Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary

Blue Mountain
Wilderness Sanctuary

Blue Mountain
Wilderness Sanctuary

Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary spans 825 acres in Ryegate, VT, including the summit and ridgeline of Blue Mountain and low-lying wetlands and forests along the mountain’s base.

Blue Mountain, the namesake of the local high school and grange, is the scenic backdrop of much of Ryegate Corner. From its 2364’ forested summit down to a low-lying Northern White Cedar Swamp (known as Ryegate Corner Swamp) at 970’, Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary has an impressive diversity of habitats.

The landowner has amassed several smaller parcels over time to create this 800-acre forest block with the intention of devoting this land to wildlife habitat in perpetuity. He has never harvested trees on these lands, some of which he has owned since the 1990s, giving these forests a jump-start on their journey to a distinguished old age.

Situated at the nexus of three watersheds and spanning a 1,300’ elevation gradient, the Sanctuary lies at the transition zone between ecosystems typical of northern New England and those of southern New England. Protecting transition areas like this one as forever-wild will be of utmost importance as climate change becomes more severe. Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary helps to build resilience and foster the micro-climates needed by species rapidly losing ground due to climate change.

Wildlife at Blue Mountain and the surrounding landscape

Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary advances the goals of Vermont Conservation Design, a state-endorsed vision that calls for at least 9% of Vermont’s forests to be allowed to grow old. The Design prioritizes protecting properties that are well-connected to other intact forests and that have healthy interior conditions (also known as ‘core habitat’), such as Blue Mountain.

The Sanctuary’s lower elevation forests are second growth, likely with a history of agriculture, and are a mix of white pine, red spruce, balsam fir, red maples, and more. Slightly higher on the flanks of Blue Mountain forest shifts to a more standard Northern Hardwood assemblage, with more mature American beech, yellow birch, and sugar maple. On the steepest and rockiest slopes of the mountain, many red oaks stand tall. The oaks and beech provide considerable forage for wildlife through acorns and beech nuts. The mature forest includes several large decadent snags and some remarkably clean large beech trees, despite the presence of beech bark disease in the surrounding forest.

The Sanctuary encompasses five streams that form headwaters for the Connecticut and Wells Rivers, Manchester Brook, and McLam Pond. There are four wetlands along the streams, which contribute to clean water and biodiversity. Some of these streams include suitable habitat for brook trout that need cold, clean waters.

Wildlife sign abounds, from antler scrapes by deer or moose on trees, to squirrel midden piles and food caches, to small animal dens. Tracks of coyote, raccoon, porcupine, moose, deer, red fox, and squirrel are readily seen after a snowfall, and claw marks on beech and cedar trees tell the stories of bears searching for a hearty autumn snack or marking a corner of their territory. Steep slopes with ledges and boulders may support bobcat given that nearby stands of conifers provide cover for one of their prey species—snowshoe hare. Vernal pools are tucked away in the mountain’s undulating topography. These seasonal shallow pools dry up each summer, allowing amphibians to lay their eggs in the springtime without fish predation.

Photography: Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography

Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve

Woodbury Mountain
Wilderness Preserve

Woodbury Mountain
Wilderness Preserve

Woodbury Mountain protects vast, carbon-rich forests and wetlands in Vermont and more than 39 miles of headwater streams.

At 6,098 acres, Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve is the largest non-governmental wilderness area in the state of Vermont. The Preserve is open to the public for on-foot exploration such as hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and hunting.

A connected forest of local, regional, and global importance

Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve includes headwater streams of the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers. It protects regional wildlife connections, and includes stunning northern hardwood forests, a diversity of wetlands, and 39 miles of headwater streams.

The land sits directly at a crossroads for far-ranging wildlife. To the west lie the Worcester Mountains—the only remaining undeveloped mountain range in Vermont. To the north is Vermont’s Northeastern Highlands, also called the Northeast Kingdom. The area between them is known as the ‘Worcester to Kingdom’ linkage. The Preserve lies at the heart of the linkage sandwiched between three intact forest blocks that total 85,000 acres just north of Vermont’s capital city, Montpelier.

