St. Michael’s College preserves land from future development

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 8:23 AM EST
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COLCHESTER Vt. (WCAX) - A 163-acre parcel of land along the Winooski River in Colchester is now permanently protected because of a conservation easement put in place by St. Michael’s College.

St. Mike’s biology professor Declan McCabe says there is no better classroom than being outside. He says knowing so much land across the street from his classroom will be around for years to come, is a welcome thought.

“The point is to get people using it, get people outside, it’s an ideal activity,” said McCabe. “We use it for biology classes, ecology classes, we use it for evolution.”

Now, he’s getting more permanent access to a great big classroom, thanks to a decision by the private, Roman Catholic, liberal arts college.

The land, part of a larger 350-acre plot, is now included in a conservation easement that will keep it from being developed. McCabe says the easement is being designed to protect flood plains and wetlands and ultimately reduce soil erosion into the Winooski River and Lake Champlain.

“It’s become a natural laboratory, an outdoor lab if you like,” he said.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife and is working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to make a conservation plan for the area.

“We want to get that so that it holds water more similar to what it would have done historically. There is also some invasive control. We will also be doing some tree planting. But we also want to see what trees are coming in on their own because those trees don’t need our help, so we want to encourage that as well,” said the USFWS’ Ryan Crehan.

He says implementation of the land restoration will happen in stages and that restoring the hydrology is up first.

Prior to the project, part of the land was farmed by the college and another local farmer.

“There is a whole lot of biodiversity we can now quantify. We have trees growing in, we can measure carbon sequestration. We can look at recovery from a post-agricultural landscape, essentially,” said McCabe.

But it isn’t only for the college’s benefit. There are more than four miles of public trails available. The Cub Scouts built bird boxes and Branch Out Burlington donated saplings. The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps helped fix a problem spot.

“We knew it was a well-used, well-loved spot, but we wanted to stop some of that erosion,” said Jenn Krebs with The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.

She says their most recent task was to install a staircase to improve access to the site.

“We were really excited to work on the land that is so close to where a lot of these young people live,” Krebs said.

As long as the community and college are on board, the land will continue to serve everyone around it.

“It’s good for the students. It’s also good for the public,” said McCabe.

When looking to the future of the site, McCabe also says he hopes to grow more trees, so they are planting more. He also wants to take a look into some areas that never got monitored as the Winooski River has changed its course.

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