AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – The Town of Amherst has been awarded a grant worth $280,000 for improving its recreational facilities through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) program.

Trail improvements are scheduled to be included at the former Hickory Ridge Golf Course. Over the past four to five years, this project has been underway since Hickory Ridge Golf Course ceased operation.

In March, the 150-acre property was bought as public land. As a result, only 5 to 6 acres can be developed. “As you can imagine it is difficult, when out in nature when you are going through the forest and field, streams, wetlands, etc. to make all trails accessible to all people,” David Ziomek, Asst. Town Manager/Dir. Conservation & Development said. “We do the very best we can.”

The golf cart trails are to include a 6 or 8-foot wide path, and pavement, the rest of it will be crushed stone and leveled. Each trail is to connect with a multipurpose path on East Hadley Road to Mill Lane, the Emily Dickinson trail, and the North Water Trail.

“It’s an important piece of property because the fort runner, runs through it,” said Ziomek. “It is adjacent to many important neighborhoods in South Amherst and Amherst really looked at that and said we would really love to make some trail connections, repurposing the land for other things.”

The area will be more accessible to people with disabilities, wheelchair users, and walkers. “We’re trying to make all these connections for people to walk, hike stroll, and bicycles,” said Ziomek. “We want to make it a destination, an asset for the town, for visitors, we wanna connect people with the land.”

There will be scenic pull-offs for those that may be bird watchers and views of the Mount Holyoke Range. “There’s a lot to see either close-up or faraway,” expressed Ziomek.

Interpretive kiosks will be provided to help residents get to each trail. Along with benches on the trails. “We’ll think it will be a real asset for South Amherst and it will probably be a regional draw.”

There has been a lot of sentimental and historic connection between the town and Hickory Ridge. But there will be demolition of the old clubhouse building in that area, which is 60 to 65 years old. Trees won’t be taken down and bridges will be added. There will also be accessible parking.

The design project will start in March or February next year, but a comprehensive plan is to be done in January or February to bring together all these ideas. The plan will include what to do with the village’s center, Clubhouse, and the buildable frontage along Palmer Roy Lane. Ideas for community gardens will be another factor as if trails will be able to connect to East Hadley Road.

“I think South Amherst has really welcomed and embraced the town in buying Hickory Ridge, said Ziomek. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and interest in being part of the planning process.”

The trails are expected to be completed by late October 2023. A permitted solar project will commence in January to better inherit green energy. Hickory Ridge may also be a possible site for Amherst to put a new fire station or affordable senior housing complex.