This summer, at an unnamed pond deep in the hills of Bakersfield, 28 baby herons looked down curiously from their nests as a small group of people near the water’s forested edge looked back at them.

These were juvenile great blue herons, and they looked vaguely prehistoric—a bit like baby pterodactyls—atop their ragged nests, which were essentially great piles of sticks jammed into the bare trees that rose from the pond. A few hooded mergansers paddled about, and from the forest, winter wrens, hermit thrushes, and a distant barred owl could be heard. The place exuded a palpable feeling of wildness.

On a nearby hilltop sits the summer home of Renee Reiner and Mike DeSanto, who were hosts for the evening’s event: a walk out to the pond to learn about herons. For Renee, it was a way of thanking VLT for helping her conserve her 280 acres of land, including the pond with its heron rookery.

“I have always wanted to own a parcel of land,” Renee said. “The conservation piece was integral to that dream.”

The summer evening at the heron rookery was one of 40 events that took place through the summer and fall to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Vermont Land Trust.

 

VLT was celebrating more than just longevity. Since 1977, the organization has conserved some 1,900 pieces of land totaling more than 578,000 acres—roughly 10 per cent of Vermont.

About 800 parcels of farmland are included in these numbers. Vermont remains the most farmed state in New England, and by helping to conserve some of the best farmland, VLT is a major part of the reason that is so.

The 40 events were, in effect, a sampling of some of the best outdoor experiences that Vermont has to offer. VLT members and friends hiked scenic ridges, went paddling, learned about forest management on woodland walks, and toured several working farms—all on land conserved by VLT.

Events began in May when the dairy cows at Silloway Farm in Randolph ran and jumped exuberantly on their way to bright green pastureland for the first grazing of the year. They continued through summer and into October, which is when VLT hosted its 2017 Annual Celebration, which included farm-raised food and live music at Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne.

In between were many unforgettable experiences—a dinner at the spectacularly productive Maple Wind Farm in Richmond, forest walks at Wicopee Hill Farm in Dummerston and elsewhere, storytelling in Starksboro, a fall foliage trail ride in South Woodstock, and more.

At Templeton Farm in East Montpelier about 30 attendees heard Bruce Chapell and his son Seth describe the history and current operation of their farm, which was founded in 1810, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. They are the seventh and eighth generations on the farm, where they produce grass-fed beef and maple products.

The farm was conserved with VLT in 1994, when development pressure was growing and many farms were being sold as real estate. Bruce recalled that a developer once came to his parents and put a check for $250,000 on the table. Knowing that Bruce wanted to farm the land, they refused to sell. Today more than 1,300 acres on several farms in East Montpelier remain open and permanently conserved.

By October over 1,000 people had attended the events, most of which were free.

“The whole series was wonderfully representative of the breadth of land conservation and we are thankful to the many generous landowners who hosted them,” said VLT’s Elise Annes. “We have seen the profound benefits for people who connect with the land in person. These programs are just one of the ways we facilitate this.”

Each event gave concrete evidence of the value of VLT’s purpose—to conserve the forests, farmland, and other places that make Vermont special in ways that connect Vermonters to the best of their heritage.

This article originally appeared in the Vermont Land Trust’s 2016-17 Annual Report. Story written by Tom Slayton.