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Northeast Wilderness Trust establishes Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary in Ryegate, Vermont

For immediate release: November 29, 2022

Montpelier, VT –Northeast Wilderness Trust has purchased more than 830 acres in Ryegate, Vermont, to create the Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary. Northeast Wilderness Trust protects more than 71,000 acres of forever-wild conserved land in New England and New York. With this new Sanctuary, the Wilderness Trust now safeguards 15,206 acres as forever-wild in Vermont.

Blue Mountain, the namesake of the local high school and grange, is the scenic backdrop of much of Ryegate Corner. From its 2,364-foot forested summit down to a low-lying Northern White Cedar Swamp (known as Ryegate Corner Swamp) at 970 feet, the Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary has an impressive diversity of habitats.

This 830-acre forest block is devoted to protecting all wildlife and their habitat in perpetuity through forever-wild conservation. Kevin Proctor, from whose land the Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary is being created, never logged the trees on his property, most of which he owned since the 1990s.

“I’m proud to have offered these amazing woodlands a jump-start on their journey to becoming a distinguished ancient forest of tomorrow,” Kevin said. “I chose to work with Northeast Wilderness Trust because it has always been my objective for this diverse landscape to remain as undisturbed as possible, for both the flora and fauna, and because the Sanctuary designation aligns most closely with that vision of preservation and protection.”

Situated at the nexus of three watersheds and spanning a 1,300-foot elevation gradient, the Sanctuary sits at a place of transition in the land. It lies at the zone between ecosystems typical of northern New England and those of southern New England. Protecting areas like this one as forever-wild is of utmost importance as climate change becomes more severe because topographic variety adds to a landscape’s climate resiliency. As wilderness, the Blue Mountain lands will continue to build resilience and foster the micro-climates needed by species shifting their home range due to climate change.

These characteristics make Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary a natural part of Vermont Conservation Design, a state-endorsed vision that calls for at least nine percent of Vermont’s forests to be allowed to grow old. According to Bob Linck, Conservation Director at Northeast Wilderness Trust, the Design “prioritizes protecting properties that are well-connected to other intact forests with healthy interior conditions. Blue Mountain is a spectacular property that meets these high standards.”

“I can’t say enough about the importance of this project for our area,” Alice Allen, an adjoining neighbor to the Sanctuary as well as Kevin’s neighbor, said.  “This is a special place and now thanks to Kevin and the Northeast Wilderness Trust the moose, deer, snowshoe hares, and bobcats, to name just a few of the wild denizens who make their homes in this Sanctuary, can thrive as they are meant to do with just passing human influence. The people in our community and visitors to Ryegate can experience what it is to spend time on this land as it is meant to be, wild and protected.”

The 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. Along with the beech, they provide considerable forage for wildlife through acorns and beech nuts. 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 also 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 richness. Some of these streams include suitable habitat for brook trout that need cold, clean waters.

This varied landscape doesn’t only offer sanctuary for wildlife adapting to climate change. As a rewilding landscape which will be afforded the time and space to grow old, it will also sequester and store immense amounts of carbon naturally.  The protection of wild forests is one of the most effective tools available to us as we seek to curb the worst of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The Sanctuary is open to the public. People can visit the land on foot to walk, birdwatch, snowshoe, cross-country ski, study nature, and just sit – bearing witness to the evolution of an old forest.

“We are thrilled to establish this forever-wild sanctuary right here in our home state of Vermont.  With less than four percent of Vermont protected in a manner that ensures forests will grow old and complex, there is room on the landscape for more wild forests,” Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of Northeast Wilderness Trust, said. “We are grateful to Kevin for his wild vision and all those who have helped us protect this local treasure for all things beautiful and wild.”

About the Northeast Wilderness Trust: : Founded in 2002, the Northeast Wilderness Trust conserves forever-wild landscapes for nature and people across New England and the Adirondacks. The Wilderness Trust owns Wilderness Preserves and Sanctuaries, and also protects land through legal means such as conservation easements. It is the only organization in the Northeast focused exclusively on forever-wild conservation and currently safeguards more than 71,0000 acres of wildlands across six states

Photography: Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary, Jerry Monkman/Ecophotography