Lily Pond

Lily Pond Highlands is located in the towns of Athens, Brookline and Townshend. 

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WESTMINSTER — A tract of 615 ‘rugged’ acres that spreads across the towns of Athens, Brookline and Townshend has been conserved, thanks to the efforts of the late Edwin “Jim” Massey, his heirs and a host of conservation groups led by the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association.

Massey, a Westminster West resident, had assembled the vast tract bit by bit, according to Camilla Roberts of the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association, which spearheaded the overall $805,000 conservation effort.

Massey, who died in 2017 at the age of 77, used the land for trapping, and he wanted the land — now known as Lily Pond Highlands — undeveloped. However, despite negotiations to sell the land to the Pinnacle Association, Massey left the land to his two nephews. The property had last been logged about 20 years ago, Roberts said.

The nephews sold the land to the Pinnacle Association for $500,000 in 2021, far below the $615,000 assessed value, Roberts said. The Lily Pond Highlands land is linked to The Pinnacle’s 2,700 acres of land by a trail off Grassy Brook Road.

Roberts said the organization plans on developing trails and a parking lot off Grassy Brook Road, and naming the site after Massey.

In turn, earlier this month the Pinnacle signed conservation easements with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, as well as the Vermont Land Trust, to conserve the land and sell the development rights. Roberts said a third organization was needed to hold the development rights.

Many organizations and individuals were involved in the effort to conserve Lily Pond Highlands, she said, with the Nature Conservancy doing a lot of study of the land.

She said one of the long-term goals of The Pinnacle Association is to let the forest “mature to old growth conditions,” to better maximize the forest’s ability to capture carbon. She said the organization is not against logging, and that the land would remain in the state’s Current Use program for land held by nonprofits with conservation goals.

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She said the property is “a vital habitat for a diverse range of species.”

The Pinnacle Association has been working for 10 years to preserve the Massey land.

“He wanted to protect it. He bought parcel after parcel. He wanted it to remain undeveloped,” Roberts said.

The land is highly visible from the Pinnacle’s trail system, which stretches from Putney, through Westminster West to Grafton. The property is on the adjoining ridgeline, she said.

There is a stunning view of the land, looking west, from the Pinnacle Association’s cabin, she said. The crown jewel of Massey’s land is the high elevation Lily Pond, an ecological gem, and the land contains many vernal pools. The high point is 1,735 feet, near Lily Pond.

Described as rugged terrain, the site is home to many key Vermont wildlife species, including bear and moose, herons and wood turtles.

The total price of the project includes the purchase price, as well as developing trails, a parking area, and ecological studies and fundraising to pay for the project.

“It’s an amazingly rich forest,” she said. “It has a striking number of vernal pools, and habitat for bear, with mast trees scarred with claw marks.”

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.