The Mount Holyoke Unit of the Proposed Connecticut Historic Riverway

A report of the Massachusetts Citizens Advisory Committee

John W. Olver, Chm.

21 July 1971


Companion bills have been introduced by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (S. 318,18 June 1971) and Representative Edward P. Boland (H.R. 9273, 21 June 1971) "to preserve and promote the resources of the Connecticut River Valley, and for other purposes." These virtually identical bills are the first legislative steps "to provide for conservation of the scenic, scientific, historic, ecological, and other values contributing to public enjoyment, as well as the public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment of the Connecticut River Valley Corridor, consistent with the well-being of present and future residents of the area."

The proposal, called "The Connecticut Historic Riverway," would include 3 sections under the National Park Service control. These are the Gateway Unit in Connecticut, the Mount Holyoke Unit in Massachusetts, and the Coos Unit in Vermont and New Hampshire. This report provides information on the Mount Holyoke Unit of the Connecticut Historic Riverway.

The Mount Holyoke Unit

In the spring of 1970, a Citizens Advisory Committee was appointed to assure an avenue for local suggestions to the National Park Service, which was charged by Congress to produce a development and boundary Master Plan for the area. On May 23, 1970, Senators Ribicoff, Bible, and Kennedy conducted a public hearing in South Hadley, which established that legislative action in the Mount Holyoke area should have primary emphasis upon conservation and low-key programs consistent with present usage*

Following a year of negotiation, the Massachusetts Citizens Advisory Committee recommended the present legislative bills and developed criteria aimed at conserving the area while at the same time protecting the interests of towns, farmers, landowners, and sportsmen.

The Mount Holyoke Unit consists of about 12,400 acres plus 750 acres of unzoned river waters. Three separate land-use zones are proposed (Figure 1). Maximum usage is estimated at 3400 people per day.

Zone 1: The Public Use and Development Zone

This zone would consist of about 1,100 acres and would be purchased outright by the Department of the Interior at fair market value, not assessed valuation. Most of this would be a buffer area surrounding the facilities located on about 300 of these acres.

Figure 2 shows the proposed facilities. The visitors' center would be at Tinker Hill on the North side of the Holyoke Range. From here, visitors could ride or walk to a tram base and be conveyed to the top of Mount Holyoke where there would be a scientific and historic interpretive facility, and a restaurant. Picnic sites and takeoff points for trails that now exist would continue. Car access to the mountain top would be discontinued. River tours by boat would include a visit to Rainbow Beach where geological annd ecological processes can be seen interacting.

Family and individual camping would be limited to Hockanum Beach and islands with access by boat only. The present marina in Hockanum would continue, and an aquatic recreation facility would be developed on the Oxbow. A low-key daytime winter sports facility on the North side of the range primarily for family usage would emphasize limited skiing, tobogganing, sledding and skating. On the east end of the range, a nature center with a limited group-camping facility would be developed as part of the natural history education program. Here also would be an equestrian center. A series of small sites around the park boundary would each have a few picnic tables and serve as taking-off points for those interested in serious hiking. Hunting and fishing would essentially remain as it is today, subject to state and federal regulation. The effects of pollution control measures are anticipated to make river swimming safe and pleasant in about 5 years.

Sanitation facilities would meet the highest standards, local, state or federal, and costs would be paid by the federal government. Police and fire protection within the unit boundary would be on a cooperative basis with local towns with the costs of protection on the federally-owned lands borne by the federal government. The major flow of traffic to the unit would be via Routes 91 and 9.

Zone 2: The Preservation and Conservation Zone

The great bulk of the unit, about 10,900 acres, would be in this zone, the main purpose of which is to maintain the area the way it is. Landowners could either keep their lands secured against future development by a legal easement appended to their deed titles, or they could require that the government buy all or part of the land outright at fair market value. Land secured against development by easement, together with existing structures and usages could continue to be used as today, could be sold on the open market, or willed to heirs, etc.

Large areas which are now used for private and public water supply exist in this zone and these are specifically protected in the legislation which states that "within this zone, the Secretary shall agree to protect the integrity of all water supply areas, public and private."

The only developments foreseen in this zone are the continuation and extension of trails for hiking, riding, bicycling, cross-country skiing, etc.

Zone 3: The Private Use and Development Zone

Land in this zone would consist of about 400 acres and include three locally developed areas in the Oxbow, Hockanum Village, and Harris Road, Granby. Within this zone, future single-family housing development could occur, provided a minimum 20,000 square foot lot size zoning acceptable to the Secretary of the Interior is adhered to. Existing business within this zone could continue, but future commercial development would be prohibited. Landowners within this zone could, at their request, transfer their land to the Preservation and Conservation Zone; no other zone interchanges could occur.

The Future

After passage of the legislation, a first step would be the establishment of a permanent local advisory committee and the Riverway Headquarters in the Amherst-Springfield region.

The Intention of the Legislation

The emphasis of the bill upon preserving the present values of the Riverway is best seen in the following quote of Section 5 which states:

"The Secretary shall administer and protect the Riverway.... with the primary aim of conserving the natural resources located within it and preserving the area in as nearly its natural state and condition as possible. No development or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken in the riverway which would be incompatible with the overall life style of the residents of the area, accepted ecological principles, the preservation of the physiographic conditions now prevailing, or with the preservation of such historic sites and structures as the Secretary may designate."

Again, the Park Service Master Plan states that the intent of the riverway

"is to provide the impetus toward continuing the preservation of the amenities of the Connecticut River Valley and furthering optimum utilization of its recreational potential. "