DUMMERSTON — If all goes as planned, more than 1,000 acres of forestland and West River frontage in Dummerston, Newfane and Brookline will be conserved and open to the public for recreation.
"The Deer Run Nature Preserve is representative of nearly every species of flora and fauna that exists in Vermont," said Mary Ellen Copeland, who, with her husband, Ed Anthes, purchased an old farmhouse on Camp Arden Road in Dummerston from brothers Alex and Chris Wilson, who inherited the property from their parents, Barbara and Conrad Wilson.
Copeland said the nature preserve will be a wonderful place for people seeking a glimpse of Vermont's natural diversity as well as an opportunity for some solitude.
"It's a good place to be," she said. "There is nobody around."
The new nature preserve, under the umbrella of the Green Mountain Conservancy, got its start as the Deer Run Farm, a 300-acre parcel and farmhouse that was purchased by Barbara and Conrad Wilson in 1985. The Wilson brothers sold the homestead and 64 acres to Anthes and Copeland. The Wilson brothers 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 three-quarters of the way 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.
"This includes about two-and-a-half miles of frontage on the West River," said Anthes. "There's active hay fields, which we expect to continue, about 47 acres."
Last fall and into the winter, the board members of the Green Mountain Conservancy hosted a number of events and forums to introduce the proposed preserve to the community. The outpouring of support helped raise enough money to purchase the first parcel, said Copeland. Now they are searching for more donations to purchase the 627 acres, which are in Newfane and Brookline.
"Alex has been doing a lot of outreach to corporations," she said. "I've been doing a lot of outreach to foundations. And we received a $150,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board."
Copeland said technical assistance from the Vermont Land Trust has also been indispensable.
The proposed preserve descends from a top elevation of 1,460 feet above sea level to the West River and the terrain varies from flat fields to steep slopes, to plateaus and to overlooks. A new trail forged by local trailmaker Roger Haydock ascends 2.2 miles to one of those overlooks from the trailhead on Camp Arden Road.
Haydock, who has built and maintained trails for the Putney Mountain Association and the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association, designed the trail to meander through varied terrain, across several streams and hemlock-filled ravines, over old stone walls, and through areas of red pine and tall hardwoods. The trail climbs gently to a stone monument at the height of land where hikers can get views of the Dummerston Covered Bridge, Black Mountain and the West River valley.
"The trails on the new land we are hoping to acquire, there is already a network of trails that are being used for horseback riding," said Alex Wilson. "Those are wide trails, ideal for hiking during this awareness of social distancing."
Wilson also hopes to connect to the West River Trail, which has segments in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Newfane, Townshend, Jamaica and South Londonderry.
"It's not a sure thing yet," he said. "We have to convince other property owners to provide an easement. But that would mean four-and-a-half miles of new West River Trail."
More than 145 acres of the proposed preserve are official deer wintering grounds, as characterized by Vermont Fish and Game's wildlife biologist, Forrest Hammond, known as the Camp Arden Deer Wintering Area.
"[J]ust as importantly," wrote Hammond in a letter to the GMC, "it provides quality habitat for a great many other wildlife species. It struck me as being unique in having a variety of upland habitats while also having large fields with nesting Bob-o-link and other grassland birds, as well as a host of wildflowers that are visited by a great variety of pollinators."
Eventually, the Green Mountain Conservancy hopes to link up to trails at the Putney Mountain Unit of the Conte National Wildlife Refuge and trails on Black Mountain.
"Over the years, I have hiked to here, when my folks owned this land, from Putney Mountain," said Wilson. "And it's an absolutely spectacular walk along the ridgeline."
Wilson said his folks would be happy to know the land is being preserved.
"My parents would have been thrilled to see what's being done here," he said.
Copeland said the board of the Green Mountain Conservancy is working with BCTV to create an online informational video, similar to the in-person session that was held late last year, and hopes to have that available for viewing soon. To make a donation today, visit the website of the Green Mountain Conservancy.