Forever-Wild Easement; Completed Project
Philip Sharpsteen loves the forest and wild orchard that surrounds his home and wants to give future generations a chance to love it, too. That’s why, on December 31, 2014, Mr. Sharpsteen donated a forever-wild easement on his land in Jericho, VT to Northeast Wilderness Trust. The protected acreage adds to the forested flanks of Mount Mansfield, the centerpiece of one of the largest and most important forest blocks in the region.
The 71-acre Sharpsteen parcel, on the north side of Nashville Road in Jericho, features interesting exposed bedrock, ledges, and outcrops along with critical seepage areas. The woods are healthy and beautiful. Located between Mount Mansfield and Lake Champlain, it abuts the Ethan Allen Firing Range (approximately 11,000 acres of federal land) along its eastern boundary. Its waters drain into the Mill Brook basin of the Winooski River watershed. This core wildlife habitat also provides excellent connectivity to additional protected habitats in the town, including the Mobbs Hill property, the Skunk Hollow wetlands, and Mills River Park.
One of the most striking spots on the land is a knob known as “The Rampart” in the central narrow area of the property. Here, giant old hemlocks, red oaks, and beech stand guard at the entrance to the upper half of the parcel. Deer heavily utilize this and other hemlock groves across the preserve. There are also some rather extraordinary wolf trees scattered across the preserve, and some very large boundary witness trees, including a massive northern red oak at a western corner that exceeds 5 feet in diameter.
The predominant natural community of the Sharpsteen Preserve is northern hardwood forest, broadly characterized by American beech, yellow birch, and sugar maple. Because of its complex terrain, a diverse mosaic of northern hardwood forest variants can be found on the preserve, including stands with significant amounts of northern red oak in the canopy.
On a recent visit, ecologist Harry White noted, “Oak is a primary component of the energetics budget of New England forest animals. Its widespread distribution on the Sharpsteen Preserve indicates a robust food web; the acorn-fueled gray squirrels and the squirrel-fueled bobcats of the preserve are one such expression. I also observed several deer and wild turkey browsing for acorns under a 6” snowcover while I was there.”
Wildlife ecologist and professional tracker Susan Morse of Keeping Track assisted Phil with the visioning for this conservation project and the restoration of a small wildlife foods orchard south of the forever-wild forest. Morse describes the significance of the property: “Through the years, my colleague Scott Sexton and I have found abundant existence of black bear, bobcat, whitetail deer, turkey, moose, short-tailed weasel, fisher, squirrel, and numerous songbird and raptor species. The 7-acre wild orchard is a magnet for both the local and regional mammals, birds, and insects. With its smorgasbord of apples, black cherry, choke cherry, hawthorn, viburnum, service berry, wild grape, and smaller amounts of other fruit-producing species, this wild orchard is totally unique—I have never seen anything like it!”
The 2014 Sharpsteen easement donation permanently protects a place of complex terrain, diverse woodlands, and superb wildlife habitat. It stands as a timeless reflection of the land ethic of its donor. We thank Phil Sharpsteen for his gift and are pleased to take on the responsibility of ensuring this forest is conserved as forever wild.
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