The Winooski Valley Park District is finishing up work on a newly conserved piece of land in Colchester called the Wolcott Family Natural Area.
The 61.7-acre plot of land, previously used as farmland, was donated to the WVPD in 2014, said Tim Larned, WVPD parks superintendent. WVPD used money from two federal Recreation Trails Grant awards to build a parking lot, groom the one-and-a-quarter-mile-long trail and construct bridges and boardwalks, he added.
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps as well as groups from the University of Vermont, Johnson State College and Rhino Foods helped park employees install infrastructure to make the trail accessible, Larned said. While the park won’t be officially open until the spring, the WVPD hopes to finish work this fall with the help of more student groups.
The property is located off East Road, just past the Depot Street turnoff for Colchester Pond, and consists of multiple environments and types of habitat, said Nick Warner, WVPD executive director. He said Colchester has some of the highest-value conservation lands in the state, and this area around the Colchester Pond Brook, Colchester Pond and Colchester Bog are all rated as high-value.
Larned added the area acts as an important connector of wildlife habitat in the area.
“[The area] is part of a wildlife corridor connecting one side of East Road over to Colchester Pond … which eventually goes to larger tracts of land in the Green Mountain Forest,” he said. “So as more and more houses are built there and more forest land is taken away, there’s still corridors for animals to travel.”
Jens Hawkins-Hilke, conservation planner with the Vt. Agency of Natural Resources, echoed the importance of the whole Colchester Pond area in the state’s conservation design. He said tracts of forest down in the Champlain Valley are rare and important to save for wildlife habitat and diversity.
“I’m confident that Colchester Pond and Indian Brook and that whole forest block is absolutely highest priority for this area,” he added.
The WVPD, a hybrid municipality and non-profit, has been conserving land in the seven towns it represents, including Colchester, Warner explained. He added much of WVPD’s land is conserved in Colchester, which includes the Colchester Pond natural area, Delta Park and Macrae Farm Park, in addition to the new Wolcott area.
“Our mission is to go out and identify and acquire high-value conservation lands and put them under some type of protection,” Warner said. “The other part of our mission is to get people into these lands to be able to witness nature and provide educational programs.”
Once work at the Wolcott Family Natural Area is completed, families, school groups and individuals will be able to enjoy the walking trail and and the bird-watching opportunities the area provides, Warner said.
“It’s really a dynamic place,” he said. “It has an astonishing variety of habitat.”