Trust for Public Land, the Town of Burke, the New England Forestry Foundation, and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board announced the protection of 283-acres to become the Willey Woods Community Forest.

The importance of protecting forestland and open space has been a focus for the Burke community for decades, with the creation of a new community forest at the forefront of the Burke Conservation Commission’s work. Under the ownership of the Town and management by the Conservation Commission, Willey Woods Community Forest will preserve this beloved hunting and fishing ground, safeguard critical aquatic resources, and establish the first unit of public land in West Burke.

“Community forests not only provide direct economic benefits to the people in the communities they serve but fuels community members’ agency to manage the land they call home and connect to each other in meaningful ways,” said Shelby Semmes, VP for the New England Region at Trust for Public Land. “Whether Willey Woods is used for snowmobile access, wildlife habitat, cross country skiing, hunting, or just for a healing walk in the woods, it offers more close-to-home connection to the outdoors that will benefit the region for generations to come.”

Creation of Willey Woods Community Forest will prevent the risk of future forest fragmentation, which is critical given the annual conversion of nearly 15,000 acres of forestland in Vermont for alternative uses like agriculture or real estate development. It will also safeguard 60 acres of wetlands and over a mile of headwater streams, measures that will support the flood resiliency for the downstream village of West Burke and the larger Passumpsic Watershed. State-significant habitat along the streams and wetlands include populations of rare and uncommon plants, now protected under a conservation easement co-held by New England Forestry Foundation and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

“Establishing a community forest in Burke for the conservation of unfragmented lands, wildlife habitat, and water quality has been one of the biggest goals of the Conservation Commission. We are thrilled that we could make it happen and are grateful for the financial support from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, leadership from the Trust for Public Land, and local support from the Burke Select Board and Burke residents,” said Elise Lawson, Chair of the Burke Conservation Commission. “We look forward to working with the New England Forestry Foundation and Vermont Housing & Conservation Board to protect and steward the conservation values of Willey Woods Community Forest.”

Hunting, fishing, and general recreational use will continue under Town ownership. An important section of Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) trail runs through the property, part of a statewide trail network that provides a critical corridor for these northern Vermont communities, many of which depend on these trail systems to stay connected across neighboring towns. With the property’s close proximity to the Burke Town School, teachers can broaden the outdoor education program and create new ways for the children of Burke to experience the natural world, improving physical and mental health and educational outcomes.

“We here at the New England Forestry Foundation were excited to partner with Trust for Public Land, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and the Burke community to establish this vital community forest and help protect its important range of benefits, from public recreation and wildlife habitat to carbon sequestration,” said Will Brune, Chief Conservation Officer at New England Forestry Foundation. “Willey Woods brings the total forestland we’ve protected through conservation easements in Vermont to just over 12,000 acres, and it’s a truly beautiful addition to our suite of conserved land.”

Protection of Willey Woods Community Forest was made possible through generous support from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Town of Burke, the Davis Conservation Foundation, Community National Bank, the Northeast Kingdom Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation, and private donors.

Trust for Public Land’s Community Forest Program is helping communities reconnect their residents to their natural spaces and to one another. Managed locally by residents, a community forest is a permanently protected natural space designed to connect people to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. Beyond Willey Woods Community Forest, Trust for Public Land has helped establish over 30 community forests across the U.S and leads advocacy at the federal level to grow public investments in community forests.

Municipally owned forests can be unique assets that are increasingly recognized as land-based community development tools that deliver positive outcomes to the residents, visitors, and businesses located in their service areas. In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and with generous support from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Trust for Public Land released a special report in 2021 entitled “Community Forests: A Path to Prosperity and Connection.” The case studies explored in this report illustrate a growing movement across the country towards increased local stewardship, participation and investment in community forests, a movement that’s seeing its latest success with the Willey Woods Community Forest in West Burke, Vermont.

Community forests—like all forests—mitigate climate change since trees absorb and store carbon dioxide. New England is projected to lose 1.2 million acres of forest, along with 19 percent of its carbon-storage capacity, by 2060. A changing climate and deforestation are threatening some of the most biodiverse regions of the United States. Protection of our forested landscapes is one of the best strategies we have to combat climate change.

About Trust for Public Land

Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $93 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.4 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org.