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Rotary speaker explains value of Vermont Land Trust

 BY SUSAN COTE

Observer staff

Appropriately for Earth Day, April 22, the Williston-Richmond Rotary Club hosted speaker Christa Kemp, the director of donor relations for the Vermont Land Trust. 

A third-generation Vermonter, Kemp described an idyllic childhood growing up on the shores of Lake Champlain. As a young person, she relished long days spent outside exploring and playing in the natural world close to home. 

Today, her work involves preserving our state’s special places for future generations. Kemp’s past professional life has included work as an investment adviser, marketer and farmer, and she draws on all those experiences in her current role. 

Founded in 1977, the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) has been responsible for conserving roughly 11 percent of the land in our state. Once conserved, the land cannot be developed, but continues as an agricultural or natural resource. While most of the preserved land is in private hands and actively farmed or managed for timber, also included are many publicly accessible properties, such as town forests and community parks located throughout Vermont.

During her presentation, Kemp shared an interactive map of recreational areas in the state, an easy tool to find locations and details for natural areas to explore. The map can be found on the VLT website at www.vlt.org/explore. 

Williston and Richmond are home to several conserved lands that are under the stewardship of the VLT.

Kemp noted that she recently visited one of them, Williston’s Mud Pond Country Park, for the first time and was amazed that she hadn’t previously enjoyed this scenic area. The park offers access for year-round hiking, as well as seasonal biking, skiing and snowshoeing.

Isham Family Farm, conserved in 2001, remains a working farm and also includes the publicly accessible Oak Hill View Country Park. Twenty years on, the beauty of this farmstead and its hiking trails has now been exposed to a worldwide audience in the Netflix documentary “My Love,” featuring retired farm couple David and Ginger Isham.

Most recently, the establishment of the Catamount Community Forest added 393 acres of publicly accessible lands and miles of trails in Williston.

The Town of Richmond also boasts a conserved town forest and working farm preserved through the VLT. Both were part of the former Gray Rocks Farm owned by the Andrews family. Established in 2018, the Andrews Community Forest covers 428 acres with established trails and more under development. 

Adjacent conserved farmland was sold to Maple Wind Farm, owned by Kemp’s fellow Richmond residents and good friends, Bruce Hennessey and Beth Whiting, who produce pasture-raised eggs, chicken, beef and pork.

The Vermont Land Trust also plays a role in preserving agricultural land use by helping farmers succeed. Kemp shared that in 2020, as part of their COVID-19 response, VLT worked with farmers to grow extra food and partnered with schools and other organizations to get it distributed to families in need. It also provided grants to farms operating on VLT-conserved lands to help them weather the impacts of the pandemic.

Two upcoming webinars sponsored by the Vermont Land Trust are free to the public. On May 4 from 1-2 p.m., participants will learn about the fascinating world of “Spring Wildflowers and Their Pollinators.” 

On May 19 from 10-11:30 a.m., the organization will offer its “Women’s Estate Planning Workshop.” This popular event is presented by Susan Fowler, vice president at Trust Company of Vermont and retired probate judge, along with Jeanne Blackmore and Liva DeMarchis of Gravel & Shea. 

The entertaining program seeks to make estate planning understandable and easy. An organization that is frequently the beneficiary of bequests, the VLT found that many people had questions about how to create a will or talk about money with their families. 

“I love the confidence building I see at the workshops,” said Kemp.