From the air, and from many directions on the ground, the distinctive cliffs of Haystack Mountain help identify the North Pawlet Hills Natural Area, which is one of the Conservancy’s most visited natural areas in Vermont.
A the end of 2012, The Nature Conservancy closed on a new 524-acre addition to the North Pawlet Hills Natural Area.
More than 1,400 acres are now conserved in the North Pawlet Hills of southern Vermont, expanding the most visited of The Nature Conservancy’s 54 natural areas throughout the state. This purchase of 524 acres is the latest in a long line of conservation projects here over the last 15 years. The Nature Conservancy is moving ever closer to realizing their ultimate vision of protecting 2,000 acres of this wild landscape of unbroken forest which serves as a recreational resource for many and is recognized as an ecological treasure of statewide significance.
To a visitor just driving through, Vermont’s North Pawlett Hills look like a pristine rolling sea of green. But a closer look reveals that these mountains are teaming with life and rich local history. Put on a pair of hiking boots and experience for yourself the complexities that lie within. Local families and visitors have used these hills for generations to hunt, hike, and enjoy the bounties of nature. Visitors to the preserve have a chance of encountering wide-ranging mammals such as black bear, bobcat and an occasional moose. Forest interior songbirds nest here in the mature woods, and bald and even golden eagles have been seen soaring above. The Non-game and Natural Heritage Program has designated North Pawlet Hills a state-significant ecological site, because of its numerous excellent examples of seven rare and uncommon natural communities including the dry oak hickory hophornbeam forest. This is described by one local supporter, Consie West as “one of Vermont’s most unique, amazing landscapes - an open grassy savannah like area with contorted, stunted oaks, a magic fairyland.”
The Conservancy’s protection work began here in 1998 with a purchase, in partnership with Vermont Land Trust on Middle and Bald Mountains. The second acquisition established a new trailhead off Tunket Road and the revival of a trail connecting the route to the top of Haystack Mountain. In the ensuing years, the Conservancy added four more parcels including the summits of Bald Hill, Middle Mountain, Cleveland Hill, and a portion of Simmonds Hill. The preserve has come together like a patchwork quilt with help from local and statewide supporters and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Complimenting these efforts, a group called The Friends of Haystack formed to purchase and protect the 65 acre summit of Haystack, which was completed last year.
This latest 524-acre addition acres reaches up to the Wells town line and climbs to the top of Bald Mountain at just over 2,000 feet abutting already conserved lands. Clark Hicks has long maintained this property for his private hunting use. With his sons now grown and having left home, he was ready to sell. Aware of the Conservancy’s work in the area, he contacted the Conservancy before listing it with a broker. The opportunity to conserve this spectacular parcel was a welcome surprise. The Hicks property has three large, significant natural communities, Dry Elfin Oak Woodland and Dry Oak -Hickory-Hophornbeam Forest, and Rich Northern Hardwood Forest at three locations. Because of its size, accessibility, topography, well-maintained network of woods roads, and excellent access to back country hunting and hiking opportunities, it will be an especially significant addition to the preserve. Only 30% of the property was protected by highland district zoning leaving the remaining 70% open to potential low density residential development. As the Conservancy takes ownership of the land they will pay property taxes and maintain the site for local recreational use. Pawlet has changed quite a bit in the years since Clark Hicks purchased this property for his own use, and he wants to make sure his land doesn’t get developed or otherwise spoiled. His decision to sell to The Nature Conservancy will ensure just that.