Getting to know the land

In the early 2000s, Sally Schlueter and Ric Prescott bought some VLT-conserved woods near their Burke home.

They walked the land with a forester, and learned about the wetlands, upland forest, and biodiversity of the property. It turned out that the land backed onto a swath of timberland that provides important habitat for large mammals. They worked with the forester to improve shrubby areas so smaller animals could thrive.

a woman and a man smiling at camera

Sally Schlueter and Ric Prescott have cared for the protected land for years; they worked with the town to help make it open to all.

Ric, then a math teacher, brought high-school students to learn from the land. A few years ago, they invited Kingdom Trails to expand their mountain biking trail network onto their property. The Shonter Shuffle and the Besaw – two popular trails that are part of the Kingdom Trails network – now traversed their land.

The North Pasture Community Forest is born

When they were ready to sell, they realized the whole community could enjoy the woods. Ric knew that the town was keen to create a town forest. So, Sally and Ric proposed their land as a candidate. It became the North Pasture Community Forest, located off Victory Road.

“The town is so grateful,” said Elise Lawson of the Burke Conservation Commission. “ This pandemic has reinforced the importance of public spaces and community forests, where people can walk their dog, snowshoe, and view the beautiful wetlands.”

The town raised money to buy the land, with Kingdom Trails helping to spread the word, and the community endorsed the effort through a vote. Ric and Sally sold the land to the town in fall 2022. The town is now working on a second town forest, Willey Woods.

Trails for all

The new town forest will continue to host trails. “We’re so excited to work with the Town of Burke as the new stewards of this land,” said Abby Long of the Kingdom Trail Association. “These are crucial connector trails linking two counties, Caledonia’s Burke and Essex’s East Haven. Bike riders and hikers can stay off highways, which is safer for everyone.” The trails are adaptive (aMTB) and can be safely used by everyone, including people with disabilities.

The town is embarking on a community process to determine next steps. “Education is a big goal,” said Elise. “We’d like to support outdoor classroom and citizen-science programs so folks of all ages can learn about the landscape.”

Sally and Ric are happy with the outcome. “I’d like people to really see and take the time to feel what the woods are like in every season,” Sally added.