More than 6,5000 acres of forestland were protected
WORCESTER and ELMORE, VT – The Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation have conserved more than 6,500 acres of working forest in central Vermont. With funding from the USDA Forest Service through the Forest Legacy Program, the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation has purchased conservation easements for two large parcels of forestland from the land trust, which currently owns the properties.
The large expanse of forestland is known as “Worcester Woods” and spans both sides of Route 12 in Worcester and Elmore. Located on the flanks of the Worcester Range, adjacent to C.C. Putnam State Forest, Worcester Woods sits within an internationally significant wildlife corridor that connects the Green Mountains with the forested lands of the Northeast Kingdom and beyond, stretching to Nova Scotia.
“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to protect a large swath like this — one that is part of a regionally significant block of forestland,” said Carl Powden of the Vermont Land Trust. “Conserving these lands delivers benefits at the level of the landscape — something that’s increasingly important for wildlife, forest health, and climate.”
Senator Leahy, who led the creation of the Forest Legacy Act in 1990 has strongly supported funding for the Worcester Woods acquisition.
“This is a great accomplishment and exactly the kind of project I envisioned when we wrote the Forest Legacy Act,” said Senator Leahy. “I could not be more pleased and proud than to see this large swath of rich and diverse forestland in the heart of Vermont forever conserved to the benefit of future generations and the planet. I congratulate the Vermont Land Trust for their years of work and thank the Meyer Family for this accomplishment.”
The Meyer family, owners of the Deer Lake Timber Company, acquired these lands in the 1950s from a lumber company and kept the forest intact and productive for six decades. In 2014, the Meyers sold the land to the land trust at less than appraised value to support the land’s conservation. In addition to the former Meyer land, a separate 730-acre parcel was included in the project, adding to the breadth of the Worcester Woods conservation success.
“Protecting these private lands through conservation easements has been a long-standing priority for Vermont’s Forest Legacy Program. This accomplishment is the culmination of years of effort by the Vermont Land Trust, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, the USDA Forest Service and others. Success on this project means that these properties will remain forested and will continue to contribute to the vibrant working lands economy of our state while benefiting wildlife, protecting water quality, and providing perpetual access to the public for dispersed on-foot recreational activities such as hunting, birdwatching, walking, and snowshoeing,” said Michael Snyder, State Forester and Commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. “You won’t see these properties posted because access rights have been permanently secured through the easements for the benefit of the public.”
Many years in the making, this announcement comes on the heels of the publication of Vermont’s first Climate Action Plan. Several of the Plan’s recommendations focus on the role of forests in mitigating the effects of climate change. Among the many benefits of forestland conservation, this project will help to advance the goals of the climate plan.
Important for flood resilience, the project protects more than 200 acres of wetlands, as well as undeveloped frontage on streams and ponds within the Winooski and Lamoille watersheds that flow into Lake Champlain. There is ample habitat for more than 100 species, ranging from breeding songbirds to large mammals.
Conservation of the land secures pedestrian public access to the land for generations to come. In 2018, as part of the project, the land trust donated a small but key parcel comprising 72 acres to the Vermont River Conservancy. The conservancy has since developed an accessible trail along a one-mile stretch of the North Branch of the Winooski River, making the popular swimming spot known as the North Branch Cascades safer and more available to the public.
The Open Space Institute contributed to the protection of the property through its Transborder Fund, the only private conservation fund focused on cross-border wildlife migration along the eastern US-Canada divide. The Fund was established to protect the ecologically significant forested landscapes in the Northern Appalachian/Acadian eco-region, an 80 million acre region spanning the eastern edge of North America and the boundaries of the United States and Canada.
“This groundbreaking project is a phenomenal example of what can happen when public and private partners come together to get international conservation done, for good and forever,” said Peter Howell, OSI executive vice president. “Because wildlife carry no passports and observe no man-made jurisdictions, we must work together to protect the last wild places near the border that they call home.”
The Vermont Land Trust plans to sell the land, with the conservation protections in place, to private landowners. Proceeds from the sale will be used to further the protection of large forests across the state.
This was the last project completed by Carl Powden of the Vermont Land Trust, who unexpectedly passed away on January 12. Carl was a charismatic, visionary leader with a dry wit who devoted his career to protecting Vermont’s forests and working lands. This pinnacle project is a cap to his legacy.
Photo: Caleb Kenna