Community and conservation groups protect forestland for public access, biodiversity, wildlife and flood safety

A special place was protected in the town of Athens, Vermont. Later this summer, the Raymond Bemis Community Forest will be open for the public to enjoy.

Bull Creek creek runs for about a half mile across the 36-acre forest. Both the creek and a large, picturesque pool provide quality habitat for fish and invertebrates. There are also wetlands, a vernal pool, and an area of Sugar Maple Floodplain Forest, which is uncommon in Vermont.

The land will be permanently open to the public for non-motorized uses. It will also be available as an outdoor classroom.

Raymond Bemis Community Forest: How it came about

The community forest is the result of two years of work by Bull Creek Common Lands (BCCL). BCCL is a nonprofit with a mission to conserve land in, and adjacent to, the Bull Creek and Grassy Brook watersheds of southeastern Vermont.

BCCL bought the land from David Bemis and conserved it with us. The conservation easement secures public access, protects the land’s many ecological features from development, and includes restrictions for clean water and healthy watersheds.

The forest was named after David Bemis’s late uncle, Raymond Bemis. The latter was well known in the community and operated a fish farm on the property in the 1950s and ’60s. When the land was privately owned, people went there for walks, so there was a desire among community members to protect it and keep it open for public use.

“It’s wonderful to see the enthusiasm amongst the community for having this land, that is already well loved, be permanently protected and accessible,” said Hannah Regier, Chair of the BCCL Board.

Planning for the future: Forest could expand trail network in southern Vermont

BCCL expects to have about a mile of walking trails by summer 2024. They also intend to seek community input on how the land will be used. In the future, a section of accessible trail may be developed to open the forest to people with mobility limitations, and a trail connection may be built to connect the forest to Windmill Ridge.

The group sees a lot of potential because the forest is close to Windmill Ridge, which has an extensive trail system, and a trailhead to Paul’s Ledges. Therefore, the community forest could become part of a growing network of 3,000+ acres of conserved recreation lands in the Windmill Ridge and Putney Mountain area.

 

The project was funded by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, Davis Conservation Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Windham Foundation and many generous donors.

Photo by Hannah Regier, courtesy Bull Creek Common Lands.