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Walking 80 Miles for Wilderness

Between October 26th and 29th, Shelby Perry will walk 80 miles through an important wildlife corridor in Vermont to raise funds for the Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve.

My name is Shelby, and I serve as the Wildlands Ecology Director for Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT). For the third year in a row, I will journey out on a Walk for Wilderness to raise awareness and funds for wildlands in Vermont. 

Walking is exercise and meditation for me. It is how I organize my thoughts, work through complex problems, settle into my breathing and heart rate. Walking is how I solve problems, and these past 2 years I have been trying to take on bigger and bigger problems with my walking.  

In 2019 I walked 55 miles from Montpelier to Bridgewater, VT to raise awareness about the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. I was also raising money for Northeast Wilderness Trust’s purchase of the Bramhall Wilderness Preserve in Bridgewater Hollow, VT. The Bramhall property was close to my heart for a lot of reasons, it was the first property I got to visit when I started at NEWT, I had developed a friendship with the owner, who had an inspiring commitment to her property and its protection, and I couldn’t seem to go there without finding magic in its old trees and wild inhabitants. I felt strongly that the place needed to be protected, and I wanted to do all that I could to help. So, I walked, and people sponsored me at different levels, ultimately raising $7,000 for the protection of the property. A modest sum, but certainly more than I could have possibly contributed on my own.

I followed up in 2020 with a scaled-back COVID-safe “digital” walk for wilderness, walking 2 miles for every donation made to the Bramhall conservation project during the month of September. I shared pictures and photos from my walks with the generous people who supported the project, and I was able to raise another $3,000 towards it. The Bramhall Wilderness Preserve is now owned by NEWT and safely protected as forever-wild, meaning that it will never be logged or open to motorized or mechanized recreation. With Bramhall secured, this year I spent a lot of time thinking about what to walk for next.  

One thing that stood out to me when planning these walks was how different it feels to navigate the landscape on a large scale on foot. Walking to Bridgewater felt so strangely liberating, to move at the pace of my own two feet through the scenes that had been the backdrop to so many highway drives. I felt like I knew the places I passed through, like walking them made them more real to me in some way. I also felt how challenging it was to navigate these larger landscapes on foot, and I don’t mean physically. I felt surprisingly good after walking two 25-miles days in a row, it felt like what my body was made to do.

What didn’t feel good was the lack of a shoulder or side walk while cars whizzed by me at 50 or 60 mph. The hard surface of the roads bruising my feet and jarring my joints with each step – a feeling that completely disappeared when I stepped off into the forest on my last day. The logistical challenge of finding ways to cross highways wider and more hazardous than rivers, and worse, the flattened bodies of animals who tried and failed to cross them before me. I felt a longing for the world before all of this convenience, when going places took longer, and so necessarily required more contemplation. A time before the landscape was divided by highways, highways that get us from point A to point B so quickly that we don’t have time to think about what this convenience has cost. 

This year I have decided to walk again, and to return to the original intent of the Walk for Wilderness, and cover a long distance. And this year I am dedicating the walk to those beings who have no other choice but to walk, to the migrating wildlife who need large connected corridors to move from their winter range to summer, or to meet mates and establish their own territories as they leave the safety of their mothers. This year I am going to walk the Worcester-to-Kingdom Wildlife Linkage, a corridor identified by the Staying Connected Regional Conservation Partnership, VT Fish and Wildlife, and the National Wildlife Federation for being a critical connection for large ranging mammals between the large protected areas of Putnam State Forest and the vast protected areas of the Northeast Kingdom.  

I will begin at the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area, where Northeast Wilderness Trust holds forever-wild easements on in-holding properties owned by the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. My walk will take me through some of the largest blocks of unbroken forest, including the Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve that NEWT is currently working to protect, and I’ll end back at my home in Montpelier four days later. I am going to move through the landscape as close to how animals move as I can (given the caveat that I am a human animal, and therefore must be sure to obey private property laws), favoring forested routes over open, and smaller roads and trails over major highways. Moving at the pace of my own two feet for four long days, I will use this critical corridor as it stands today, and share with you the barriers and triumphs I encounter along the way, highlighting the need to protect these connected blocks of forested habitat before they and the resident and migrating wildlife that use them are lost forever. Follow my journey on the Northeast Wilderness Trust social media on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You can also help to meet my goal of raising $10,000 towards the Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve campaign by sponsoring my journey mile-for-mile by clicking here. Thank you for your support; you’re helping protect and connect forest for wildlife to walk freely and safely through this important corridor!

Photography: Night sky by Shelby Perry; Rocks by Jon Leibowitz