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Bristol conserves bat habitat

NEW HAVEN — The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and more than 70 community members banded together to conserve nearly 200 acres in the northwest corner of Bristol, finalizing a conservation easement for Jason and Nina Bacon’s property on May 21.
The new easement, which is held by Fish and Wildlife, will preserve in perpetuity 194 acres adjacent the Waterworks park on Plank Street. The land will be open for non-vehicular recreation, and the easement now protects valuable maternity colonies for Vermont’s only federally endangered mammal, the Indiana bat.
The new easement also reunites a 500-acre parcel that was set aside in the 1700s as the “Governor’s Right,” and reserved for the royal governor of New Hampshire at the time, Benning Wentworth. The additional portion of that parcel is included in the 664-acre Waterworks property, which residents of Bristol purchased and conserved in 1995.
The Watershed Center — the group that purchased the Waterworks property — eventually hopes to raise enough money to buy the 194 acres from the Bacons as well. The land is appraised at $233,000, and the group would need to raise that amount plus the necessary funds to build an endowment to cover taxes and land management costs.
But that second phase of the conservation project is down the road, said David Brynn, the executive director of Vermont Family Forests and a Bristol resident. His organization worked with the Fish and Wildlife Department as well as the Watershed Center to organize the easement project, and for now, Brynn said everyone involved is celebrating the successful purchase of the easement.
The conservation easement for the Bacon property cost $160,000. Because of the presence of the Indiana bat, Fish and Wildlife was able to drum up three-quarters of the cost of the easement, and local residents raised the additional $40,000 in matching funds. Seventy-six different donors, most of whom live in Addison County, contributed to the project.
According to Brynn, contributions ranged from $5 to $10,000. The town of Bristol chipped in roughly $6,500 from its relatively new Conservation Reserve Fund, to which voters allocate money on Town Meeting Day. The donation was the first time the reserve fund was put to use, Brynn said.
“It’s a great piece of land,” he said. The property has a “folded topography” that includes deep, rich valleys as well as rocky outcroppings and rare communities of oak trees.
In addition to extending the scope of the popular Waterworks park, the new easement will also protect the colonies where Indiana bats raise their young in the summertime. The bats emerge from caves in New York and move east, looking for a place where they can burrow under the shaggy bark of a tree in a warm area with southern exposure.
The bats also look for regions where they can feast on large insect populations at night, and the Bacon property’s proximity to wetlands means that food is in abundance in this particular location.
“It’s a great place to be a bat,” Brynn said.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at kathrynf@addisonindependent.com.

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