Two groups to conserve ledge area in Cornwall

CORNWALL — State and local conservation groups are finalizing a deal to acquire and permanently protect a scenic and strategically important, 98-acre parcel of land off Route 125 in Cornwall.
The property in question can be seen off Route 125, on the right-hand side of the road (while travelling east toward Middlebury), adjacent to the Foote Farm subdivision. The land is dominated by a limestone cliff, known as “the ledges,” which happens to be home to some important species of flora and is part of a local wildlife corridor. Plans call for the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) to purchase the property and for the Vermont Land Trust to manage the conservation easement that would blanket the property in perpetuity.
“We are happy to collaborate with MALT in preserving the property,” said Dick Foote, a trustee or the A.W. FooteEstate from which the 98-acre parcel will be carved.
Story Jenks, president of the MALT board, said the nonprofit organization has received enough financial donations to proceed with the Foote property purchase. Total project costs have been placed at around $67,000. The organization needs to raise another $10,000 to $12,000 to complete the transaction, according to Jenks.
“It is also a very important wildlife corridor for the area,” he said.
Liz Thompson, director of conservation science for the VLT, highlighted the land’s qualities in the following way:
“Rising to a height of 50-60 feet, the cliff is striking in its contrast to the surrounding agricultural land. Below the cliff is a slippery talus slope and an enriched forest on a mix of broken rock and clay. The cliff and talus are of statewide significance as natural communities, and three of the plant species that occur there are considered uncommon and vulnerable. At the top of the ledges is a small strip of red cedar woodland, a rare community in Vermont.”
In addition to the cliff and talus, there is a considerable area of clayplain forest on the property. This forest is quite young in most places and has been intensively managed in some areas as well, according to Thompson.
“Protected from development it will, over time, develop into a mature and functional clayplain forest, an increasingly rare feature in the near-Middlebury landscape,” according to Thompson.
She noted the property falls within a long north-south area of forest in an otherwise mostly open landscape. As such, it provides an important corridor for wildlife movement as well as resting and breeding habitat for a variety of species. The cliff may well provide breeding habitat for bobcat, according to wildlife biologist Laura Farrell.
While not specific to the property, this general area is predicted by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department to provide feeding habitat for the endangered Indiana bat. The uncommon blue-spotted salamander has been noted in the general area.
Jenks said the property falls within a broader Beaver Brook Watershed area that MALT is hoping to see protected for its ecological significance.
“There is a fairly large part of Cornwall that drains from the Beaver Brook into the Lemon Fair (River),” Jenks said. “This property is surrounded by conserved land.”
For example, the VLT owns a conservation easement on the more than 300-acre Tillman property (currently home to Moonlit Alpacas) across Route 125 to the north. To the west is the Foote Farm subdivision that boasts a common area on which MALT owns a conservation easement.
“This is an important piece between those two (conserved areas),” Jenks said.
While the property won’t be posted, it is an interior lot that will have limited access, largely for monitoring, Jenks said.
“I think it’s exciting to have a piece of this size to go along with the other pieces of conserved property in Cornwall, as well as the biological significance of the area here,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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