Amherst family donates woodland in son’s memory

  • Kestrel's Seasonal Land Steward Jill Fusco works with a volunteer to install the new sign along East Pleasant Street in Amherst. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  •  Arthur and Barbara Elkins next to the memorial sign.  SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The Michael J. Elkins Memorial Woodland in Amherst. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Arthur and Barbara Elkins, with son Steve and his wife Kathy Elkins, next to the memorial sign. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2018 12:38:01 PM

AMHERST — A forest at the northern edge of downtown Amherst, recently dedicated to the memory of a man who spent many hours in the woods as a child, is being preserved for future generations.

Kestrel Land Trust this week announced the creation of the Michael J. Elkins Memorial Woodland, which was donated to Kestrel by Amherst residents Barbara and Arthur Elkins in late 2017, and which was officially dedicated to their son’s memory in September.

Barbara Elkins said the 8-acre parcel has meant a lot to her family and to her neighbors. As a woodland with wetlands, Elkins said she often sees from her home the clouds of steam rising from the property, as well as wild turkeys, deer, turtles and woodpeckers.

“It has been a vibrant place,” Elkins said. “We want it to stay the way it is. Mike cared deeply about it.”

Though her son died in 1998 at age 35, she said he felt fortunate to grow up in a quiet cul-de-sac and spent hours in the woods, and became an amateur nature photographer as a teenager.

The Elkins and their neighbors bought the land when it was threatened by a housing development, a concern that was raised when Michael Elkins learned a developer was eyeing the land.

“It’s been important to us to remember Mike, and this is one of the many ways we’ve memorialized him,” Elkins said. “It’s also important to keep land as it has been as long as we’ve known it.”

“We felt it was time for someone else to watch over it,” Elkins added.

The wooded property is off East Pleasant Street, across from the University of Massachusetts water towers, and lies at the edge of an extensive block of open space that runs east to the protected farms along North East Street.

Kristin DeBoer, executive director of Kestrel, said in a statement that the gift from the Elkins illustrates how land preservation can work.

“The Elkins' motivation to preserve this land next to their home in their son’s memory is an inspiring example of how land can become a living legacy to the people and the places that are beloved here in the Valley,” DeBoer said.

Six acres of the most sensitive land in the parcel are now permanently protected, with a possibility that Kestrel will carve out a housing lot that may be sold in the future to raise money for its role in conserving ecologically important land elsewhere in the region.

In addition to honoring Michael Elkins' memory, conserving this land also ensures a refuge for wildlife species like white tail deer, grey and red foxes, beaver and green frogs, all of which move between this protected land and the nearby developed suburban landscape.

No trails exist on the property, though Kestrel may add some in the future to connect nearby open spaces. The cattail marsh at the eastern edge of the property borders the Wildwood Cemetery, a popular place for people walk. To the north and to the south of the cemetery are other town-owned conservation areas.

A memorial plaque commemorating the donation of the conservation area was installed at a private dedication gathering with the Elkins family, including their son Steve and his wife Kathy, and Kestrel’s staff and volunteers.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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