A Classroom That Expands the Mind While Soothing the Spirit

By Kari Blood, Communications & Outreach Manager, Kestrel Land Trust

It’s a chilly spring day, but Elizabeth Besozzi, a junior at Smith College, is happy to be out in the woods instead of being confined to a classroom. She’s surveying the shady hemlock forest floor for red-backed salamanders as part of her research about their habitat needs.

Two students doing field research in a forest clearing.
Photo: Jesse Bellemare

Her outdoor laboratory at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station is tucked up in the hills of West Whately, far from Smith College’s main campus in the City of Northampton. It offers nearly 200 acres of forests and meadows, with stunning hilltown views—but the future of desirable real estate like this is often uncertain, even when it’s owned by a community-minded institution. If it were given up to development, much more than trees and fields would be lost. 

The College’s Field Station offers a place for students and faculty to conduct environmental research or to simply enjoy a walk in the woods. It’s also home to a wide range of wildlife—including Elizabeth’s salamanders, which use vernal pools on the property to nurture their next generation. “The Field Station has provided me with incredible access to a variety of unique study locations and tools,” she says. “It’s a hands-on, collaborative learning space that is integral to my research.”

Elizabeth is certainly not alone in her appreciation of this unique outdoor campus. Emmett Wald, a senior, has been guiding tours and providing natural history lessons at the Field Station for several years. “A beautiful place like MacLeish has so much educational potential. I believe strongly in the human connection to nature, and that interpreting places that humans are drawn to is a vital way to get them to care about taking care of our planet.” On a personal level, Emmett says she has always felt deeply connected with nature: “I love trees, I love the sounds of the wind and birds and water. I love having a space out in nature where I can go to counterbalance the stress of academic life.”

Fortunately, leaders at Smith College recognized the incalculable value of all of these aspects of the land around the MacLeish Field Station and chose to donate a conservation restriction on it to Kestrel Land Trust, protecting it forever. When Elizabeth heard that the Field Station’s land was permanently protected, she was glad that others will have the same opportunities for exploration, relaxation, and inspiration that she has had. “I am thrilled that future students will be able to take advantage of the resources MacLeish has to offer, fostering a love of nature for generations to come.”

For more than four decades, the love of the Valley from people like you has given Kestrel Land Trust the inspiration and ability to protect the special places you care about. Your support improves lives today and tomorrow—because when we conserve the land, we’re not only supporting a healthier planet, we’re also providing opportunities for a healthier lifestyle, a richer education, and a stronger community for all of us.

A man leading a group tour in a field.
Photo: Robert Jonas

To donate to the Kestrel Land Trust, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket, or use the code 315135 on your paper pledge form.