DUMMERSTON — It’s not an old-growth forest ... yet ... but Deer Run Nature Preserve recently received the distinction of being the first protected area in all of Vermont to be inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network.
“When I meander in this glorious forest, I feel like I am stepping back in time,” said Mary Ellen Copeland, president of Green Mountain Conservancy, which was founded in 2008 to protect forestland in southern Vermont.
After a period of dormancy, the Conservancy was reorganized in 2018 under the leadership of Copeland, Ed Anthes, Sam Farwell and Michael Pletcher, with its main focus to preserve more than 1,000 acres of forest in Dummerston, Brookline and Newfane.
“The Deer Run Nature Preserve is representative of nearly every species of flora and fauna that exists in Vermont,” said Copeland, who, with her husband, Ed Anthes, purchased an old farmhouse on Camp Arden Road in Dummerston from brothers Alex and Chris Wilson.
The new nature preserve got its start as the Deer Run Farm, a 300-acre parcel and farmhouse that was purchased by Barbara and Conrad Wilson in 1985. Alex and Chris Wilson sold the homestead and 64 acres to Anthes and Copeland and also agreed to sell the remaining acreage to the Green Mountain Conservancy for $223,000, which is about 10 percent less than the appraised value, on the condition that it be preserved.
In addition to those 300 acres, the Conservancy is close to its fundraising goal of $410,000 to purchase 627 acres from the Mercede family. Sam Farwell and his family, who also live on Camp Arden Road, are putting another 95 acres into easement as part of the preserve.
The preserve includes about two-and-a-half miles of frontage on the West River and a 47-acre active hay field.
“I look into the tops of magnificent trees that have been growing here for generations,” said Copeland. “I think about how these trees are recovering from those times when this land was cleared, when these stone walls kept multitudes of sheep from wandering off. Now these trees sequester carbon to reduce the effects of climate change, protect our biodiversity, provide a corridor so wildlife can move safely across the landscape, protect the West River watershed, all while delighting and educating those who walk these trails.”
The Deer Run Nature Preserve is one of the last remaining unfragmented large parcels in Dummerston and is notable for its tall hardwoods, hemlock-filled ravines, stunning views, stone walls and a curious rock structure known as “the monument.”
A new trail that begins on Camp Arden Road was forged by local trailmaker Roger Haydock and ascends 2.2 miles to an overlook with sweeping views of the West River Valley.
The preserve includes two deer wintering yards and a variety of forest types including hardwood savannahs and hemlock “cathedrals.” There are several wetlands and vernal pools that host a variety of amphibians, including the rare Jefferson Salamander, as well as an active family of beavers.
The mission of the Old-Growth Forest Network is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, publicly accessible, native forests. The organization’s goal is to preserve at least one forest in every county in the United States that can sustain a forest, estimated to be 2,370 out of a total of 3,140 counties.
OGFN’s program works to identify forests, ensure their protection from logging, and connect people to these properties to experience old-growth forests. OGFN also educates about the ecological and human wellness benefits of old-growth forests, and speaks out regarding immediate threats to specific ancient forests.
Founded in 2012, OGFN has more than 110 forests in 24 states. Deer Run Nature Preserve joins other New England forests such as Mohawk Trail State Forest in Franklin County, Mass., the Rivulet at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Hampshire County, Mass., and the Sharon Land Trust Forests in Litchfield County, Conn.
“We are thrilled to be adding this lovely forest to the Network as the forest representative for Windham County and our first in the state of Vermont,” said Northeast Regional Manager Sarah RobbGrieco. “While it is not yet an old-growth forest, it has an important place in the Old-Growth Forest Network as a forest that is in healing hands. Because Green Mountain Conservancy has protected this forest from cutting and is allowing it to mature naturally, Deer Run Nature Preserve is on its way to becoming a future Vermont old-growth forest.”