BRATTLEBORO -- About 16 years ago Alex Wilson was traveling on Route 30 when he saw a real estate sign on a piece of land across the West River.

Wilson knew there was an under-used trail system along the West River at the time and he thought that parcel would be a great place to start to build a more public and accessible trail.

Since then, The Friends of the West River Trail formed and the group has been able to develop 3.5 miles of trail along more than 23 acres of conserved land. But for the past decade-and-a-half that important parcel has been just beyond the grasp of the trail group.

That changed earlier this month when The Friends of the West River Trail were finally able to close on the deal that will preserve the 23-acre parcel, now known as the Riverstone Preserve.

"I think organizations that work on land preservation are used to incremental achievements over a long period time," said Wilson, who is still a member of The Friends of the West River Trail. "It feels great to have it after all this time. It's exciting, for sure."

The newly acquired parcel is a half mile north of the Interstate 91 bridge, and it is the only public piece of land that is located between the river and the trail, which is located along the historic former West River Railroad.

The Friends of the West River Trail was able to acquire the parcel working with the Vermont Land Trust.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board awarded a $65,050 grant for the land purchase and about $32,000 was raised through local donations.

Wilson said the trail group, which was made up different members back then, was close to acquiring the parcel when it was sold to a different individual at the last moment. For more than a decade it sat undeveloped as The Friends of the West River Trail came together and began to develop the trail system that starts at the Marina Restaurant and runs along the West River to the old quarry on Rice Farm Road in Dummerston.

A few years ago the new owner moved out of the area and the trail group started working to raise the money to purchase the parcel.

"It's so great to see this reach fruition," said Wilson. "It's a beautiful and important parcel and we think there is a lot of potential there to develop that we would not otherwise have."

"The Friends are a dynamic group of volunteers," said Joan Weir, southeast regional director with the Vermont Land Trust. "It's been a pleasure to work on this project and we look forward to seeing the continued active stewardship of this treasured resource."

Les Humphreys, a member of The Friends of the West River Trail Board of Directors, said the group is now raising money to develop the land and possibly build a new riverside picnic area.

"This is a significant spot for the trail. It is ecologically important and it is a beautiful natural area," Humphreys said. "This parcel goes back a number of years with our group and being able to preserve it for the public, when it was going to be privately developed is very exciting. We're thrilled."

For more information go to www.westrivertrail.org.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.