This area also falls within Vermont’s only ‘Important Bird Area’ of global significance, according to Audubon and BirdLife International. Preserving a large core wilderness within this largely-managed landscape will ensure birds like Winter Wrens and Blackburnian Warblers, who thrive in large blocks of old forests, continue to find good homes in the Green Mountain State.

The site contains some of the most climate-resilient land in the Northern Appalachian region and is recognized for its biodiversity value by The Nature Conservancy.

Mark Anderson, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Center for Resilient Conservation Science

Diverse, healthy, and under-represented habitat

Beyond its significance to the broader landscape context, the Preserve stands out for its varied natural communities.

This land is critical habitat for a variety of animals, from wide-ranging predators like bear, fisher, and bobcats down to tiny salamanders and fingernail clams. It contains topographically diverse and resilient habitat for beavers, moose, martens, turtles, fish, frogs, birds, and countless insect species. Sections of the forest have high concentrations of American beech and black cherry, which are critical sources of food for wildlife preparing for winter. The Preserve also hosts numerous rare and special natural communities such as twelve Red Spruce-Cinnamon Fern Swamps. This is an uncommon type of swamp, and is the preferred breeding habitat of saw-whet owls and yellow-bellied flycatchers, the latter of which are uncommon and vulnerable in the state of Vermont.

Water is a key feature of the proposed Preserve. There are four vernal pools of statewide significance and eight streams of highest priority for aquatic habitat conservation. Within them are occurrences of rare, threatened, and endangered species. The land falls at the watershed divide between the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers, both of which drain into Lake Champlain. Maintaining old forest cover at their headwaters is an incredibly effective, cost-efficient solution to maintain the long-term health of the Lake.

Most protected wild areas in Vermont (and the Northeast) are at higher elevations. Low-elevation lands tend to not be given such protection because they are desirable for farming and logging. Yet low-elevation habitats host much greater biological diversity than mountaintops. They serve as key connective habitat as wildlife move and adapt in response to a rapidly changing climate. Even at a seasonal timescale, animals such as moose rely on connections between low-elevation habitat for summer forage and high-elevation evergreens for winter shelter. Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve serves as a critical lowland habitat connector to the neighboring Worcesters, with an average elevation of just 1550’.

Passing on a legacy of appreciation for nature

Before it was a Preserve, the majority of this land was owned by the Meyer family, who run the E.B. Hyde timber company. The forest is in excellent condition thanks to their thoughtful multi-generational management.

Hugo Meyer bought forest land in Woodbury, Elmore, Hardwick, and Worcester in the 1950s and together with his wife, Elizabeth Hyde Meyer, managed the property both for sustainable yield of high-quality hardwood timber and other ecological values. In the late 1970s their son, consulting forester John Meyer, took over the management responsibility of the land and enrolled the property in Vermont’s Current Use Tax Program thus ensuring its economic viability. Their management practices emphasized optimizing timber stocking levels appropriate for varying site qualities, protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat, and encouraging hunting and other non-motorized recreational opportunities. The Meyers enjoy sharing stories of the land about special natural features, encounters with wildlife, and hidden remnants of farmsteads and cellar holes where the town of East Elmore once stood.

Forever-wild protection affords people the opportunity to experience a wild forest first hand and to create their own wild memories to pass on to future generations. Decades down the line, residents of Central Vermont will know what an old-growth forest looks, feels, and sounds like—just beyond their own backyard.

The lands around Woodbury Mountain have always been more than management and forestry, important as those aspects are to us; they represent a place of vastness, isolation with special features. We have always kept these lands open to the public for exploration and discovery. We believe strongly that walking and connecting in these woodlands is important. Creating a Preserve with Northeast Wilderness Trust means this land will stay forested and protected for generations to come.

E.B. Hyde Company, Former Landowner

Putting Vermont Conservation Design to work

Vermont Conservation Design is a conservation plan to sustain Vermont’s natural areas, forests, waters, wildlife, and plants. A primary goal of the plan is to have at least 9% of Vermont’s forested landscape be comprised of old forests. Old forests harbor unique habitats largely absent from managed land, store and sequester immense amounts of carbon, and are incredibly resilient. Today, only about 3% of Vermont is legally protected in a way that will ensure it reaches maturity and stays that way. Permanent conservation of large landscapes like Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve help to meet this important goal. Vermont River Conservancy will hold a forever-wild easement on the land, to doubly ensure that it will remain wild forever—for nature and people.

“Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve marks a huge step forward in meeting the goals of Vermont Conservation Design,” said Liz Thompson, Director of Conservation Science at Vermont Land Trust and a co-creator of the Conservation Design. “These few thousand acres, protected as forever wild, complement the hundreds of thousands of acres in the region that are carefully managed for the production of timber and to support our vital forest products industry. Vermont Conservation Design calls for protection of 9% of Vermont’s forests as wild, set up to become old forest in the future through passive (hands-off) management.”

A natural climate solution

Old forests not only store immense amounts of carbon, but they also remove considerably more carbon from the atmosphere than recently harvested forests. Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve currently stores at least 629,000 metric tonnes of carbon, and has the capacity to sequester an additional 1,335 metric tonnes each year. Most importantly, this land’s carbon will never be lost to resource extraction.

Eagle Ledge Addition

Purchased by Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2021 just after Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve was established, Eagle Ledge Addition is integral to knitting together one unified wild landscape. These 500 acres act as a cornerstone that connects three previously disparate parcels of the Preserve to one another. Much like a puzzle piece filling an empty hole, the Eagle Ledge Addition is a critical link that ensures a comprehensive picture—one where forest blocks will stay connected and intact for generations to come, animals can travel without hindrance, and core interior habitat is further buffered from the effects of development on abutting private lands.

While most of this forest is relatively young, with about a third of the property having been logged in 2017, there are 180 acres in the western portion of Eagle Ledge Addition that are roughly middle-aged. Expansive beaver wetlands and several small ponds are home to diverse reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and birds. The topography of the unharvested area is shaped like a bowl, resulting in rich, fertile soils at the bottom of the slope. The rich, compost-like soil results in unique assemblages of species, including beautiful springtime wildflowers.

Northern Hardwood Forest unfurls across the ridgetops and broad valleys of the Eagle Ledge Addition, with stands of hemlock shading the steep valley slopes. The land includes five miles of headwater streams of the Lamoille River that are likely to support native wild brook trout.

Spring Addition

The Spring Addition added 123 acres to Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve in 2022. Its lands are sloping and forested, located along County Road in Woodbury, VT. They straddle the road with acreage on both sides, and consist of perched wetlands, small streams, middle-aged forests, and several rocky outcrops.

Photo of aerial view of fog trailing through forested mountains.

County Road is more or less the boundary between bedrock of the Moretown Formation and of the Waits River Formation, which are millions of years apart in age. The Waits River Formation has plenty of places with calcium-rich soils, which can host rare or uncommon plants because of their higher levels of available nutrients. Bedrock outcrops and ledgey areas are common across the Spring Addition and are the preferred denning habitat for bobcats and, in winter, for porcupines.

Photo of aerial view of forested hills in sunlight.

Photography: Fall foliage by Zack Porter; River & Pink lady slipper by Natalia Boltukhova; Eagle Ledge Addition by Shelby Perry; Spring Addition by Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography

Duren Mountain Wilderness Preserve

Duren Mountain
Wilderness Preserve

In Guildhall, VT, Duren Mountain Wilderness Preserve protects a two-acre beaver pond, Northern White Cedar Swamps, and a rewilding forest rich with wildlife.

Just across Route 102 from the Connecticut River in Guildhall, VT, lies Duren Mountain. Ducks Unlimited first acquired this 182-acre property in 2018 in support of the organization’s wetland mitigation work, which aims to offset development of state or federally regulated wetlands. Ducks Unlimited transferred the property to Northeast Wilderness Trust in June 2020 to become a forever-wild Preserve.

“Many factors led Ducks Unlimited to protect this property, including its beaver ponds that support spring breeding habitat for waterfowl like mallard, wood, and black ducks,” said Patrick Raney, Manager of Conservation Services for Ducks Unlimited. “This land is an intact, forested buffer to the Connecticut River. A high-quality Northern White Cedar Swamp, and the presence of abutting protected lands also made this property a good fit for protection.”

Many factors led Ducks Unlimited to protect this property, including its beaver ponds that support spring breeding habitat for waterfowl like mallard, wood, and black ducks.

