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 previous landowner 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 never harvested trees on these lands, 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 is 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, the 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 acorns and beech nuts for wildlife each autumn. The mature forest includes several large snags and some remarkably clean large beech trees, despite the presence of beech bark disease in the surrounding forest.

The Sanctuary encompasses five headwater streams of 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 by Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography; Video by Jerry Monkman/Reel Quest Films