MALT to raise $490,000 to conserve Weybridge land

WEYBRIDGE — The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) is trying to raise $490,000 to buy and permanently conserve a strategic, 101-acre parcel of Middlebury College-owned land located north of Route 23 in Weybridge, property that would be maintained as an important wildlife habitat as well as for farming.
The parcel in question is referred to as the “Tormondsen property,” and it includes sprawling fields, regenerating forests, a stream, wetland and some very nice views for those entering and exiting Middlebury via Weybridge. It is situated between some already conserved lands, including the 43-acre Roper/Ganley property, along with the Rockefeller and Otter Creek Gorge parcels. A section of the Trail Around Middlebury runs along its western and southern edges.
A MALT summary of the bounty of conserved properties in this region of Weybridge calls it “our collective emerald necklace… It plays a key role in establishing and reinforcing the rural and dramatic visual character of Weybridge along a busy state highway.”
“It’s definitely a beautiful area,” said MALT Executive Director Carl Robinson.
And it’s also home to a variety of mammals and birds, according to MALT officials, who took a close look at the property and its conservation potential at the request of neighbors who became concerned when it was placed on the market. It is habitat to bobcat, fisher, coyotes and a variety of birds.
Middlebury College Trustee John Tormondsen donated the Weybridge land to Middlebury College as an asset to sell to help pay down the costs of the new snowmaking equipment at its Rikert Nordic Ski Center in Ripton. The land could be subdivided into around five house lots along Route 23, according to MALT officials.
“It has been on the market for a few years,” Robinson said. “We saw some test drill sites to see if it could support (five or six) houses. That kind of accelerated our need to conserve this land.”
So MALT contacted college officials, who agreed to work out a purchase and sale agreement for the property, contingent on MALT meeting the asking price. A couple of Addison County residents have stepped forward to offer a very generous challenge grant totaling $250,000 to apply to the purchase price. With effective and aggressive outreach to its members and other interested parties, MALT has thus far raised more than $400,000 toward the $490,000 goal, according to Robinson.
Among the contributors: The town of Weybridge, which has agreed to earmark $40,000 from its conservation fund toward the land purchase, according to Robinson.
With the majority of the funds in hand, MALT is now reaching out to other folks who might be interested in making a donation to seal the deal with Middlebury College by early this fall. Plans call for MALT to purchase the property and then acquire a conservation easement that would be held by the Vermont Land Trust (VLT). Ultimately, the VLT would transfer the easement to Weybridge-based Monument Farms Dairy, which would use a portion of the property for agriculture, according to Robinson.
The land will not be posted and it will be accessible for hiking and other passive recreation, Robinson said.
Story Jenks, chairman of the MALT board, is pleased to see people rally behind conservation of the Tormondsen property.
“It will preserve that ‘rural feeling’ as people are going in or going out of Middlebury,” Jenks said, adding the extent of the contributions thus far is “a testament to.. the desire to protect this property. Everyone agrees.”
Peter James, co-owner of the Monument Farms Dairy, said the farm will crop around 10 acres of the property, which he noted was actively farmed many years ago. He added that a good portion of the property is too wet to use for agricultural purposes.
James is excited about the potential of the property as an open resource for the greater community. And he noted the prospect of growing some clover and other forage that could help stimulate the local honeybee population, which has been plummeting worldwide.
“We feel it’s a good thing for the town and a good thing for us,” James said of the conservation deal. “It gives us a little bit of additional acreage and it keeps (the land) open for recreation. It is also the entrance to Weybridge.”
The joint effort to conserve the property has been inspiring, according to Robinson.
“Coming together to raise this money has been amazing,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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