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New Heights in Stewardship: A Year In Review

Picture this: Northeast Wilderness Trust has just closed another easement on more acreage in our beloved Northeast—you might imagine land in Vermont, or perhaps Maine. This deal officially squares away more land with that precious Forever-wild status. You bask in the moment to appreciate all the months of meetings and fundraising and negotiations leading up to this success. It’s time to celebrate.

But the work is not over. In many ways, it’s just begun.

Say hello to our land stewardship team: Stewardship Manager Hannah Epstein, Northern New England Land Steward Becky Clough, and Southern New England Land Steward Joe Falconeiri, with research and reportage from Wildlands Ecologist Shelby Perry and collaboration from Seasonal Maine Land Steward George Bakajza.

While our passionate crew is quick to tell you that they have dream jobs, the projects they take on are no easy feats. The regular land care and monitoring they provide across six states is vital to each Preserve’s health and unique personality. If you’re not familiar with their duties, our land stewards mark boundaries on our Preserves and Sanctuaries, remove trash, discourage and prevent illegal vehicle trespass, advocate for land conservation at town hall meetings, foster relationships with locals, and more. The list goes on and on.

A photo of green treetops on a huge stretch of land that fades into the horizon.

You may be wondering how the last year went for our stewardship team. Rest assured that 2022 brought new levels of growth and success for the protection of our lands. Here’s your NEWT Year-in-Review, Stewardship Edition.

Redington Wilderness Sanctuary, Maine

You have to drive through miles of logging road just to arrive at Redington…and the Sanctuary then extends onwards for miles. This vast and remote 3,415-acre wilderness was established in 2021 and has a perimeter of over 20 miles, all of which need boundary markers. So NEWT applied for a Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) crew to help mark the boundaries. This September, three volunteers from MCC arrived at Redington happy to help and a little unsure of the (shrubby) road that lay ahead.

A group photo of the MCC crew smiling in parking lot of Redington Wilderness Sanctuary.

Our land stewards are happy to report that the MCC participants loved working on the Redington projects, for which Hannah drew a 13-mile map of high-priority boundaries that needed to be marked with conservation area signs. The crew spent long days hiking off old logging roads through steep, thickly vegetated terrain, several days of which were blustery and rainy. They painted blazes and hung NEWT signage on more than half of the total boundary mileage (which is estimated at roughly 700 signs) and easily worked nine to ten-hour days while camping out on the property.

Over the course of 240 hours of labor, the MCC crew gained a new perspective on conservation work, as their other projects that season had focused mainly on trail building. The stewardship team is grateful for MCC’s successful efforts and we look forward to partnering with them again. 

Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Vermont

 Hannah and Outreach Manager Sophi Veltrop collaborated on a few summer volunteer days at Woodbury, which is notable for its unmaintained but public roads that make for many access points. These many access points, in turn, make for an added challenge when it comes to blocking motorized vehicles from going off-road onto the Preserve.

A daytime photo of a swampy area at Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve.

With 16 volunteers, many of whom are neighbors to Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve, the team was able to set conservation boundary signs over five and a half miles of road frontage in just four days. NEWT staff also marked a couple miles of interior forest boundaries. There was even time for cleanup and seeding around a large former bonfire area by Woodbury Mountain Road. When hunting permission request calls started coming in, we knew the signs were fulfilling their purpose by giving locals a way to contact us.

In other Woodbury news, our land stewards spent a day with a philanthropic foundation that contributed to the acquisition of the Preserve. Together, a group of 20 hung up boundary signs, blocked off some unsanctioned ATV trails, and picked up two truck-beds’ worth of trash.

Lastly, what’s a beautiful Preserve if not in part an opportunity for people to come together around a shared love for the land? This spring, our debris removal event was all-hands-on-deck and served as a chance for staff bonding. 

Alder Stream Wilderness Preserve, Maine

Late this spring, Joe and George built a small footbridge over the wet section of a mile-long loop trail. This boardwalk construction protects the sensitive habitat from foot traffic during the wet season…and also saves visitors from getting stuck in the mud!

In other Alder Stream news, the stewardship team cleaned up trash at an unused barn just over the border of the Preserve. Liquid waste, old metals, and tons of debris were spilling over the Preserve boundary onto the wildlands. Throughout one long August day, the team was able to pack the trash into a 30-yard industrial dumpster.

Muddy Pond Wilderness Preserve, Massachusetts

At this Massachusetts Preserve, Joe installed new gates and re-booted school programming after a Covid-induced pause. Students from Plymouth Harbor Academy toured Muddy Pond to learn about wilderness principles and the special elements of a coastal plain pond. In early August, Joe led an exclusive walk with the South Shore Bird Club and Native Plant Trust.

A photo of a bird watching group in Muddy Pond Wilderness Sanctuary looking off into the distance through pairs of binoculars.

Muddy Pond land stewards, alongside Camp Nekon, work with neighboring conservation lands to help mitigate illegal motorized vehicle trespass. This allows NEWT to be a leader in the community and help other groups expand their actions to protect forests and waters.

Other Highlights

A lot can happen in a year, which means we can’t fit all of the stewardship team’s accomplishments in just one news update. But there are a few other items of note. Firstly, Becky installed boundary signs at Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve. This solo project was an immense effort that will promote the Preserve’s protection from negative types of human interference.

For a different project at Grafton, the stewardship team posted preserve signs that were modeled after federal wilderness area signs. Joe created our own design and built them in-house with recycled rice hulls, known for their rot resistance–no trees were harmed in the making of these one-of-a-kind signs! We’re excited for these rustic, charming signs to catch your eye the next time you visit a Northeast Wilderness Trust Preserve.

A photo taken in a garage of handmade wooden signs for various preserves and camps.

We are excited to share that 2022 saw six successful volunteer events that ranged from removing trash and marking boundaries to brushing in trails and hanging up signs. There were a total of 44 volunteers involved in these various projects, and we are so grateful to each and every one of them.

It was a successful year indeed. But it wouldn’t be so if the stewards did not lean on each other to help the team as a whole grow and evolve. They have remarked on how great it feels to work in person together, build their skill sets, and explore stewardship’s potential.

A photo of tall green grass in front of Muddy Pond.

2022 may go down as a year of significant land acquisition and, consequently, increased need for stewardship, met in part by new staff members Becky and George. Perhaps there is yet more growth to come for the “stew crew”. For now, they are refining their internal systems and personnel to keep up with the work and continue moving forward with NEWT’s forever-wild mission.

You can partake in that mission!

Want to join a Team at a Preserve near you?

Contact Sophi Veltrop at sophi [@]

Interested in becoming a volunteer land steward for NEWT-protected wilderness?

Contact Hannah Epstein at hannah [@]

Photography: views of Muddy Pond by Joe Falconeiri; group photo of MCC crew at Redington Wilderness Sancturary by Becky Clough; views of Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve by Sophi Veltrop; views of Alder Stream Wilderness Preserve by Jim Northup