Volunteers repair access to prized Hawley Bog Preserve

The Nature Conservancy and Five Colleges, Inc., team up to make improvements to Hawley Bog Preserve in northwestern Massachusetts.

HAWLEY, MA - A volunteer team is repairing a boardwalk that provides access into a popular nature preserve in western Franklin County that has long served as an educational laboratory.

The 65-acre Hawley Bog Preserve is the target of work by crews from the Student Conservation Association of Massachusetts. Students are fixing the preserve's 700-foot boardwalk in a project paid for by the preserve's owners - Five Colleges Inc. and the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts.

The conservancy reports that the work started in early July and is expected to wrap up soon. Meantime, the preserve will be closed until Aug. 3. The boardwalk allows public access to the site, located off Hawley's Old Town Common, without harming the bog, the conservancy says.

The group calls the bog a "spectacular example of a high-altitude New England bog. Its fragile wetland community includes a mat of peat 30 feet thick that floats on the open water. It's both a living classroom for Five Colleges' campuses and a popular hiking destination."

Neal Abraham, executive director of Five Colleges, notes that newly documented ant species, Ice Age-era pollen and climate change have all been studied at the Hawley bog.

"The boardwalk reconstruction project is an excellent example of how our partnership with the Nature Conservancy helps keep Hawley Bog open and accessible to our students and faculty members," he said in a statement provided by the conservancy.

Leslie Luchonok, the conservancy's western Massachusetts program director, said the project's goal is "to protect the sensitive ecology of the bog and, at the same time, provide access for public enjoyment, research and education."

Lumber for this job was harvested and manufactured by Heyes Forest Products in Orange. The conservancy said it is certified under guidelines of the Commonwealth Quality Program. The wood is also harvested in a way that safeguards streams and wetlands, reducing erosion and maintaining the ability of the forest to produce clean drinking water.

Two five-member Student Conservation Association crews are doing the work. One finished its stint at Hawley Bog July 17 and another began work July 23.

The association is a nationwide conservation organization that enlists college and high school volunteers to protect and restore America's parks, forests, and other public lands.