October 16, 2019 — When staff members from VLT and the Stowe Land Trust visited a Waterbury property last winter they witnessed a mother bear accompanying her two cubs up a towering oak tree. They knew the land was in an important travel route for wide-ranging animals like bears, but it was nice—and kind of exciting—to see the proof.

The 63-acre property is owned by Chris Curtis and Tari Swenson, who went on to conserve it with VLT. Located on North Hill, near the Waterbury–Stowe line, the land is steep with ledges and rocky outcrops. On its upper reaches there is a section of woods unusual in this part of Vermont, containing oak, hickory, and hophornbeam trees.

“I grew up in Stowe, and as kids we used to wander the hinterlands, through fields and woods, rarely needing to think about crossing too close by someone’s house,” said Chris Curtis. “Only 60 years on, that is no longer possible. Roads and buildings have cropped up, shrinking the area that a couple of marauding kids could adventure through… So, I can relate to the animals… they struggle with shrinking space every day.”   

Chris and Tari’s land is within a 10,000-acre, mostly forested area that connects the Green and the Worcester mountain ranges in Waterbury and Stowe and is bisected by Route 100. It is the focus of the Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor Partnership—a group of organizations, agencies, and commissions that are working together to protect this area for animals.

“We know that [this land] is just one small chunk of forestland,” explained Chris. “And, by itself is not useful for wildlife travel. We know that only by being part of a group of like-minded landowners can a patchwork of animal-friendly forest land be assembled.”

Eric and Dale Smeltzer in woods on Waterbury land

Eric and Dale Smeltzer on their newly conserved woodland in Waterbury.

Eric and Dale Smeltzer are two of those like-minded landowners. Also Waterbury residents, the Smeltzers donated a conservation easement on 287 acres of forestland abutting the Mt. Mansfield State Forest.

“Knowing that we are part of a large region-wide project is very exciting,” said Dale. “Conserving property in this wildlife corridor makes us feel more connected to our forestland—as if we’re now managing it with more purpose for the future.”

The land includes the top of “Willey Hill,” which rises up along the eastern side of the Waterbury Reservoir. The forest covers rolling hills, interspersed with small wetlands, ledgy cliffs, and headwaters streams that feed the Little River and is home to bear, snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, fisher, and coyote.

“Conserving these properties was only possible due to generous landowners who are protecting their forestland and wildlife habitat,” said VLT’s Bob Heiser. “We hope that protecting these key properties will inspire others to consider doing the same.”

Learn more:
The Shutesville Wildlife Corridor Partnership consists of the Waterbury Conservation Commission, Stowe Conservation Commission, Stowe Land Trust, Vermont Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, Vermont Agency of Transportation, two regional planning commissions, and many community volunteers. Read more about the recent work of the partnership here.