Every year after the first spring rains in Amherst, volunteer “bucket brigades” used to stop traffic along Henry Street to carry migrating spotted salamanders safely across the road on Big Night. Henry Street separates salamanders from the vernal pools (small temporary ponds) where they migrate every spring to mate and to lay eggs. When word spread about the animals’ plight, the British Fauna and Floral Preservation Society and ACO Polymer in Germany provided funds for an experimental tunnel project on Henry Street. In 1987, the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Amherst Department of Public Works, University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon Society, and local residents worked together to build two tunnels, 200 feet (61m) apart, and short “drift fences” to guide migrating salamanders into the tunnels. Today, the Hitchcock Center maintains these important migratory tunnels with volunteers to ensure that they remain free of debris and that the drift fences are mended after the heavy winter snow.
Our gratitude to Cowls Building Supply and the Jones Family for allowing the Henry Street Salamander Tunnel project to be built on their land. Each year, they have generously provided the Hitchcock Center with building materials and supplies needed to keep these tunnels in good repair.
Interested in joining us to help with tunnel maintenance? Visit our volunteer page for a call for volunteers in late winter.
For more about the salamanders, the Henry Street tunnels, images and video, check out this article.
Big Night Instructions
Download a PDF version of the instructions.
Big Night occurs each spring when spotted salamanders and wood frogs migrate from their winter woodland habitats to nearby vernal wetlands to breed. During the first warm spring rains, in March or sometimes as late as April, after dark and with a stable temperature of 40 degrees F or above amphibians are likely to be moving.
If you are considering visiting the Henry Street tunnels for Big Night, we ask that you please consider the following guidelines to help keep the salamanders, frogs, and humans safe.
- Please take East Pleasant to Pine Street and park at Cushman. Then walk up Pine Street to Henry Street.
- Please do not cross over the fence with orange tape on it. Stay on the road side of these fences.
- If you need any help or have any questions, please ask a volunteer who will have a yellow reflective vest on.
- If you have reflective clothing, please wear it for safety.
- Please do not touch the animals unless they are in danger while on the road. If you do have to help one, please do not carry them in your hands, use a wet leaf. The very best thing to do is find the volunteers whose job will be to have buckets ready for collecting critters on the road.
- Please make sure your flashlights are covered in red cellophane because regular light can impact the migrating creatures. We do have a supply of cellophane so please ask for some.
- Be very careful if you have to cross the road as the vehicles can have difficulty seeing you. Do not take any chances, cars will not be asked to slow down.
- Please be aware of where your children are at all times and make sure they and you know the rules to correctly enjoy the salamander and frog migration. For young children, please accompany them at all times for everyone’s safety.
Thank you for your cooperation and enjoy the night!