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Vermont

Raven Ridge Natural Area


Location: Charlotte, Hinesburg, Monkton

Size: 365 acres, Conservancy owned and managed

Access: Well-used unmarked trails (blazed Conservancy trail planned for late 2011-2012)
 
                                       TRAIL CLOSURE                  
       The ridge trail at Raven Ridge is closed from March 1- June 15
 
The Nature Conservancy's most recent natural area is Raven Ridge, stretching from Lewis Creek south along a scenic ridge on the boundary of Charlotte and Hinesburg to a large wetland complex in Monkton.
 
The land is a rocky forest refuge for a variety of wildlife including the federally endangered Indiana bat.  Bobcats thrive on the ridge's rock outcroppings and ravens nest on the cliff ledges. Lewis Creek and surrounding wetlands provide a diverse ecosystem for aquatic species.
 
 

 

Photos
Raven Ridge Natural Area: A Rocky Forest Refuge for Bobcats, Ravens and Indiana Bats
Getting to Raven Ridge

Travelling south on Route 7, go through Charlotte and turn left (east) on Old Hollow Rd. (which becomes Rotax Rd.) and go 4.4 miles. Just past the intersection with Roscoe Rd., Rotax Rd. turns sharply right, then left. Look for a driveway on the left and the ToDo Institute sign, just before the road makes another sharp right. Park on the north shoulder of Rotax Rd., taking care not to block the entrance to the ToDo Institute.

From Rte. 116 in Hinesburg: Take Silver St. south towards Monkton for 5 miles. Turn right on Baldwin Rd./Davis Rd. Take the first right onto Rotax Rd. (there is an apple orchard on the corner, but may not be a road sign) and go 1.3 miles. Just after a wetland on the right, the road turns sharply left. Look for the ToDo Institute sign. Park on the north shoulder of Rotax Rd. Please do not block the entrance to the ToDo Institute.

About Raven Ridge

The continental ice sheet started melting roughly 15,000 years ago, deepening glacial Lake Vermont, and turning 800-foot-high Raven Ridge into a refugia – an island of dry land encircled by icy waters. Today, Raven Ridge is still a refuge, a craggy green oasis perched above a sea of civilization in the Champlain Valley. It remains a place where bobcats, ravens, and federally endangered Indiana bats find seclusion.

In 1991, Vermont ecologists recognized Raven Ridge as biologically state-significant, something neighbors had long known. Raven Davis and Ed Everts, for example, homesteaded here back in 1973. “We were attracted by the ledges. Beautiful, overgrown with mosses, rising like the walls of an old city,” Davis recalls. “Our birdfeeders attracted raccoon, bobcat, even moose and bear. I was especially thrilled when wild turkeys appeared, and when ravens began nesting on remote ledges.” Davis’s birding life list for Raven Ridge boasts an astounding 142 species.

By the mid-1990s nine concerned Raven Ridge landowners were holding potluck dinners and working with state wildlife experts and University of Vermont students to see how best to conserve their wild lands. Then in 2009, The Nature Conservancy joined with the Vermont Land Trust and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to purchase 201 acres from John Paluska and Cynthia Brown, and accept donation of 165 acres from Raven Davis and Ed Everts, creating the Conservancy’s 365-acre natural area.

“If I could describe Raven Ridge in one word, it would be diversity,” says Conservancy Associate Director of Land Protection, Joan Allen. “Three state rare or uncommon natural communities are here, including Dry Oak-Hickory-Hophornbeam Forest, Mesic Maple-Ash-Hickory-Oak Forest, and Valley Clayplain Forest. Add calcareous cliffs, outcrops and caves; vernal pools, shrub swamps, cattail marshes, seeps, plus streams like Lewis Creek, all offering extraordinary habitat.”
Raven Ridge’s diversity is enhanced further by its landscape connectivity. More than 1,600 acres in conserved land are nearby, properties that together serve as a forested wildlife corridor stretching between the Conservancy’s Shelburne Pond Natural Area to the north and Bristol Cliffs Wilderness to the south, and to a lesser degree, between the Green Mountains and Champlain Basin.

Raven Ridge is particularly valuable to the federally endangered Indiana bat. Before the arrival of white-nose syndrome this mid-sized mouse-eared bat, in precipitous decline elsewhere, had found a safe haven in Vermont. Roughly 6000 Indiana bats at one time used Vermont’s Champlain Valley for summer maternity colony habitat. They roost under the loose bark of dead, large-diameter trees in upland forests and near streams. They forage in the canopy of floodplain, riparian, and upland forests – habitats found at Raven Ridge. Nearly all of the Champlain Basin’s Indiana bats overwinter and hibernate in Barton Hill Mine in New York – a place that has so far proved surprisingly resistant to white nose syndrome, a disease that is devastating U.S. bats. In a strange twist of fate there may now be more Indiana bats surviving in Vermont than the once widespread and abundant little brown bat.

The preserve also supports river otters and ravens. In spring 2008, Conservancy and Vermont Land Trust staff walking the land, were delighted to see an otter near Lewis Creek and a raven nest with three fledglings. The natural area includes two streams plus beaver ponds and wetlands. In addition to conserving brook trout habitat, Lewis Creek offers excellent habitat for mussels like the Eastern pearlshell.

