Over 600 acres of forest with ponds and wetlands conserved in southern Vermont

ATHENS, BROOKLINE and TOWNSEND, VT—Over 600 acres of forestland have been conserved for wildlife, climate, clean water, and public access. Spanning the towns of Athens, Brookline and Townsend, the forest lies west of the Windmill Hill ridgeline and can be seen from the Pinnacle summit. Known as the Lily Pond Highlands, the land is owned and managed by the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association.

“It is very rewarding to see this exceptional forestland protected,” said VLT Project Director Jennifer Garrett. “The parcel is well connected to neighboring conserved forestland, which will support animals that need to roam widely. It has habitat for several rare plants and the wood turtle, which is declining in the region. The property also has streams, wetlands and ponds, including the preserve’s scenic namesake, Lily Pond. And in addition, perpetual public access has been granted on Lily Pond Highlands, so everyone will now be able to visit, enjoy and learn from this special forest.”

The land is almost entirely forested with habitat for bears, moose, beavers, herons and many other species. In addition, there are six state-significant vernal pools that are high quality breeding grounds for amphibians. The property includes the southern shore of Lily Pond, a 14-acre open wetland with significant beaver activity.

Vermont’s Climate Action Plan includes recommendations that focus on the role of forests in mitigating the effects of climate change. Protecting lands like Lily Pond Highlands can help our landscape become more climate resilient.

A private, non-profit and volunteer-run organization, the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association is focused on conserving the Windmill Hill Ridge and surrounding areas. VLT and the Pinnacle Association have partnered over two decades to protect more than 2,000 acres here.

The association worked with the land’s former owners, the late James Massey of Westminster West, and his family, to acquire the land in 2021 after a major fundraising effort. They plan to develop a low-impact trail network at Lily Pond Highlands to provide access to this ecologically rich forestland.

“We are thrilled to see this ecologically diverse and resilient tract of carbon rich forestland conserved in perpetuity,” said Lisa Merton on behalf of the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association. “For many years we have been working toward this day but it is really just over the past two years that everything has aligned to make our goal a reality. We are grateful for the vision and dedication of our all-volunteer board and our supportive and knowledgeable partners the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont Land Trust and the Open Space Institute’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund. This was a big project and they stood by us all the way! Thank you.”

The creation of the preserve was made possible through the VLT and Association partnership as well as generous funding from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the Open Space Institute, Windham Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, William P. Wharton Foundation and the Bafflin Foundation.

Gus Seelig, Executive Director of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, said “VHCB has supported the work of the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association over many years, helping with more than 12 acquisitions. The Lily Pond acquisition is their largest ever, and we are proud to participate in the protection of this forested land for public use, wildlife habitat, and water quality.”

“The successful conservation of Lily Pond Highlands is an exciting achievement for long-term efforts to protect the forests of the Northern Appalachian Mountain region in the face of a changing climate,” said Jennifer Melville, vice president at OSI, whose Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund supported protection of the land. “This phenomenal project builds on four other projects that OSI has supported while safeguarding beloved hiking trails as well as habitat for rare plants and animals,” Melville continued. “We thank the Vermont Land Trust and the Pinnacle Association for their efforts to secure this critical land on behalf of the people of Vermont.”


Photo credit: Andrew Toepfer