In the southwest corner of Vermont and north of the Hoosic River in Pownal is an ecological jewel that could easily be overlooked. Quarry Hill, which still bears the scars of limestone mining from the early 1900s, is a goldmine of botanical biodiversity and has been an important study site for botanists around New England for more than a century.
The Nature Conservancy recently added the 28-acre Powell parcel to its preserve here, bringing the total protected acres to 88.7, and plans to expand protection as conservation opportunities arise.
At Quarry Hill the limestone and calcium within the bedrock create specialized conditions where an array of unusual plants thrive. Botanist Jerry Jenkins noted that “more of the rare plant species associated with dry limy soil are found here than in any other area in the state.” Over 30 species of plants that are rare in Vermont and New England are located at this site. For instance, upland boneset and rue anemone, two species found at less than five sites statewide, can be seen poking out of the rough soil. Every spring groups of wildflower aficionados flock to the site to see the common suite of spring ephemerals like hepatica, trillium, wild ginger, spring beauty, wild oat and many more.
Now that the Conservancy owns this fragile landscape, eradicating invasive plants that threaten the rich array of native plants is a top priority. When Stewardship Manager Emily Seifert located narrowleaf bittercrest on the site, her early detection allowed the Conservancy to launch a rapid response effort to control the species before it expanded drastically. The Conservancy also organizes community work days to address these plants and preserve needs.
The new parcel is not only rich in biodiversity, but historical significance as well. “The quarry encapsulates the natural and human history of New England,” mused Bill Brumbeck, conservation director of the New England Wildflower Society. “Each time I visit this site and the surrounding hills I am rewarded with new discoveries.”
Some surprising new inhabitants were discovered in the spring of 2008. A pair of Peregrine falcons were seen setting up roost on the steep ledges of the new parcel. These birds, only recently removed from the endangered species list in Vermont, prefer to nest on cliff sides that overlook hunting grounds where they have a steady supply of food for their chicks. Quarry Hill, with its dramatic cliffs peering over the Hoosic River, is just that sort of site.
Though not originally targeted for conservation because of its peregrine falcon nesting potential, the appearance of the birds delighted Director of Science and Stewardship Rose Paul, “Not all the payoffs of conserving a natural area are immediately apparent. Sometimes you receive gifts you never expected".
If you would like to make a contribution to the conservation of rare plants on Quarry Hill contact Emily Boedecker at (802) 229-4425 ext 112 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.