Key North Branch Parcel Conserved

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Eighty-eight acres of land along the North Branch of the Winooski River will be protected from development, thanks to a local conservancy group, state money and contributions from 70 local donors.                             from TA article 11 17 10

The parcel conserved lies east of Route 12 and straddles the Worcester-Middlesex town line. The land is brushy and lightly wooded with the North Branch winding through it.

The Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) announced this week it purchased 70 acres from longtime owner Anna Whiteside, and bought the conservation easement rights to 18 adjoining acres. Whiteside still owns the 18 acres, but VRC owns the vegetation rights within 50 feet of the river, which will allow it to re-establish a floodplain forest that was cleared decades ago for farming.

The announcement this week is the culmination of a year-long effort by VRC to buy the land, which is the third largest parcel along the North Branch in terms of river frontage, said Mark McEathron, a project manager at VRC.

The protection of the land has a list of benefits, said McEathron.

It will keep the river accessible for recreational use, protect animal habitat, maintain the beauty of the area, and allow “natural river functions” like gradual erosion to continue, which reduces damaging flooding, he said.

“It’s a great thing,” McEathron said of the conservation, “and it’s certainly our hope that we will be able to conserve other important lands along the North Branch as well.”

This recent project is part of VRC’s initiative to protect the North Branch, which begins in the town of Elmore in the boggy highlands and hills along Route 12 north of Montpelier, flowing through Worcester and Middlesex and into the Wrightsville Reservoir and then downstream into the state capital to join the Winooski.

VRC is a Montpelier-based nonprofit founded in the 1990s that works to protect land along Vermont waterways and create public access to waterfalls, gorges, lakeshores and islands.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gave $88,500 to the project, which gave DEC’s River Management Program river corridor conservation easements.

DEC River scientist Gretchen Alexander said the conservation project was a large one from the department’s standpoint.

“It’s a very significant project,” Alexander said. “It’s much larger than other projects we’ve undertaken. It was really a huge opportunity to put that much land under conservation easement at once.”

Giving the river room to evolve naturally over time by preventing develop on the surrounding land will mean a “much healthier river environment,” she said.

The project was also in some ways a departure for VRC, which typically buys smaller parcels to allow access to water. In addition, VRC is going to maintain ownership, something it doesn’t usually do, said McEathron.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board contributed $147,000 to the conservation effort, and local donors raised $25,000.

One Worcester resident, selectman Bill Haines, said in a statement he’s “elated” the property will be preserved.

“Having canoed this section of the North Branch I know firsthand what a unique stretch of river the Whiteside property borders,” Haines said.

Fifty-seven of the acres that were purchased are in Worcester and 13 are in Middlesex.

Whiteside received $225,000 in the transaction, and the remainder of the money was used for costs associated with putting the deal together, McEathron said, including legal and closing costs.

By Thatcher Moats, Staff Writer
Times Argus
November 17, 2010

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