A Team Effort
By Joe Pasteris
On the hilly land where Shrewsbury’s town farm stood in centuries past, a thick forest of sugar maples, birch, and oak lays undisturbed by roads and development. Residents like to visit—drawn by the wooded hush—to hike or hunt. It’s a special place for animals, too. With three state forests nearby, the woods are part of a vast swath of wildlife habitat.
So, when a residential subdivision threatened to break up this privately owned 527-acre parcel, the community decided to save it and the Shrewsbury Conservation Commission got busy.
They knew that if big patches of forest get broken into smaller fragments, plant and animal populations suffer. “[M]ore fragmented systems have lower biological diversity,” explains Jens Hilke, a biologist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. This means fewer wide-ranging animals like bear and bobcat and more invasive species.
The Commission set its mind to protecting the land, but the task was daunting. A new committee was formed to explore options. “We ran into many dead ends until we invited Donald Campbell of the Vermont Land Trust to one of our meetings,” said Louise Duda, committee chair. “He really helped us look at how conservation could possibly happen. He kept telling us, ‘You can do this,’ which was encouragement we sorely needed.”
With VLT providing project development and fundraising support, the committee worked through possibilities, eventually partnering with Vermont Fish & Wildlife to create the state’s 100th Wildlife Management Area.
“We thought a lot about how the property was being used and how we could best protect that into the future,” said Fish & Wildlife’s Jane Lazorchak. “[It] is a really important wildlife corridor and it gets used by hunters and people who like quiet interaction with nature.”
While the project was largely funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, VLT made a significant contribution though a bequest from the late Joan Sibley, a long-time Shrewsbury resident. The committee and local residents raised nearly $70,000.
“This land was saved because the community was able to come together around its importance to them,” said Donald. “They didn’t know exactly how to save the land—VLT helped them figure that out—but they knew they loved it enough to try.”