by Town Reminder
Drivers ignoring ‘Motor Vehicles Prohibited’ signs
SOUTH HADLEY – Gaping ruts mar an open field growing tall, caramel-colored grass. Tires have tamped it down, leaving flattened patches. Trenches of mud, nearly a foot deep, tarnish the terrain. Water pools into these unnatural formations.
It’s not just any field. It’s conservation land – the Bynan Conservation Area – home to wetlands and at least two species of varying endangered classifications. And it’s being destroyed by ATVs and vehicles off-roading.
“It’s been happening for a long time,” said Conservation Administrator Janice S. Stone. “There’s just too many access points. We’ve put up a couple of gates or boulders, and people go and use other ones. It’s just impossible to police.”
Signs, said Stone, are ignored or moved.
Bynan Conservation Area consists of 162 acres of land purchased by the town in 1978 from Patrick Bynan’s heirs. The area abuts the South Hadley landfill and houses large power lines. The ecology is similar to Cape Cod, with pitch pine and oak woodlands, paired with wetlands and ponds. With numerous access roads – most notably via the power lines, New Ludlow Road, Bartlett Street and Lyman Terrace – Bynan Conservation Area is available for the public to use its walking trails.
Home to threatened species
The land is home to the Pine Barrens Zanclognatha, a moth listed as threatened in Massachusetts. It is rare and its distribution is “spotty” throughout the state. Pines Barrens moths inhabit pitch pine and scrub oak barrens. Larvae feed on the pitch pine.
“The South Hadley Pine Barrens is only one of three known populations in Western Massachusetts, and one of five in Massachusetts,” said Stone. This local population lives in the Bynan Conservation Area and parts of Westover Air Force Base.
When landfill expansion was discussed a few years ago, “This was a big part of the permits,” said Stone. The landfill was set to expand into the Pine Barrens’ habitat. The expansion was not completed.
Discovered recently during permitting for a methane gas pipeline between the South Hadley and Granby landfills, the Bynan Conservation Area is home to the Blue-Spotted Salamander, which makes its habitat in sandy, swampy areas and vernal pools. According to Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Blue-Spotted Salamander is a legally protected species and is listed as “special concern” in regard to endangered species.
ATVs, paintball altering the landscape
Bynan’s numerous shallow ponds and vernal pools are habitats for a number of other amphibians. These are being destroyed by individuals who take motorized vehicles out onto the conservation area’s trails.
“There are quite a few shallow ponds, some of them more into a deep marsh, and these vehicles will drive right across them,” said Stone. “Sometimes they get stuck. They’re really destroying the habitat, and they’re creating new ruts and channels. It’s changing the hydrology of these ponds and vegetation.” This causes erosion and sedimentation problems.
Stone said these motorists are creating new trails on which they take ATVs, jeeps or trucks. The Conservation Commissions has blazed official trails, but ones created by motorists “are endless shortcuts. … It creates this squiggle of trails everywhere, which makes it more difficult for us to keep control over. It would be one thing if they just stayed on the trails, but they don’t,” she said.
Not only is the Bynan Conservation Area home to endangered amphibians and moths, but to plants, as well. Off New Ludlow Road lies a rare plant, which Stone declined to name.
“They’re just altering the vegetation and the topography of our trails,” she said. “It just makes our trails so much more abused and less safe for people to walk on.”
It’s unclear to Stone when this illegal activity is taking place.
“Some people have told me there are trucks driving around through there are night,” she said. “That disturbs the wildlife there as well. It’s just very frighting.”
Immediately after the first snowfall in December, someone had already driven through the conservation land, leaving obvious tracks in the snow.
A paintball area has been discovered within those woods, and often dumped garbage is found, like tires.
“Someone’s been bringing in tires and big pipes,” said Stone. “There were chairs, sleeping bags. That’s very disturbing.”
The act of bringing in artificial material is what bothers Stone, as well as the efforts made to change the landscape.
“They’re digging holes, they’re creating these elaborate barricades and tying them to the live trees which concerns me,” she said of those playing paintball. “I don’t mind people just playing in the woods. It’s when they’re changing the whole woods that it’s not a pleasant experience for other people any more. Then it’s a problem.”
Public encouraged to walk, hike Bynan land
Ironically, Stone said it seems residents don’t use the area enough by simply walking or hiking.
“It would be nice to be able to change that,” she said. Recently, the South Hadley Bike/Walk Committee blazed a trail in the Bynan Conservation Area marked yellow.
“I would just like people to be able to get out and enjoy it,” said Stone. “Maybe they’re not aware it’s there.”
Resident Ken Rogers, who actively hikes in the area and is a member of the South Hadley Bike/Walk Group, said studies have shown the use of ATVs decreases passive use such as walking, biking or cross country skiing in open areas “because of noise and other things like exhaust and smoke.”
Rogers once happened upon a motorist driving a truck in a Bynan vernal pool. “My wife and I went out to document one of the vernal pools at night one time and stuck in the middle was a pickup truck,” he said, recalling the driver asked Rogers what he and his wife were doing in the area.
“I told him ‘To film and take pictures of the frogs you just ran over with your truck,’” remembers Rogers. “He said, ‘What frogs?’ I said, ‘Don’t you hear this deafening noise made by hundreds of spring peepers?’”
Rogers said he’s not against residents having fun. “I just want to protect the environment. ORV riders need to be educated on how not to destroy the environment,” he said. “The president and pope just said get more involved in protecting our environment. That’s why I am saddened by the fact that the vernal pools I visit every springtime gleaming with life are being destroyed by man and his machine.”
Proactive measures need to be taken
Now that the South Hadley Police Department has SUV police vehicles, Police Chief David LaBrie said the department will be able to more easily access and patrol the entrances to Bynan Conservation Area.
“I would encourage people to call us,” he said, especially residents who live near the property.
“Now that we have SUVs, we can go in there fairly easily to investigate. With the regular sedans, we couldn’t get in there.”
Noise in that area during the night is most likely from those ignoring the posted signs. “We do get calls,” said LaBrie.
Rogers suggested putting up a gate at the Lyman Terrace entrance near the power lines. The recent addition of gravel to the area around the power lines is making “it inviting and easier for trucks and cars to access Bynan,” said Rogers. More gates at all major access points and more warning signs are needed, he said.
Educational seminars about the Bynan Conservation Area is another suggestion from Rogers.
Because the Conservation Commission is made of volunteers and those working part-time, resources are limited, said Stone. She too suggested more public eduction as a means to stop the destruction of habits in the Bynan.
The best bet, she said, is to get an idea when motorists are using the area through calls from residents.
“I don’t want anyone confronting anyone out there,” she said. “Even just to let us know after the fact so we have some idea where the vehicles are.” With that information, the Conservation Commission can “see if there’s new ways to prevent some of that from happening.”
Police can bring penalties against motorists
While Stone said it’s hard to prosecute offenders because “it takes a lot of police time,” LaBrie encourages residents to keep reporting.
The area borders Granby, so Granby residents are also encouraged to contact the South Hadley Police Department if they see or hear any illegal activity.
LaBrie recalls charging someone within the past few years for driving a truck in the Bynan Conservation Area and getting it stuck. Penalties include charges of trespassing with an internal combustion engine, destruction of property and trespassing.
“I would encourage neighbors to call if they hear that activity,” he said. “Certainly at night, it’s not going to be workers.”
The South Hadley Police Department can be reached at 538-8231. Press 6 to leave an anonymous tip. The Conservation Commission can be reached at 538-5017 txt 208. Stone can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.