Green Mountain National Forest is expected to grow 2,100 acres in Bennington County over the next year.
A conservation group is facilitating the US Forest Service’s purchase of three private plots of land in Pownal and Stamford, with the help of $2.1 million in congressional funding.
The properties encompass forest land adjoining the Green Mountain National Forest – 688 acres in northeast Pownal, 1,251 acres in central Stamford and 165 acres in east Stamford.
Their locations have caught the attention of the Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit organization that works to create new parks and public lands. The trust has seen properties can increase the buffer zone between Green Mountain’s renowned hiking trails – the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail – and real estate developments and industries.
“It really ruins your wilderness experience if someone builds a subdivision half a mile from the trail,” said Kate Wanner, senior project manager at the trust’s Vermont office.
Two of the plots are within a mile of the Long Trail and all can be seen from vantage points along the trail, said Mollie Klepack Flanigan of the Green Mountain Club, founder and leader of the Long Trail.
She said conserving the properties will help secure the remote and natural environment of the Long Trail, which is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States.
The land acquisition would also open up pedestrian access to the Green Mountains from northeast Pownal and extend the National Forest snowmobile trail, including 1.2 miles of the Stamford Pond Trail.
When the trust hired an ecologist to inspect the properties, he apparently found several pleasant surprises, including the habitat of a recently discovered population of endangered American marten, previously thought to live only in northeastern Vermont. But Wanner said there was no evidence yet that the animal, a member of the weasel family, actually lives in any of the plots.
Pownal land is home to a small crop of American chestnuts, of which very few mature specimens remain. Integrating Green Mountain might be helpful in restoring the tree. And the plots also have previously unmapped wetlands, which help absorb rainfall and promote flood protection.
The US Forest Service said adding the properties to the 400,000-acre Green Mountains would help the agency fulfill its mission to maintain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for generations.
“We are honored to be entrusted with managing these plots as public lands for the enjoyment of all,” Forest Service spokeswoman Briana Graham said.
The three parcels of land are all owned by Park Forestry, a Connecticut-based company that buys private conservation-value properties so they can one day become public land.
Company owner David Rubin said the properties were originally eight separate plots that he bought from different owners over 10 years. He used the land for sustainable forestry while waiting for the time when it could be in public hands.
“I bought them with that intention,” he said. “It just requires me to be very patient.”
The US Forest Service said it is common for landowners to offer their property to the agency for acquisition. But it is less common for them to have so much land available for acquisition, as is the case with Rubin in Bennington County.
The properties are already under contract, but Wanner said the sale may not become official until 2023. The Forest Service would buy the land using $2.1 million that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has assigned to the project this year. Federal Finance Bill, following a request from the Trust for Public Land.
But the trust said it needed to raise an additional $128,000 to pay for acquisition costs, such as land titles work, ecological analysis and legal fees.
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