March 27, 2018

Richmond has a new town forest. Located on Route 2 near the Monitor Barns, the 428-acre forest is located a mile from the village center. The land was sold to the town and conserved with the Vermont Land Trust today.

The property has long been in the Andrews family as part of Gray Rocks Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the past seven years, the Andrews siblings have worked with the Vermont Land Trust to find the best outcome for their land. In 2013 they conserved farmland next to the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) monitor barn, which they then sold to Maple Wind Farm. They wanted to see the upland portion of the property remain forested and offer recreation to the community.

“For almost 100 years the Andrews family has farmed this property,” explained Amy Wagner. “Our father, and my three sisters and I grew up on this farm. It is land we love and cherish. Conserving this beautiful property as a town forest for future generations to enjoy will be a fitting legacy of our parents, Everett and Mary Jo Andrews.” 

The Vermont Land Trust worked with the Andrews family and the community to create a plan for conservation. It also led the fundraising effort to help the town buy and permanently conserve the land.

“This land will give residents and visitors an easily accessible place to get into the forest,” said Bob Heiser of the Vermont Land Trust. “The land is also an important place for wildlife. On a single walk through the property this winter, we saw signs of moose, bear, deer, fisher, bobcat and other wildlife species.”

There is a VAST trail and opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, hunting, and birdwatching. The Richmond Trails Committee sees an opportunity to connect trails at VYCC to the Old Jericho Road Trail and Richmond Village.

In March of 2017, there was an overwhelmingly positive vote at Richmond’s Town Meeting for the purchase of the land and the creation of the Richmond Town Forest.

Through a public process, the community will develop a management plan to decide how the property will be used. 

“Richmond’s new town forest offers us a great place for year-round activities in nature for people of all ages and interests,” said Guy Roberts, Chair of the Town Forest Steering Committee.

“The public planning process that’s underway has already heard from over 300 residents excited to conserve habitat, create outdoor classrooms, link Richmond’s trail networks and preserve hunting lands. This amazing outpouring of public input and interest is shaping the management plan, so we’ll get the most out of this beautiful forestland for decades to come.”

Three streams flow through the forest to the Winooski River. The land is also home to vernal pools, wetlands, and a dry oak forest, which is rare in Vermont. Protecting sites such as these are important for the future of biodiversity.

Most importantly, the land is a key part of a much larger, mostly protected, area of forest that connects Camel’s Hump State Park with Mount Mansfield State Forest. The groups that have been working to protect these upland forests—known as the Chittenden County Uplands—have conserved 10,000 acres in the past 15 years.

The Andrews family generously sold the forest to the town for less than its full value. But, the purchase and conservation of the land couldn’t have happened without the support of many funders.

“This impressive landscape and the community’s interest in ownership attracted significant grant funding,” explained Bob Heiser. “The federal Community Forest Program provided a critical grant that really made this project possible. The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the Open Space Institute, the Conservation Alliance, and of course, the Richmond Conservation Fund all played a huge part as well.”

The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) has supported the creation of many town forests across the state. “VHCB is excited to support the creation of Richmond’s new town forest,” said Gus Seelig, Executive Director of VHCB. “Conservation of the property will add to an existing block of conserved wildlife habitat lands in Vermont’s most populous county and secure permanent public access to a recreational resource, expanding connections to an extensive trail network.” 

Funding was received from the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Community Forest Fund, which supports the creation and expansion of community forests in northern New England. “OSI is proud to support the creation of the Richmond Community Forest,” said Jennifer Melville, who oversees OSI’s Community Forest Program. “This conservation project will not only strengthen the local economy, but will also support the protection of wildlife habitat and improved recreational access. We congratulate Vermont Land Trust and the Richmond community for their vision and determination to invest in the Community Forest model for current and future generations.”

Many community members also contributed toward a town forest management fund, which will help the town cover initial costs of management that may include improving a parking area, developing trails, or creating signage.

Photo by Olivia Wolf