US Forest Service to buy 2,100-acre Bennington County parcels

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 3:51 PM EDT
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POWNAL, Vt. (WCAX) - A large expansion of the Green Mountain National Forest is in the works that experts say comes with a wealth of benefits for wildlife habitat and recreation.

Totaling nearly 2,100 acres, The U.S. Forest Service will purchase three new plots of land in Bennington County to add the GMNF.

“Multi-thousand acre parcels are hard to come by actually, and identifying opportunities to transfer this kind of land at this scale to the national forest is really important,” said Shelby Semmes with the Trust for Public Land, which acts as a kind of broker in the purchase of the privately held lands. Semmes says the total price tag is around $2.5 million dollars, with $2.1 million of that coming from the federal government, specifically the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The rest of the money will be raised by the conservation group and through grants.

“These parcels have long been a priority for the Forest Service to protect really the visitor experience along the Long Trail. There are some important VAST trails on the property,” Semmes said.

The Green Mountain National Forest  is buying a 2,100 acre parcel in the Bennington County...
The Green Mountain National Forest is buying a 2,100 acre parcel in the Bennington County towns of Pownal and Stamford.(Photo provided)

We asked when the sale would be finalized but were told, that’s up to the folks in Washington. It all depends on paperwork and could still take years. “We’re just grateful for this new acquisition and for -- like I said initially -- just really excited about the opportunity that it’ll bring for I think a great resource for the Vermont residents and the American public,” said the USFS’ Martina Barnes.

Despite the wait, the hefty price tag comes with benefits. “The GMNF is actually -- when we look at the national forest system across theUnited States -- is one of the most threatened by forest fragmentation of any,” Semmes said

Forest fragmentation is when private owners own small chunks of forest, which could mean that it gets developed with roads or buildings. By acquiring these lands, Semmes says the watersheds and recreation opportunities will be protected. Part of that is working to conserve the corridor around the Appalachian and Long Trails.

“So, this is just another way of ensuring when people come to this part of the state, they will continue to enjoy a forested landscape and all the benefits that go with it,” said Hawk Meheny with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

While the Trust for Public Land is also interested in protecting an American chestnut stand on the remote parcels, a species at extreme risk of going extinct, Semmes says that protecting recreation opportunities is one of the biggest draws of all. “There are a host of other climate and ecological features of this property, but one of the key draws for us as an organization is the connection to the human experience,” she said.

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