Grassroots effort saves at-risk land for clean water, wildlife, flood safety

A grassroots effort led by the Berlin Pond Watershed Association (BPWA), in coordination with the City of Montpelier and Town of Berlin, has succeeded in protecting 33 acres of wetlands and forested land next to Berlin Pond, which is the sole source of drinking water for Montpelier and a portion of Berlin.

The land was placed on the market in 2021. In response, community members formed the BPWA to help protect the parcel.

“This project has been a wonderful example of how members of the local Berlin and Montpelier communities can work together to meet a goal which benefits everyone,” said Nat Shambaugh, chair of the BPWA. “We have helped protect the water quality of Berlin Pond as well as contributing to the health of the Berlin Pond Watershed as a whole. Thanks to the efforts of many who love Berlin Pond, these 33 acres will remain undisturbed woodlands, rather than a development with three houses.”

Last week the City of Montpelier bought the land and conserved it through a conservation easement held by VLT and the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB).

Since 1872, the 278-acre Berlin Pond has been the City’s sole source of drinking water. Over time, the City has purchased almost all of the shoreline, except for 85 feet owned by the Town of Berlin, to protect water quality.

“The City’s purchase of this land furthers the protection of Berlin Pond, a City priority for over 100 years,” said Montpelier City Manager, Bill Fraser. “We appreciate the support of the Berlin Pond Watershed Association and the interim owners, enabling the City to acquire this important parcel.”

One of the last undisturbed waterbodies in the state, Berlin Pond is home to many bird species including the Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, as well as the state-endangered Osprey and Bald Eagle.

Located at the southerly end of Berlin Pond, the protected land includes part of a large wooded wetland – that can hold water during extreme storms and reduce flood damage – along Pond Brook, the inlet to Berlin Pond. The project will also help preserve the rural character of Mirror Lake Road, part of a circuit around Berlin Pond that is used by walkers, bikers and bird watchers.

“The entire community rallied together to protect this resource,” said VLT’s Donna Foster. “Clean water is essential for all, and the July floods have demonstrated, yet again, the importance of protecting wetlands and forest that can hold water to reduce flood damage.”

A community and partnership effort

Once part of the Crandall Farm, the land was put on the market in 2021 in multiple lots. To save a lot that was at imminent risk of being sold, a member of the Crandall family, Jeanne Crandall Mastriano, exercised her Right of First Refusal and, with her husband, bought it. Concerned about the impacts of development and encouraged by VLT and VHCB, a group of Berlin residents formed the BPWA, which worked for two years to raise community and financial support for the property’s protection. The Association also worked closely with other conservation buyers who purchased another portion for interim ownership.

In 2022, the City of Montpelier bought the remaining land directly from the Crandall family. On August 24, 2023, the City purchased acreage held by the interim buyers, bringing over 33 acres back into a single holding and conserving it with VLT and VHCB.

State and private funding made the project possible

This project was funded by many community members, as well as the City of Montpelier, Town of Berlin, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, MacLeay Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Lintilhac Foundation and Davis Conservation Foundation.

“This project is crucial to ensuring water quality and preserving sensitive natural resources in central Vermont,” said Gus Seelig, Executive Director of Vermont Housing & Conservation Board. “We are proud to be partners in an effort to protect the natural areas, recreation, water quality, and character of the Berlin Pond area.”