The natural area also boasts fascinating geological features. A fine vista looks west over fields and low ridges to Mount Philo, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks. Close to the vista is a dramatic exposed anticline of folded dolomitic rock lying beneath more resistant Monkton quartzite. The Oven, as the feature is known, has long been host to denning porcupines. “This strata was laid down as part of Vermont’s Cambrian ocean coast 500 million years ago, then uplifted into a graceful arch 430 million years ago during the Taconic Orogony, the same period in which the Green Mountains arose,” says University of Vermont landscape ecologist Walter Poleman. “What’s special at Raven Ridge, is that you get to see the anticline in perfect cross-section, as if sliced by a knife.”

During the summer of 2011 and 2012, Conservancy staff and local volunteers will be working on improvements to the parking area and blazing a trail so that visitors can enjoy the property while giving wildlife the room and solitude they need. For now visitors are encouraged to take the short walk to the top of the cliffs and enjoy 180 degree views of the Champlain Valley. If you want to see wildlife, take a local’s advice: “Go out, pick a spot, and stay still,” says Raven Davis. “Deer and grouse will come right up to you. One day I even came eyeball-to-eyeball with a goshawk. Pretty thrilling, if a little unnerving.”
 

At Raven Ridge, you will find an enjoyable hike up to the ridge with magnificent views of the Champlain Valley, and a chance to explore "The Oven", home to a family of porcupines. Further along the ridge more views open up, and in the summer months you can explore the slot caves at the end of the ridge trail. This is a multi-use natural area open to hikers all year, and for hunting and trapping of some species in season. Please refer to the preserve map for trail route, safety zones for a neighboring land owner and deed restrictions on portions of the property in Charlotte and Hinesburg.


 

Heaven on Earth for Bobcats

Bobcats prefer high-rise apartments far from prying eyes, says Sue Morse, a Vermont wildlife ecologist and the founder of Keeping Track, a citizen’s group that scientifically monitors wildlife.

That’s why the rugged outcrops, ledges, near vertical cliffs, and steeply sloping bedrock slabs at Raven Ridge are so attractive to the feline predators. “These high cliffy refugia offer security habitat, where bobcats can get away from it all – a place where they can make great escapes, performing long vertical jumps to flee coyotes, dogs, and people,” says Morse, who has researched bobcats for nearly four decades.

“Southwest facing ledges, like those at Raven Ridge, provide thermal security too, sun-warmed slabs where bobcats can bake their bodies, much like a house cat does when it snuggles near a woodstove.” Raven Ridge talus slopes with their small caves also offer cover from big winter storms. “They allow bobcats to hole-up and conserve energy when fresh snow is too deep and soft in which to hunt.”

Rocky slopes provide the backdrop for a bobcat’s social life as well. “It’s where the opposite sexes meet and communicate desire and receptivity through scent marking,” Morse says.

Bobcats den in Raven Ridge’s cliffy areas. Once kittens are born, the rocky jumbles serve still another purpose: they become daycare centers. “Think of the female bobcat as a single working mother,” Morse says. “When she is away hunting to provide for herself and her family, she relies on cliffy refugia to protect and harbor her kittens.”
Of course, like all apartment dwellers, bobcats must come down to street level to dine. Which is another reason bobcats prefer Raven Ridge. Downslope from the lofty cliffs they find a nearly undisturbed Mesic Oak-Hickory-Northern Hardwood Forest, plus other varied habitats. “Bobcats are really enjoying the full smorgasbord of prey diversity at Raven Ridge because they are just a stroll away from surviving farm edge habitat, early successional forests, wetlands and riparian habitats,” Morse concludes. “The re-grown forests provide food and cover to bobcat forest prey like squirrels and turkeys.”

Raven Ridge’s value to bobcats is enhanced still further by the large-scale landscape connectivity the tract provides, serving as a wildlife corridor between the Green Mountains (source habitat for bobcats) and the Champlain Basin, and between the hogback ridges stretching from Hinesburg in the north, to Bristol in the south.

Locals have long valued their feline neighbors, and helped protect their much-needed privacy. Property owners, whose lands abut Raven Ridge, annually work together to limit disturbance during bobcat denning season.

 

Directions

Travelling south on Route 7, go through Charlotte and turn left (east) on Old Hollow Rd. (which becomes Rotax Rd.) and go 4.4 miles. Just past the intersection with Roscoe Rd., Rotax Rd. turns sharply right, then left. Look for a driveway on the left and the ToDo Institute sign, just before the road makes another sharp right. Park on the north shoulder of Rotax Rd., taking care not to block the entrance to the ToDo Institute.

From Rte. 116 in Hinesburg: Take Silver St. south towards Monkton for 5 miles. Turn right on Baldwin Rd./Davis Rd. Take the first right onto Rotax Rd. (there is an apple orchard on the corner, but may not be a road sign) and go 1.3 miles. Just after a wetland on the right, the road turns sharply left. Look for the ToDo Institute sign. Park on the north shoulder of Rotax Rd. Please do not block the entrance to the ToDo Institute.

 

 

 

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