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Public Post is a community reporting initiative using digital tools to report on cities and towns across Vermont.Public Post is the only resource that lets you browse and search documents across dozens of Vermont municipal websites in one place.Follow reporter Amy Kolb Noyes and #PublicPost on Twitter and read news from the Post below.

Nearly 3,000 Acres Conserved In Westmore

Amy Kolb Noyes
Haystack Mountain, which is part of a recently conserved tract of forestland in Westmore, is shown here as a backdrop to Lake Willougbby.

Some popular hiking trails in the Northeast Kingdom are now protected, thanks to a land conservation effort that’s been years in the making. 

If you’ve hiked Haystack Mountain, in Westmore, any time in the past quarter century, then you’ve walked on land belonging to Vince and Louisa Dotoli. You may have even seen the Dotolis, who spend a lot of time out on the land as well.

"We take a hike 365 days a year, every morning, said Vince Dotoli." The Dotolis recently worked with the Vermont Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy to secure a conservation easement on the property they have been allowing the public to enjoy for decades.

Louisa Dotoli says she and her husband know their property is special, and should be conserved.

"We looked for over 20 years for a very unique and beautiful property and found this one in Westmore, in the Northeast Kingdom," she explained. "We’ve lived here for, I guess, part-time and full-time, close to 27 years, and enjoyed it. We’ve kept the trails open while we owned it and we’re looking forward to this as an opportunity to keep them open."

Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
There are two trails up Haystack Mountain, both of which are entirely on the Dotolis' property.

Public recreation is just one of several reasons conservation groups and the state sought a conservation easement for the Dotoli’s property. It’s also a working forest and sensitive wildlife habitat.

"The property that we’ve just conserved is just under 3,000 acres," said Vermont Land Trust Conservation Director Tracy Zschau. "It includes five peaks over 2,000 feet in elevation. It includes significant frontage on Long Pond, the entirety of another small pond called Mud Pond on the property, eight miles of cold water stream frontage that form the headwaters of the Willoughby, the Clyde and the Passumpsic rivers."

Zschau says the property is significant for its own right, and it also it sits within what is now a 15,000-acre block of unfragmented conserved forestland. The protected block of land is a combination of public forestland, Willoughby State Forest, Bald Mountain Wildlife Management Area, and other private conservation lands.

John Binhammer, Director of Land Protection at The Nature Conservancy, says it is important to conserve large tracts of forestland like this one.

"It’s in a wildlife corridor that we’ve identified with our partners where wildlife is able to move ... basically from the wilds of Maine all the way to the Adirondacks," Binhammer said of the Dotolis' property. "This is a critical piece of that wildlife corridor ... It also has just an amazing variety of habitats, from the low elevation down by the pond here to high elevation land, spruce fur forests, just a wide variety and diversity."

Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Louisa and Vince Dotoli flank John Binhammer, of The Nature Conservancy and Tracy Zschau of the Vermont Land Trust. They have been working together for almost three years to put together a conservation easement for the Dotoli's land in Westmore.

The Dotolis still own the property, but now the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board hold a working-forest conservation easement. Tracy Zshau, of the Vermont Land Trust, explains how that type of legal document works.

"It sets forth restrictions that bind the deed going forward," said Zshau. "So, the property stays in private ownership. It can be bought and sold like other land. But there are restrictions that stay with the deed as the land passes hands."

And, Zshau explains, that means protection in perpetuity for important wildlife habitat and four popular hiking trails that the Dotolis have kept open to the public.

"So, they had been used by the public at the landowner’s discretion, but at any point could have been closed down," Zshau said of the trails. "They’re trails that are really iconic in the region. People come from further away around the state to hike them – trails up Bald Mountain, Haystack Mountain and also Pisgah. And now, as part of the conservation easement, perpetual public access is ensured to those trails."

Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
The Dotolis have worked with NorthWoods Stewardship Center to keep the trials on their property accessible to the public. A new conservation easement ensures that arrangement into the future.

John Binhammer explains, this particular conservation easement is something that’s been on the radar for some time.

"Both we, the Nature Conservancy, and the state have been looking at this property for over 30 years," said Binhammer. "...But we’re very pleased to work with our partners, the Vermont Land Trust and the Dotolis, to conserve the property for future generations. And keep it working forest but also have trails open for public use."

The Dotolis say they’re happy with the arrangement too. Now they can take their daily hikes knowing generations to come will enjoy the land just as they do today.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
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