West Windsor completes purchase of Mount Ascutney

Today The Trust for Public Land succeeded in protecting 468-acres of the former Ascutney Mountain Resort for the town of West Windsor and adding it to the existing 1,112-acre West Windsor Town Forest.  A conservation easement ensuring permanent protection has been placed over the entire 1,580 acres, securing an extensive trail network, a hotspot of biodiversity, and a defining feature of West Windsor’s history and economy.

“The conservation of Ascutney Mountain, along with permanent protection of West Windsor’s Town Forest, has created an opportunity for the town to craft a new vision for its future,” said Rodger Krussman, Vermont state director of The Trust for Public Land. “Communities all across New England are learning the benefits of owning and managing their local forests, providing people places to play close to home, outdoor classrooms for our kids, economic benefits for our local businesses, and natural resource protection for our wildlife.”

Ascutney Trails is a 30-mile network of non-motorized, recreational trails that scale the peak and hug the western base of Mount Ascutney, built and managed by Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB).  The Trails have become a recreation destination, providing a desperately needed boost to the local economy which declined precipitously following the 2010 closure of the Ascutney Mountain Ski Area.

“This is a great investment in the town’s future”, states Michael Bell, director of STAB. “It means improved access to and development of recreation, conservation, and education opportunities in a particularly unique setting. The outdoor recreation industry is stronger than ever right now, and securing this land will allow the town to build on the already established reputation of top quality mountain biking, hiking, and backcountry skiing.”

Conservation of the 1,582-acre Ascutney Mountain property will knit together a 6,640-acre block of conservation land – one of the largest conserved forest blocks in the region and an important east/west wildlife linkage. The property contains one of New England’s finest examples of elevation-dependent biodiversity providing wildlife and plants with a diversity of microclimates in which to find refuge as the climate changes. To maintain and support the highest quality natural communities, nearly half of the expanded West Windsor Town Forest has been designated as a Natural Area in the conservation easement, which will result in an extensive old growth forest, rare in Vermont and New England.

The expanded West Windsor Town Forest will be managed by the town for recreation, wildlife habitat protection, sustainable timber harvesting, and water quality protection. The property also encompasses 222 acres of the Source Water Protection Area of a public water supply servicing 750 people.  A conservation easement on the entire 1,582 acres is co-held by the Upper Valley Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

John Roe, Vice President for Program and Operations at the Upper Valley Land Trust, coordinated the development of the easement and management plan that will guide the stewardship and uses on the property.

“This transaction doubles our conservation easement acreage in the Ascutney region and offers an unusual opportunity to monitor ecological integrity and recreational uses in the same natural system,” he said. “The goal is to have both thrive, and the easement contains new adaptive management techniques to be successful.”

The total cost of the Ascutney Mountain Project was $915,000, supported by $302,500 from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, $177,050 from Open Space Institute’s Community Forest Fund which invests in the creation and expansion of community forests in Northern New England, and $105,000 from the Town of West Windsor.  Significant grants have been secured to date from: The Conservation Alliance, Bafflin Foundation, Outdoor Happiness Movement, Jack & Dorothy Byrne Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, Wurster Family Foundation, Mascoma Savings Bank, Frank and Brinna Sands Foundation, J.B. Cook Foundation, Outdoor Gear Exchange, an anonymous family foundation, and donations from over 115 individuals from around the country.  The Trust for Public Land is still fundraising until year end to close its final funding gap.

“Community forest projects such as Ascutney Mountain empower local residents to protect their local economy, drinking water, productive forests and other assets,” said Jennifer Melville, who oversees Open Space Institute’s Community Forest program. “This Community Forest demonstrates the value of innovative partnerships to forever conserve valuable land.”

Mt. Ascutney Outdoors and The Trust for Public Land invite the public to celebrate the official dedication of the free rope tow on the mountain on Saturday, February 6th at the Inaugural Ascutney Winter Fest. See details at www.mountascutneyoutdoors.org/new-events/.

See also: Comeback Mountain

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.