Patrick Raney, Ducks Unlimited Manager of Conservation Services

Duren Mountain is home to an impressive range of wildlife. An active, two-acre beaver pond supports diverse plants and birds. Since DU placed trail cameras on the property in 2019, moose, bear, coyote, and bobcat have all been seen wandering the land. Ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare are also abundant in the dense, young hardwoods that have regrown since the last timber harvest in 2006 on the lower elevations of the property. A Northern White Cedar Swamp, which is a globally uncommon type of wetland, occupies more than 50 acres.

This new Wilderness Preserve adds to a sizeable protected corridor near the Connecticut River, which is considered a critical wildlife area. It is flanked by properties protected by Vermont Land Trust.

Vermont Conservation Design, a report by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, calls for 9% of the state’s forestland to be old forest. Duren Mountain is one of several wilderness areas protected by Northeast Wilderness Trust that contribute to this goal.

Duren Mountain Wilderness Preserve is open for quiet, non-motorized (on-foot) recreation like hiking, hunting by permission, nature study, and birdwatching. If you are interested in hunting permission for Duren Mountain Wilderness Preserve, please visit our Hunting Program page.

American beaver and Wood Duck by Paul Willis.

Trail camera photos courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

Bramhall Wilderness Preserve

Wilderness Preserve

Bramhall Wilderness Preserve is an exceptional forest nearing old-growth status in Bridgewater, Vermont. The towering hemlocks and hardwoods shelter cool, clear headwater streams of the Ottauquechee River, which provide habitat to native brook trout.

This 359-acre mature forest is located within an intact, forested core of Vermont’s Southern Green Mountains. It offers excellent habitat for moose, bobcat, black bear, songbirds, wildflowers, and brook trout.

This Preserve protects:

  • 1.74 miles of river/brook frontage, including picturesque Bridgewater Hollow Brook with cascades and waterfalls
  • The lower half of Bridgewater Hollow, a regionally significant landscape
  • Core wilderness habitat to the 50,000-acre Chateauguay forest block
  • Mature forest ranging in age from 75-100 years, well on its way to old-growth status
  • Pristine brook trout habitat and a red spruce-cinnamon fern swamp – a State Significant Natural Community
  • Land within the Ottauquechee River Conservation Focus Area

I believe we can never truly own land, we can live on it. We can be the caretakers and stewards of the land.

Paedra Bramhall

The Bramhall Wilderness Preserve is a mix of upland and riparian forest types that captures a significant portion of Bridgewater Hollow in Bridgewater, Vermont. It is situated in a >50,000-acre forest block that includes the Green Mountain National Forest, the Les Newell Wildlife Management Area of the VT Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont Land Trust easement lands, and the Appalachian Trail corridor of the National Park Service. The land lies within the Ottauquechee River Conservation Focus Area of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge as proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016.

There are over 3,000 acres of permanently protected lands within a two mile radius of the Bramhall parcel. Core Forest and Connecting Forest zones intersect on the property, which has above-average rankings in climate resiliency, landscape diversity, and local connectedness.

While the property has a forest of impressive age and complexity, it is the Bramhall Preserve’s water features that rank among its most ecologically important attributes. There are extensive riparian habitats arrayed in a mosaic of ravine, valley bottom, gorge, and river-confluence features, with a total of 1.74 miles of river/brook features between the North Branch of the Ottauquechee River and two smaller tributaries.

There are about 88 acres of riparian buffer zones on the property. This dense and undisturbed forest helps to provide cool, clean water to the ecosystem. These streams also provide habitat for brook trout, a species highly threatened by climate change.

In this place defined by its rugged topography, diverse mosaic of forest types, and clear streams, forever-wild protection is allowing this mature forest to return to old growth, and ensures that the streams and rivers remain clean and clear into the future.

Bramhall Wilderness Preserve is open to quiet, on-foot recreation like hiking, nature study and photography, birdwatching, dipping in the river, fishing, and hunting by permission. If you are interested in hunting permission for Bramhall Wilderness Preserve, please visit our Hunting Program page.

Forest and brook by David Middleton | Winter waterfall by Zack Porter | Newts in vernal pool ©Susan C. Morse | Summer waterfall by Shelby Perry | Mature forest by Daryl Burtnett