Derry residents hear Nature Conservancy’s plans for Glebe Mountain

By Cherise Madigan
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The future of a 3,500-acre parcel of land on Glebe Mountain, in the towns of Londonderry and Windham, was the topic of discussion during a session hosted by the Nature Conservancy at the Londonderry’s Old Town Hall last night. There, around 20 residents discussed their experiences with — and hopes for — the land acquired by the Nature Conservancy earlier this year.

Approximately 1,044 acres of the parcel are in the town of Londonderry, according to Nature Conservancy officials, while the remaining 2,456 are in Windham, where another meeting is scheduled for tonight.

Jon Binhammer of the Nature Conservancy explains the parcel on a map. Photos by Cherise Madigan

Five representatives from the Nature Conservancy were on hand to lead the conversation, including State Director Heather Furman, Conservation Director Jim Shallow, Director of Land Protection Jon Binhammer, Director of Philanthropy Catherine Newman and Southern Vermont Land Manager Murray McHugh. They said they came to hear the ideas, thoughts, visions, experiences, and hopes of the communities closest to Glebe Mountain and to integrate their feedback into the Nature Conservancy’s management of the land.

“The Nature Conservancy has been working in Vermont for nearly 60 years,” Furman began, noting the organization’s work at Jamaica State Park and Hamilton Falls. “At the end of February we officially purchased the Glebe Mountain lot and we are really happy to be your new neighbor in owning this property.”

While the land initially consisted of 27 individual parcels, she continued, the permanent easement achieved by the Nature Conservancy means that the Glebe Mountain parcel will be preserved in perpetuity without division or development. According to Furman, the Nature Conservancy now aims to keep Glebe Mountain open and accessible to the public.

“Our organization works to strike a balance between helping nature to thrive and serving the community,” she explained, noting that much protected land in the state of Vermont is still managed for agriculture, recreation, or forestry. “From a mission standpoint a lot of the properties that we own and manage we own for nature — so that nature can really thrive.”

“We also recognize how important it is to be a good neighbor and what an important asset this is for the community,” she continued.

While many expressed excitement for the Nature Conservancy’s acquisition of the Glebe Mountain parcel, the future of the land — particularly the potential for a transfer of ownership—remained central to the discussion. Some expressed concern about the property entering state ownership and the potential tax impacts, though Furman explained that the tax structure has not changed with the Nature Conservancy’s purchase. The organization will pay property taxes just as the parcel’s previous owners did, she said, and the Nature Conservancy would carefully consider any agreement that would transfer the land into public ownership.

Still, the organization plans to hold the parcel for “at least the next three years,” according to Furman.

“We really recognize that is an issue, for these communities in particular due to the size of the parcel, so we’re very cautious about that,” she said. “It would have to be the right entity and we would still hold the conservation easement to make sure that our interests, and the community’s interests, were looked after.”

“If, down the road, we have another owner, we will still hold an easement on the land which will give us some measure of input in perpetuity,” Conservation Director Shallow added.

Also under discussion was concern over placement of a potential parking lot, policies regarding pets and whether new trails will be developed alongside the pre-existing logging roads. Nature Conservancy officials said they are still welcoming input on all counts, but that a partner organization from the community would be needed to help build and maintain new trails.

Camping, however, is a land use that is typically not permitted, Binhammer said, due to the large impacts it can have on wildlife and the organization’s relatively limited stewardship capabilities. With increased usage also comes increased responsibility, noted former South Londonderry Fire Chief Danny Cobb.

“Will there be maps in order to locate injured or lost people on existing or new hiking trails?” he asked. “You’ve got 3,500 acres of land and if you get mobbed with hikers, someone will eventually get hurt. That would impact both rescue and fire at some point if we needed to go out and find people.”

Also under discussion was concern over placement of a potential parking lot, policies regarding pets and whether new trails will be developed alongside the pre-existing logging roads.

Nature Conservancy officials agreed that access points, proper signage and maps would be important. Also of concern was whether the trail would be accessible for activities like mountain biking.

“From what I’ve read it seemed like there wasn’t going to be access to the land for mountain biking, which is a concern for me because I think there’s a lot of potential,” said Will Reed of Londonderry. “Part of the way that I see this tract of land fitting into Londonderry is by growing the outdoor recreation economy which is crucial to our future and important to do sustainably.”

Another resident raised the possibility of using the parcel to create a connector trail linking Putney Mountain, Grafton, the West River Trail, and eventually the Black Mountain trail into Brattleboro across 60 or so miles. While these possibilities will also be considered, Furman said, activities like mountain biking and horseback riding are typically not permitted on Nature Conservancy land.

“The reason for that is that there is a demonstrated impact on wildlife for various [land] uses,” Binhammer explained. “Hiking and cross country skiing have a lower impact, unlike mountain biking or horseback riding, but exceptions have been made in the case of connector trails.”

“We have heard from Mountain Bikers in this community who are in favor of that, and we’re definitely considering it,” he continued. “We just need to have an established entity to maintain the trails and ensure proper usage.”

One likely use of the land, it seems, will be for educational purposes.

“I’d like to see trails that are an educational resource that can be used by our citizens and classrooms,” said Cynthia Gubb of the Mountain Valley Trail Association.

“We actually own and manage about 56 areas across the state and schools are one of our primary users,” Furman said. “We’ve been doing a lot over the last five years to enhance access, especially to those areas that can sustain a lot of human activity.”

Prioritizing nature is in the organization’s mission, she explained, and the protection of local flora and fauna would be at the forefront of their land management strategy. Still, that did not seem to be an issue for residents.

“I’m really enthusiastic about the percentage of local land that is going to be set aside for native flora and fauna to thrive next to these communities,” said Andrew Harper of Weston. “The coexistence of humans and animals and plants, with this tract providing a large place for animals to really be able to move around, is exceptional.”

“I’m thrilled to see the conservation of such a huge tract of land,” said Londonderry Conservation Commission Chairman Irwin Kuperberg. “It’s really an exceptional achievement.”

“It could not have been done without the support, financial and otherwise, from Londonderry and Windham,” Furman responded. “It was your neighbors who made this happen as well.”

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