Fairbanks Museum plans nature education, research, and recreation in Danville, Vermont

A new nature preserve will open in Danville, Vermont in late 2023. The Fairbanks Museum Nature Preserve at the Matsinger Forest will offer trails for visitors and nature education. It will also support scientific research.

The forest is the result of John and Barbara Matsinger’s care for the land. Its story goes back thirty years.

The Matsinger Forest: a gift of land for nature, learning, and exploration

In 1992, the Matsingers conserved a 180-acre property with us. They went on to buy and protect neighboring land. They had a vision for forest stewardship, environmental education, and community access to the natural world. So they made provisions in the conservation agreements that supported education and recreation. Today nearly 390 acres are conserved with VLT.

Elderly couple standing outside with hills in distance - Matsingers in Danville Vermont

An archive photo of John and Barbara on their Danville land

Throughout the decades, they thoughtfully stewarded their woodlands. They also stayed in discussion and partnership with the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury and with us, to plan for the land’s future. In December 2022, the Matsingers gifted 500+ acres located near Greenbanks Hollow to the Fairbanks Museum.

“John and Barbara have been exemplary land stewards and we are thrilled to see their long-held dream come true,” said Tracy Zschau, Vice President of Land Protection at VLT. “Lovers of wildlife, they have long hoped that their lands would one day support ecological research and education, and benefit the community. We are delighted to welcome the Fairbanks Museum as a partner in caring for this land.”

Ever mindful of caring for the land into the future, Barbara and John have set up a dedicated endowment fund at the Vermont Community Foundation for the upkeep of the property in perpetuity.

Enriching the Fairbanks Museum, a community resource

Home to Vermont’s only public planetarium, the Fairbanks Museum is a museum, learning center, and planetarium all rolled into one. The museum offers an eclectic collection of natural history artefacts from around the world, along with temporary exhibits and a butterfly house that opened in 2022. It’s also a thriving community resource. It offers nature education to area preschools, schools, and homeschoolers. Inquisitive youth can engage in science research through a STEM Lab at the Museum. The Museum also runs its own nature preschool.

“The Matsinger Forest is the perfect wilderness complement to the Fairbanks Museum’s curated natural history displays,” said Adam Kane, executive director of the museum.

Five adults walking through green forest with ferns growing on the ground - Matsiner - Danville-Vermont - Fairbanks Museum Nature Preserve at the Matsinger Forest

In summer 2022, Fairbanks Museum staff, friends of the Matsingers, and VLT staff explored the Danville land that has become the Matsinger Forest.

They anticipate opening Matsinger Forest to the public in late 2023 pending local and state permitting, and the installation of an access driveway and parking lot. They plan to use the forest for educational programs and scientific research, while also establishing a trail system and facilities for non-motorized recreation.

The land is dominated by northern hardwood forest, where VLT staff spotted maidenhair ferns there in summer 2022. In addition, there are vernal pools, beaver ponds, hemlock stands, meadows, and northern white cedar swamps.

Green foliage on forest floor - Maidenhair fern viewed from top down - Danville Vermont - Fairbanks Museum Nature Preserve at the Matsinger Forest