A home for wildlife in Granville
5 min read / August 30, 2023
5 min read / August 30, 2023
Friends protect the land they share with hundreds of creatures in Granville Vermont
One sunny June morning in 2021, about 40 people converged at the end of a dirt road in Granville. Ranging in age from 9 to 90 years, they scattered across the land, notebooks, nets, and test tubes in hand, cameras at the ready.
Led by biologists from Vermont and Massachusetts, teams of neighbors and friends performed a ‘BioBlitz’. During the bioblitz, people documented the incredible diversity of bird, insect, mammalian, amphibian, reptilian, and plant life on the land, which lies east of Route 100.
“We wanted to find out who we were sharing the land with,” said Tracy Winn. She owns the land with her husband, Joe Rigali, her brother, Brad Winn, and a couple of old friends.
During that summer day the citizen scientists found 362 species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms.
“We added little, overlooked Granville to the Vermont Atlas of Life,” laughed Tracy, referring to the online database of biodiversity in the state.
Thanks to several trail cameras, Tracy, Joe, and their friends are getting to know the local creatures. “One of the most interesting things my brother’s cameras recorded was a woodcock with babies among leaf litter in the forest,” said Tracy. “A fisher came into the camera’s view and the woodcock put on quite a display trying to protect its chicks.”
Despite losing several cameras to curious bears, they’ve seen footage of lots of wildlife in Granville: moose, weasels, beavers, deer, opossums, bobcats, (one with one eye) a coyote with porcupine quills around their mouth, snowshoe hares, skunks, raccoons, barred owls… the list goes on.
“An amazing number of creatures!” she said. “I feel like a spy in the secret life of the animals.”
Tracy’s passion for nature started in her childhood and was reignited by her brother. As a conservation biologist, he went to the Amazon to study the relationship between land and biodiversity. “His work made me aware of the necessity of maintaining contiguous habitat,” said Tracy.
In 1991, Tracy, Joe, and their friend David Outerbridge bought the Granville land, which had been home to a family dairy operation and a buffalo farm.
They spent summers and got to know the land. “The first summer we cleaned out part of the barn and started using it as a big wooden tent.” Later, they built two small rustic cabins.
About five years ago, Tracy participated in a woodland and wildlife training with Vermont Coverts. The nonprofit educates landowners about wildlife habitat and healthy ecosystems through sound forest management and wildlife stewardship.
Around that time, she and Joe started working toward conserving the land with VLT.
“It all came together,” she explained. Brad and David were willing, as was Harry Lowd who had joined the friends’ informal landowning collective. In spring 2023 the land was officially conserved with us using a conservation easement that will protect natural features and prevent development. “We all share a love of the place, and want to keep it as it is,” said Tracy.
(pictured at left: Tracy Winn and Joe Rigali)
Tracy and Joe are following a plan prepared by their forester. They are increasing tree diversity and fostering old-forest-like conditions; this work will help the land adapt to a changing climate.
“A couple of areas in our forest will be left alone to be their wild selves,” said Tracy.
Granville has a lot of forest and not much open space, so they’re maintaining their open land. With luck, it will attract grassland species. “It’s hard to balance it all, but we’re trying to look at the town geography and considering how to foster the largest possible diversity and connectivity of landscape for wildlife. Nature knows a whole lot better than humans.”
After teaching about a thousand kids how to read and write, Tracy is focusing on writing fiction. Her recent work is a collection of short stories set in the White River Valley. The landscape and its biodiversity figure largely in the book.