The Westford community came together with the Vermont Land Trust to protect a treasured piece of land known locally as the Jackson Farm and Forest. The centrally located property is well-loved for its forest and stone-wall-lined farmland that stretches between the Westford School and the village center.
The forestland will now be a town forest available for public recreation and outdoor education. And, 42 acres of farmland along Brookside Road were conserved and purchased by farmers Donald and Dale Pouliot, who will continue to use the fields to support their dairy business.
When the public learned the land was going to be sold, community members and the Vermont Land Trust came up with a plan to save it from development and expand recreational opportunities. A volunteer committee formed and worked tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for the project.
“Preserving this farm and creating a town forest represents the town’s undaunted efforts and support,” said volunteer Pat Haller, who conserved land he owns just across the road from the town forest.
“The scenic land is special to us with its incredible stonewall-lined farmland, showcasing the hard work of our farmers past and present, while the forest offers exciting potential for outdoor activities, education, forestry, and community growth,” Pat added.
The new 130-acre Maple Shade Town Forest will be available for public recreation, student education, and as a timber resource for the town. There are plans for a network of forest trails to connect over the farmland to trails on the Westford School parcel. Portions of two beaver ponds on the property provide opportunities for an outdoor classroom directly across from the school.
“A strong community is a thing to be cherished and through this community’s efforts one of Westford’s greatest treasures will be preserved for all time,” Melissa Manka, Westford planning coordinator.
“It would be safe to say that not many projects can accomplish so many goals of a Town Plan,” she added. “This project conserves working lands and cultural history, extends village trail networks, secures the village’s future by retaining its limited septic capacity, and will provide a variety of recreational and educational opportunities for generations to come.”
The Vermont Land Trust conservation easements will permanently protect the farmland and the town forest.
“This land means so much to this community,” said Bob Heiser of the Vermont Land Trust. “The passion and commitment they showed in making this project happen was truly inspiring.”
Funding for the town forest and farmland conservation demonstrated broad enthusiasm for the project. Town residents overwhelmingly supported a contribution of town funds at a vote on election day. The Westford Historical Society and many individual community members donated to the project as well.
The project could not have happened without a grant from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB), which allocated $150,000 for the town forest. VHCB also awarded $69,000 in state funds and $115,000 in federal funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to conserve the Pouliot farmland, allowing the farmers to purchase land they had been leasing.
“Our board was pleased to support the conservation of the Westford Town Forest, which so clearly had the backing of the town, the community, and the school, and also complements the Pouliot Farm project,” said Gus Seelig, executive director of VHCB.
The Town will now be working to establish public access to the town forest from Brookside Road, and the community will be developing a management plan for the property.