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VHCB Awards $3.08 Million to to Conserve Farmland, Recreational Access and Forestland

MONTPELIER - The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) announced grants at the Board’s May meeting totaling $3,083,910 to protect 2,127 acres of agricultural land on 14 farms and a sugarbush and to conserve 641 acres of wooded and open land on three properties with recreational trails in the towns of Williston, Lyndon and West Windsor. The grants were made to the Vermont Land Trust, the Lake Champlain Land Trust, Kingdom Trails and The Trust for Public Lands.

Chuck Ross, Secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, said, “Farmers will use these VHCB grants to provide capital for expansion, diversification, debt reduction or retirement. Conservation allows farmers to realize a portion of the equity in their property while also permanently protecting the land, ensuring that Vermont farmland will be available for generations to come. It’s a win-win for farmers as well as for Vermont’s agricultural economy.”

The farms to be protected include operating dairies, fruit and vegetable operations, livestock farms, a sugarbush, and farmland providing additional land base for existing farms. Six of the projects that received funding commitments involve pending transfers of farmland to new owners—transactions that will be facilitated by the sale of development rights. The conservation of the farms will occur when the projects close.

In one of two meetings annually to consider applications for the conservation of farmland, the Vermont Land Trust worked with 15 farms around the state to put together the conservation deals approved by the Board. Examples include:

  • The Berthiaume farm in Fairfax will receive a grant to conserve 206 acres of certified organic fields. Selling development rights will enable the owners to retire from farming and to sell the property, complete with infrastructure for a dairy operation, to a young couple from Brookfield who will bring a herd of Jerseys to the farm this spring. The farm is adjacent to the St. Albans City reservoir, and the conservation easement will require management practices that will protect water quality.

  • An organic dairy in Addison owned by the Harrison family will receive a grant to conserve 432 acres. The Harrisons are excellent managers who have participated in numerous state and federal programs to reduce soil erosion and protect surface waters—the conservation easement will make these protections permanent. The Harrisons plan to use the proceeds from the sale of development rights to upgrade and expand their freestall barn. 

Other applications approved for conservation:

  • WEST WINDSOR - Working with the Town of West Windsor, the Upper Valley Land Trust and Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB), The Trust for Public Lands will use $300,000 in VHCB funding to purchase 469 acres of the former Ascutney Mountain Resort and to conserve the entire 1,581-acre town forest. Eleven miles of multi-use trails on the property are part of a 49-mile trail network built and maintained by STAB. Acquisition and conservation of the land will allow for permanent public use of the trails for mountain biking, hiking and back country skiing, along with forest management and wildlife habitat and water quality protection. It is hoped that by securing the land base, the town will be able to develop recreation-based activities to replace some of the jobs and revenue lost when Ascutney Mountain closed.

  • WILLISTON - The Vermont Land Trust is working with the Town of Williston to purchase and conserve 39 acres to expand a town-owned conservation and recreation area off of South Road near the Mud Pond Country Park. A VHCB grant of $150,000 will be matched by a contribution of $160,000 in town funds. Nearly a mile of trails on the property are used for walking and mountain biking.

  • BURKE and LYNDON - Kingdom Trails manages 100 miles of four-season, non-motorized trails located on public and private land in Burke and Lyndon. With $150,000 in VHCB funding, they will purchase 133 acres of forested land with frontage on the West Branch of the Passumpsic River. The parcel includes 4.5 miles of trails used by beginning and advanced mountain bike riders. Town and regional officials and the local business community support the conservation of this land, noting the importance of recreation for health and wellness as well as a tourism generator. A 2014 economic impact study of mountain bikers using Kingdom Trails estimated the yearly impact to the region was $6.5 million.

Federal funds for farmland conservation from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provide up to 50% of the cost of each project. A new source of federal funding, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, is focused on improving water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin, and is used to conserve farmland in designated areas. State funding is from the property transfer tax and annual appropriations by the Vermont Legislature. In addition, four of the farm projects brought supplemental non-VHCB funding, from private foundations, municipal conservation funds, landowner bargain sales, and private fundraising.

(Vermont Land Trust photo)