Deer Run Preserve close to reality
DUMMERSTON — A proposed nature preserve in Dummerston, Brookline and Newfane would protect more than 2 miles along the east side of the West River and nearly 1,100 acres.
If all goes well, trails on the new nature preserve will one day connect to trails at the Putney Mountain Unit of the Conte National Wildlife Refuge, trails managed by the Putney Mountain Association and trails on Black Mountain managed by the Nature Conservancy.
The new nature preserve, under the umbrella of the Green Mountain Conservancy, got its start as the Deer Run Farm. In 1985, the 300-acre parcel and farmhouse was purchased by Barbara and Conrad Wilson. When they died, brothers Alex and Chris Wilson inherited the property. The Wilson brothers sold the homestead and 64 acres to Ed Anthes and Mary Ellen Copeland. Recently, the Wilson brothers made a deal to sell the remaining acreage to Anthes and Copeland at less than appraised value on the condition that it be preserved.
"It's a beautiful piece of land," said Alex Wilson in December 2018. "It's probably the wildest part of Dummerston."
Anthes and Copeland plan to set aside 299 acres for the new preserve. Add in 627 acres from the Mercede family and 95 from Sam Farwell, the total approaches 1,100 acres.
This will be the first parcel owned by the Green Mountain Conservancy. The Wilsons and the Mercede family are selling their acreage for 10 percent below assessed value, Anthes said.
"That's what we call a bargain sale," he said. To make the purchases, "A lot of people in the Dummerston community have given money, some small and some very large contributions."
"My brother and I are thrilled that the vision for a nature preserve is becoming a reality," Alex Wilson said. "This northwest corner of Dummerston is spectacular, and it's wonderful that it's being preserved in perpetuity. Our father, Conrad, who passed away in 2005, would be so pleased to see that the land he loved will be able to be enjoyed by future generations."
The Green Mountain Conservancy also received $350,000 from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to purchase the land. The Vermont Land Trust provided assistance.
Roger Haydock was at one time a freelance cameraman, working with Ken Burns and for PBS. He now spends his time blazing trails around the region, and is designing trails for the nature preserve.
"We have 2.2 miles of wonderful trail right now," Copeland said. The trailhead is still unmarked, but can be accessed just down river from Deer Run Farm on Camp Arden Road.
"It meanders up a steep hill," Haydock said. "It's a pretty comfortable trail for people not in the best of shape to enjoy and take rests as needed."
Haydock said the "rest areas" are conveniently placed to give people space to enjoy "the stunning views. It's a lovely trail."
At this time, Anthes said, there is private land between Deer Run and the Putney Mountain trails. The hope is that if the landowners aren't interested in putting the property into conservation, they will at least grant a trail easement that will connect the two parcels.
"But this 1,000 acres is big enough to stand on its own," Haydock said. "It's a very nice preserve."
Large tracts of land such as Deer Run also help to preserve biological diversity and corridors that wildlife travel along, Copeland said.
"The hope is that eventually there will be a corridor from the Connecticut River to the Green Mountain Forest," she said. "This could be part of that."
Copeland said the preserve is also important because of its ability to counter climate change.
"A parcel this size absorbs 1,600 tons of carbon every year," she said.
And, she said, as sea levels rise, people will move inland from coastal areas and will need housing.
"We are not against housing, per se, but we would like to see housing that is clustered and closer to town that's not breaking up these big pieces of forest," she said.
The trail is also an opportunity for people to learn about the geological history of the region, Haydock said.
"This is the southernmost end of this ridge that runs from Williamsville all the way up to Cambridgeport," he said. "It's about 15 miles long."
The ridge runs between the Athens Dome in the north at 1.4 billion years old, the oldest rock in the state, and the Guilford Dome in the south.
"Right here in the midpoint between these two domes, the rock is very close to vertical," lifted from horizontal by geological forces over millions of years, he said.
And 18,000 years ago, this part of the country was covered by thousands of feet of ice. During that ice age, the advancing glaciers pushed top soil all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, where, when they retreated, they left behind Cape Cod and Long Island.
"As the ice retreated," said Haydock, "Lake Hitchcock filled the Connecticut River Valley. As it drained, it left these terraces that you see along the West River high and dry."
As the West River eroded down to bedrock, it left more benches behind.
"It's a stair step of terraces that you can see in Deer Run," Haydock said.
On Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. at Williamsville Hall, the Green Mountain Conservancy will host an informational meeting about Deer Run Nature Preserve.
More information can be found at greenmountainconservancy.org, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 802-257-0012.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or email@example.com.
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