More than 600 acres of forestland in the towns of Athens, Brookline, and Townshend have been conserved for wildlife, climate, clean water, and public access, according to the Vermont Land Trust (VLT).
The forest spans the three towns and lies west of the Windmill Hill ridgeline. Known as the Lily Pond Highlands, the land is owned and managed by the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association (WHPA).
“It is very rewarding to see this exceptional forestland protected,” VLT project director Jennifer Garrett said in a news release. “The parcel is well connected to neighboring conserved forestland, which will support animals that need to roam widely.”
Garrett said the site “has habitat for several rare plants and the wood turtle, which is declining in the region. The property also has streams, wetlands, and ponds, including the preserve's scenic namesake, Lily Pond. And in addition, perpetual public access has been granted on Lily Pond Highlands, so everyone will now be able to visit, enjoy, and learn from this special forest.”
The land is almost entirely forested with habitat for bears, moose, beavers, herons, and many other species. In addition, there are six state-significant vernal pools that are high-quality breeding grounds for amphibians. The property includes the southern shore of Lily Pond, a 14-acre open wetland with significant beaver activity.
Vermont's Climate Action Plan includes recommendations that focus on the role of forests in mitigating the effects of climate change. Protecting lands like Lily Pond Highlands can help our landscape become more climate resilient.
WHPA is a private, nonprofit, volunteer-run organization focused on conserving the Windmill Hill Ridge and surrounding areas. VLT and WHPA have partnered for more than two decades to protect more than 2,000 acres.
The association worked with the land's former owners, the late James Massey of Westminster West, and his family, to acquire the land in 2021 after a major fundraising effort. They plan to develop a low-impact trail network at Lily Pond Highlands to provide access to this ecologically rich forestland.
“We are thrilled to see this ecologically diverse and resilient tract of carbon rich forestland conserved in perpetuity,” said Lisa Merton on behalf of the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association. “For many years, we have been working toward this day but it is really just over the past two years that everything has aligned to make our goal a reality.”
The creation of the preserve was also made possible through funding from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the Open Space Institute (OSI), Windham Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, William P. Wharton Foundation and the Bafflin Foundation.
Gus Seelig, executive director of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, said “VHCB has supported the work of the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association over many years, helping with more than 12 acquisitions. The Lily Pond acquisition is their largest ever, and we are proud to participate in the protection of this forested land for public use, wildlife habitat, and water quality.”
“The successful conservation of Lily Pond Highlands is an exciting achievement for long-term efforts to protect the forests of the Northern Appalachian Mountain region in the face of a changing climate,” said Jennifer Melville, vice president at OSI, whose Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund supported protection of the land. This phenomenal project builds on four other projects that OSI has supported while safeguarding beloved hiking trails as well as habitat for rare plants and animals.”