommends the establishment of a major Mt. Tom- Northampton State Park. This area would consist of the present 1,800-acre Mt. Tom State Reservation, the Great Oxbow immediately north of the Reservation, and the flood plain surrounding the Oxbow in the towns of Easthamplon and Northampton. Enclosed would be a total of about 4,800 acres (see Map 5).
Existing recreation areas within the proposed boundaries, in addition to the Mt. Tom Reservation, include Acadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Northampton Fairgrounds, a private rod and gun club, and several private marinas. Adjacent to the south boundary is the privately owned Mt. Tom ski area.
Recreation activities on Mt. Tom Reservation presently are limited to sight-seeing, picnicking, hiking, and rudimentary camping. There is a significant amount of boating on the river. The Oxhow has some of the finest fishing along the Connecticut River. The flood plains are mainly in agricultural use with the exception of the Northhampton Fairgrounds, a private airport, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society's 300-acre Acadia Wildlife Sanctuary.
Development and operation by the Commonwealth should be coordinated closely with development and operation by the National Park Service of the Mt. Holyoke Unit. The two areas would share a common boundary, with the types of activities provided complementing rather than duplicating each other.
Activities and facilities would be expanded for wider variety and more intensive use. On Mt. Tom, the State's role should support the adjacent skiing activity through the development of snowmobile trails, ice-skating rinks, toboganning, and winter camping as recommended by the Massachusetts State Comprehensive Outdoor Recrea- tion Plan.
Since water recreation is of great importance, major attention should be given to swimming, fishing, boating, and complementary facilities for picnicking, hiking, and play areas. The Oxbow includes some 200 acres of water surface. Its potential for recreaition suggests its use as a marina for pleasure craft, with certain portions being zoned exclusively for fishing. Since the Oxbow usually freezes in the winter, it could become a major natural ice-skating area.
The flood plain, which includes some 2,800 acres in private ownership, exhibits recreation potential for a great range of intensive uses including field games, camping, swimming, boating, and picnicking. It should also be considered in tlie light of tlie various needs developing from the concentration of cultural forces represented in the colleges and universities of the area.
Massachusetts recommends full development of the Connecticut River's water resources to provide needed recreation opportunity for the metropolitan areas of Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, and Northampton. Such development will offer a variety of year-round recreation experiences, protect a highly scenic area, and save tlie flood plain from encroachment.