Dorset conserves 247 more acres for Owl's Head Town Forest


DORSET >> More land has been added to the Owl's Head Town Forest, along with a historic quarry.

With help from the Dorset Conservation Commission and community members who raised $205,000, and $450,000 from United States Forest Service Community Forest & Open Space Program and the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the town of Dorset was able to purchase 247 acres near Mt. Aelous on Monday, according to a release from the Vermont Land Trust.

A total of $650,000 was the goal to purchase the land and establish a maintenance fund.

A trailhead and parking area is set to be developed for next summer, but folks can still access trails from Black Rock Lane, Donald Campbell of the Vermont Land Trust said. Future trails go through subdivision lots, so negotiations are in the works.

The purchased conserved three of the first marble quarries in North America including the Gettysburg Quarry, which is famous for supplying headstones for the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. It opened in the early 1800's for marble production and was revived several times over the years.

The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, U.S. Forest Service, and Land and Water Conservation Fund supplied grants. Williams College donated $5,000 as part of the initiative to renovate their environmental center and receive a Living Building Challenge certificate. This means that by preserving land elsewhere, it will offset the land on the environmental center, Campbell said. The certification is the highest, most rigorous performance standard.

Trails lead to Gilbert Lookout at Owl's Head Peak, named after Dr. George Holley Gilbert who trekked the land and founded the Dorset Science Club. His grandson Art Gilbert is a strong advocate for the protection of the land, according to the release. George Gilbert published his explorations in "The Dorset Trail" in 1927.

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"It's more about public access," he said. "It's an ecologically fascinating property because it's in the Taconic, so it's a big pile of marble, which is completely different from the granite of the Green Mountains. The Taconic tends to make rich soils, so there's rare, threatened and endangered plant species."

These particular plants generated from the limestone in the soil from the marble. It gives life to spreading juniper, yellow lady's slipper, four leaf milkweed and hooker's orchid, for example.

The process had been a long time coming, Campbell said. A number of parcels had been purchased and if the town didn't own them, it wouldn't have the right-of-way. The town already owned the forest land on top of the the peak and the short, steep trail up to the lookout, which has been used since the 1920's.

The property resides next to the Black Rock Nature Preserve and houses the Dry Oak Hickory Hop Hornbeam and Temperate Calcareous Cliff natural communities, according to the conservation proposal by the Dorset Conservation Commission.

"Dorset really spoke up on this one and carried a lot to make it happen. It was very prolonged and complicated," Campbell said, "but it was a great outcome. If you like something enough it's worth the battle."

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—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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