Campaign launched to secure special St. Johnsbury property

Historic Observatory Knob features trails and open space in the heart of town

For immediate release: October 4, 2021

ST. JOHNSBURY, VT — The effort to acquire and protect a scenic, historic property with trails for the community has received a major boost, the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) announced today. The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) awarded a $200,000 grant for the protection of Observatory Knob on September 29, 2021.

VLT is spearheading the effort to save the historic property, which is for sale. Boasting the highest point within the village district of St. Johnsbury, the privately owned parcel is in the heart of town and within walking distance of hundreds of homes. It has been used by the community for over 100 years, with owners granting informal trail access.

St. Johnsbury Town Manager Chad L. Whitehead said, “The Town of St. Johnsbury is super excited to see this project funded by VHCB, and thankful for the work done by the Vermont Land Trust. This will not only ensure the preservation of this historic site, but will also provide an outdoor recreational asset immediately adjacent to St. Johnsbury’s Downtown.”

We need your help to save Observatory Knob!

Learn more and see photos of this beautiful place.

In the 1880s, an observatory was built at the top, which was later destroyed by high winds. Today the land is regularly used by local camps, as a training site for the St. Johnsbury Academy cross-country team, for hiking and snowshoeing, and more. Hikers have filled several summit logbooks over nearly 15 years. Additional trails and educational uses, including as an outdoor classroom by the Fairbanks Museum, are planned.

When the property went on the market in March 2021, the community encouraged VLT to help save it. VLT moved quickly to secure a Purchase and Sale Agreement and are raising the funds needed to cover the cost of buying, conserving, and establishing a modest management fund for the Knob.

If the effort is successful, the Town of St. Johnsbury will own and manage this community recreational and educational asset, ensuring access for future generations.

VHCB has granted $200,000, the Town of St. Johnsbury has pledged $20,000 and the Passumpsic Bank $10,000. Additional donations have brought the final fundraising goal down to $12,000, which needs to be raised by November 2021. Donations from the public are being actively sought.

VHCB Executive Director Gus Seelig said, “VHCB is proud to support the protection of Observatory Knob for its importance as a recreational resource to the town of St. Johnsbury. The conservation of this special place that has long been enjoyed by area residents will ensure permanent public access and guarantee that the trails remain open to be enjoyed by citizens and visitors alike.”

“When Passumpsic Bank was approached by the Vermont Land Trust to support this unique opportunity, our Board’s response was a resounding Yes,” said Jim Kisch, Passumpsic Bank President & CEO. “Protecting a property which will provide both current and future generations a place to enjoy the natural beauty of our region supports our Bank’s commitment to community prosperity.”

There is also strong support from area organizations, including both the town Recreation Department and Chamber of Commerce, St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center, NEK Council on Aging, Passumpsic Valley Land Trust, Caledonia Trail Collaborative, and from numerous residents.

“I have been an adjacent property owner for almost 50 years; for the last 13 years I have permitted hikers to use the trails on my land to access the Knob. We strive to find ways to make St. Johnsbury a wonderful place to live, and to make St. Johnsbury attractive to newcomers. The effort to save Observatory Knob can provide our town a wonderful recreational resource,” said David L. Brown. Brown is donating an additional 5 acres to the town, to fully protect the top of the Knob and secure additional trails for the public.