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Part of the ancestral homeland region of the Pocumtuc people and Nipmuc Nation
Located a few miles from Tolland and Granville State Forests in southwest Massachusetts, NEFF’s Phelon Memorial Forest is a beautiful property with deep woodlands that open up to astonishing views, all interwoven with a trail system ready to carry visitors to a range of fascinating features.
The property’s 1,487-foot summit allows visitors to see into five different states on clear days, and it becomes an even more awe-inspiring spot during seasonal raptor migrations, when birders and field biologists settle into the hillside to count birds and watch a wonder of the natural world unfurl. Hawks like the Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk make up the bulk of the hill’s sightings, and birders on the hill once counted 2,406 migratory Broad-winged Hawks on a single day.
Phelon Memorial Forest is mostly made up of hardwoods like oaks, maples and birch, which also means the forestland is a great place to witness another set of seasonal changes—spring leaves unfurling and autumn leaves taking on flame-like hues.
NEFF conserves its Community Forests through ownership, and they are open daily, free to visit, and offer outdoor recreation opportunities. Unlike NEFF’s Community Forests, land protected by NEFF conservation easements—a legal tool—aren’t open to visitors unless their owners explicitly state so, because many belong to private individuals.
NEFF uses easements to conserve land owned by others. When a landowner grants NEFF an easement, it means they have permanently donated or sold to NEFF the landowner’s right to develop their own property, while the landowner otherwise retains ownership of their land; NEFF ensures the easements’ terms are met and enforced.
Phelon Memorial Forest is the result of two separate donations made by Mr. Douglas M. Rice and Mr. Russell E. Phelon. Mr. Rice donated 40 acres to NEFF in 1973, and Mr. Phelon donated his nearly 1,000-acre adjacent property to NEFF in 1984. He wanted the forestland to remain productive while also maintaining a blueberry crop on its open acres.
NEFF has accomplished Mr. Phelon’s goals through Exemplary Forest management and by leasing acres devoted to blueberries to a commercial grower. By providing just enough distance between Phelon’s scenic viewpoint and the surrounding forestland, those very same blueberry fields are what make Phelon’s hawk-watching and long-distance views of the landscape possible, which is why the summit has come to be known as Blueberry Hill.
The forestland’s hardwood stands make the property an excellent proving ground for NEFF’s Exemplary Forestry standards for Central and Transition Hardwoods. Hardwood forest types play a bigger role in NEFF’s more southerly Exemplary Forestry standards because southern New England represents the transition area between the Acadian Spruce-Fir forests to the north and the deciduous (hardwood) forests to the south. Phelon is primarily made up of Oak-Pine, Hemlock, and Oak-Hickory—although it’s low on the hickory—forest types, or three of the five types accounted for by the Central and Transition Hardwoods standards.
Visitors can get a look at these types from Phelon’s trail system—which leads through dense hemlock stands, regenerating hardwood patches and mixed oak-pine stands—and then continues on to intermittent streams, a perennial stream and waterfall, and two overlook points. While exploring the woods, visitors should keep an eye out for signs of wild animals. Raptor migrations aren’t the only interesting wildlife happenings at Phelon.
Simply by being managed to Exemplary Forestry standards, Phelon Memorial Forest provides excellent forest wildlife habitat, or as forester Tony Lamberton put it in the Phelon management plan he created for NEFF, “this property has a high diversity of species because of the diversity in the forest structure.” Phelon has varied forest habitat types, ranging from early and mid-successional forests to mature hemlock stands—and these types have additionally been managed to contain a range of tree ages and sizes. Foresters working at Phelon have heard Ruffed Grouse drumming, observed turkeys and heard their mating calls, and seen signs of moose and deer. NEFF staffers have observed a number of native birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Since NEFF took ownership of the full property in 1984, there have been 10 harvests on Phelon Memorial Forest. Harvesting has been a mix of intermediate thinning earlier in NEFF’s ownership combined with some regeneration harvests more recently. Since 1999, Exemplary Forestry management has doubled stocking on the property from 10 to 20 cords per acre, while NEFF simultaneously harvested more than one million board feet and 1,751 cords of firewood. That’s enough wood to frame 66 houses. So, not only has in-forest carbon sequestration doubled under NEFF’s management, but additional carbon has also been stored in the products made from Phelon-harvested wood, and all while creating a diversity of wildlife habitats across the property.
Want to head out and explore? Our interactive map of all NEFF Community Forests will help you get on your way. It provides property-specific trail maps you can download, as well information about each forest’s history, recreational opportunities, natural features, and more.