Bluffside Updates: trail connector, educational programming

Ski trails across Bluffside Farm's winter landscape.

Bluffside Farm currently hosts cross-country skiers and snowshoers taking advantage of trails on the 129-acre property. Come spring, the farm will bustle with a wider range of activities, including development on a proposed trail connector, educational programming, and maintenance projects.

The Vermont Land Trust bought Bluffside Farm, formerly Scott Farm, in 2015. Community members shaped VLT’s initiatives for the property through a series of public meetings in 2016.

Trail Construction

Proposed Bluffside Farm trail design.

Proposed Bluffside Farm trail design. Review the updated concept plan here. Courtesy of: DeWolfe Engineering Associates.

The initial proposal included building a trail connector to link Bluffside Farm and Prouty Beach, resulting in the final link needed for a seven-mile, car-free recreational trail connecting downtown Newport with trails in Canada. This includes a gravel, multi-use path through Bluffside Farm and a 10-foot-wide boardwalk across the mouth of Scott’s Cove.

VLT’s contracted team of engineers has further updated the project to incorporate public feedback. This includes adding a small parking area and new sidewalk, bettering fishing and boating access around Scott’s Cove, and using higher-quality materials to lower future maintenance costs. Review the updated concept plan. Even though VLT raised $1.2 million for the project, these new improvements have increased the budget. We now need to raise an additional $250,000. To donate, please visit

Local- and state-level authorities are currently reviewing the final design for permitting. The City of Newport’s Development Review Board will review the proposal on February 19, 7 pm, in the Council Room of the Municipal Building. The public is welcomed to attend and ask questions. Please find the meeting agenda here.

The City of Newport started construction last fall on a trail around Prouty Beach that makes better use of the lakefront and facilities. It will connect to the Scott’s Cove bridge and be handicap accessible. That project will be completed in summer 2020.

Construction for the trail connector on Bluffside Farm is on track to start in summer 2020, allowing for a seamless transition. “I’m really excited about the trail improvements at Prouty Beach that compliment what we’re doing at Bluffside,” says VLT Vice President for Conservation Tracy Zschau.

Environmental Education and Habitat Improvement

Bluffside Farm has farmland, woodland, and a natural sand beach. Community members said they want the farm used for public programming, as well as protection of its natural and cultural resources.

Newport Downtown Development Director Jim Davis and LEAP AmeriCorps Volunteer Katherine Hancock.

Newport Downtown Development Director Jim Davis and LEAP AmeriCorps Volunteer Katherine Hancock at Bluffside Farm.

With that in mind, VLT hired Katherine Hancock, a LEAP AmeriCorps Volunteer. Katherine joined the team in December as an onsite education and outreach coordinator. She will create experiential learning opportunities for residents on Bluffside Farm and other conserved land in the Northeast Kingdom.

Katherine, an Atlanta, Ga native, has already connected with Newport Parks & Recreation to offer a storytelling walk during the city’s Winter Festival. She’s also connecting with schools to teach students about land stewardship and conservation.

Part of Katherine’s educational programming will focus on invasive species. These nonnative plants—including barberry, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and phragmites—thrive at Bluffside Farm with no natural predators to keep their numbers in check. This means they outcompete native species for resources and can change the habitat entirely.

Japanese barberry at Bluffside Farm.

There’s a link between Japanese barberry, pictured above, and the spread of Lyme Disease, researchers say.

VLT Forester Dan Kilborn explains that there’s also a link between invasive plants and public health. “There’s an interesting link between barberry and ticks and Lyme Disease,” he says. Ticks thrive in the humid conditions created by barberry leaves. Barberry also creates habitat for small mammals like mice and other rodents, which host the bacteria causing Lyme. “[Ticks] become infected and pass it onto deer and humans,” says Dan.

VLT recently received a USDA grant—up to $24,000 to be dispersed over the next five years—to tackle the invasives. It will allow VLT to hire contractors to remove the invasive plants, as well as fund educational programming for the public. The invasive species removal will start in 2020.