An 834-acre plot of land filled with Red Pine, lilacs and a network of winding trails, the Hinesburg Town Forest has been used as a natural playground for residents of the town and the surrounding area since Hinesburg acquired it in 1936.
However, it’s always been at risk of being torn down, split up and sold for development. For decades, some town members have favored selling off at least part of the forest, according to Andrea Morgantey, a Hinesburg Land Trust board member.
Now, with a $225,000 Vermont Housing and Conservation Board grant to expand and protect the forest, the Vermont Land Trust and the Town of Hinesburg are on their way to shielding the forest from development and parcelization forever.
The money is part of some $2.53 million in state and federal funding awarded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to nine projects around Vermont, distributed in May and June and announced this week. About $1.7 million came from state resources, and more than $800,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In Hinesburg, the land trust and the town have been working for about a year to acquire 291 acres directly south of the forest from a private seller, add it to the existing forest and conserve the whole thing.
“This grant is a huge step forward in making this project possible,” said Bob Heiser, the Land Trust’s Champlain Valley Regional Director.
The total cost of the project is $420,000, which the trust needs to raise by February, according to Heiser. With $225,000 from the Conservation Board, another $20,000 committed by the town’s selectboard and a campaign to collect the rest of the $175,000 underway, Heiser said he’s hopeful.
In total, the funds will conserve close to 2,000 acres of farmland and natural areas across the state, according to a Housing and Conservation Board press release.
Other projects benefited by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board announced this week include projects in Windsor, Chelsea, East Calais, Highgate, Middlebury, North Pownal, Athens, Brookline and Townshend.
From restoring community-owned historic property to creating riparian buffers and conserving farms, the funds will go toward a variety of conservation efforts that help maintain Vermont’s countryside and working landscape, according to Gus Seelig, executive director of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.
Many of the projects, including in Hinesburg, protect large, contiguous parcels of forested land that wildlife call home and waterways run through.
“It’s really important to preserve forest blocks from segmentation for forest preservation and wildlife habitat,” Morgantey said in an interview. “The larger the block is, the more important it is from an ecological standpoint.”
According to a report from the University of Vermont’s Vermont Monitoring Cooperative (now known as the Forest Ecosystem Monitoring Cooperative) maintaining large parcels is crucial to supporting wildlife, and subsequently, entire ecosystems, which is not an easy task as 80% of the state’s forested land is privately owned.
“Land conversion and fragmentation are key disturbances that adversely affect the ability of animals to move safely through the landscape,” according to the report.
Land fragmentation can lead to population decline by shrinking wildlife’s range and therefore cutting species off from water and food sources and leaving them vulnerable to predation, according to the report.
“For being in the heart of Chittenden County, this is a huge swath of forest land and part of a large block of connected forest land that is important both ecologically and as a recreation area,” Heiser said. “It is already a beloved place for people in Chittenden County to come to, and this project will add to that and secure these resources in the future.”
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