All Woody Guthrie needed to declare “this land is your land” was a pen and a tune. The Stowe Land Trust needed $6 million, but can now say much the same thing.
Last month, the land trust closed on its acquisition of the 750-acre Brownsville-Story Ridge Forest, a wilderness area in the northeast corner of town, which it placed under a permanent conservation easement and then transferred to the state of Vermont.
Last week, dozens of people met in a meadow in part of the tract to cut a ribbon and take short strolls around the area. It was the culmination of a fairly quick sequence of events — the property went up for sale last fall with a $10 million price tag.
The land trust had Brownsville on its wish list for years, and jumped at the chance to purchase it for conservation purposes. The $6 million toward the purchase came largely from a $5 million anonymous donation through the Vermont Community Foundation and a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.
The remaining money came from more than 750 donations.
“Thanks to the broad and deep support from the Stowe area community and the hard work of our partners, this incredible property is now protected and will be open for the public to enjoy for generations to come,” said land trust executive director Kristen Sharpless. “It’s a fantastic outcome for the land and our community.”
Brownsville is the trust’s largest purchase — in both acreage and cost — since the organization was founded in 1987.
It joins such large forest tracts as the 10,000 acres of Burt Lumber Company land transferred to Mount Mansfield and C.C. Putnam State Forests in 1979; the town’s purchase of the 1,000-acre Sterling Forest in 1995; and Stowe Land Trust’s own protection of Cady Hill Forest in 2012.
In acquiring the land from the trust, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation adds a large block of land — 758 acres — to the CC Putnam State Forest, protects the headwaters of Moss Glen Brook and numerous beaver ponds, and allows public access to outdoor recreation opportunities along the western flank of the Worcester mountain range.
The range is perhaps Vermont’s wildest and least protected mountain range, and includes popular hiking destinations like The Pinnacle, Mount Hunger and Elmore Mountain. It’s also a key piece of a wildlife corridor that runs all the way into the Northeast Kingdom.
“Protecting this gem for the public not only provides wonderful benefits locally, but it also enhances a significant statewide asset for all Vermonters and our guests to enjoy now and into the future,” said Michael Snyder, commissioner for Forests, Parks, and Recreation. “We’re deeply appreciative of Stowe Land Trust and the surrounding community for their hard work.”
The next step for the department is to come up with a management plan for the area. Already, portions of an existing trail network are in good enough shape for pedestrian use — hiking and walking, skiing and snowshoeing, hunting and bird watching.
An avid birder, Liz Lackey credits exploring the property’s woods, beaver ponds and old pastures as a child in the 1960s with her appreciation for nature.
“This property is such a gem,” she said. “I am thrilled that it will be protected, and I hope that it will continue to inspire similar passions for wildlife and natural places in future generations.”
Even though there is a history of mountain biking on the property, the department said the trails “do not currently meet standards for sustainable use.”
The next step for everyone else just might be the first step many people take into one of the largest single tracts of land in recent history to become public all at once.