Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association
The Pinnacle on the Windmill Ridge in Westminster Vermont has long been a favorite place for southeastern Vermont area residents to visit and spend time enjoying the outdoors. When access to the Pinnacle was prohibited by a private landowner, a group of people who loved the spot made many attempts to regain the ability to go there again. When a parcel to the north of the Pinnacle became available for purchase, the newly formed non-profit group managed to purchase it. This provided the access needed to the Pinnacle, so that the owner of the Pinnacle was willing to give the cherished Pinnacle peak to the non-profit. Having succeeded with the original goal the group was inspired to think big and consider the value of protecting the full unbroken Windmill Ridge! The vision to protect the entire Windmill Ridge excited many people of the area as well as the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, because it is a thirteen mile long unfragmented ridgeline of lovely forest habitat with several viewpoints that are cherished. The goal was to protect the ridge from development, manage it to enhance habitat, and provide low impact public access. Since then many purchases have combined to conserve over 1800 acres of land and over 20 miles of trails have been made for public access across six towns. Two areas beyond the Windmill Ridge have also been conserved by the organization. About 200 acres in an area called the Athens Dome in Grafton and Athens extends the trail system west. An area called Bald Hill in Westminster is also conserved and managed by the organization.
Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Putney, Rockingham, Westminster
Agricultural Land, Forest Land, Land Management, Land Protection
An unbroken ridge line has been protected from any type of development or fragmentation. The area has become accessible for the public in low impact ways such as hiking and snowshoeing, biking, skiing or horseback riding. The ridge has many hophornbeam savannahs and there are old hemlock stands along the western steep slopes that are fully protected. The hemlock forests include deer wintering yards. An historic soapstone quarry and an exceptional native trout brook area have been conserved along the Ledge Road in the Athens Dome area of Grafton. Motor vehicles are not allowed on the land, other than for maintenance purposes occasionally by the organization. Hunters are allowed on the land with the exception of two areas; the Martin Sanctuary and the Bald Hill area. Annually a series of public guided walks are offered. A naturalist program with area schools is provided by the association. An endowment fund has been raised for each parcel at purchase to assure a baseline of annual funds to pay for property taxes and insurance costs.
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Vermont Land Trust are major partners. Both hold conservation easements and the Vermont Land Trust monitors the easements. Slightly more than 50% of all the funding has been provided by grants from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Private donors have generously contributed the rest of the funding. Other foundations that have been involved include the Sweet Water Trust, Windham Foundation, Riverledge Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Vermont Community Foundation, and many more. The Windham Regional Commission has been a great supporter.
The local people took on a cause that they truly cared about. These people knew who to go to for support and how to express their passion for the projects. They did their research and collaborated with many groups in order to get the land protected. These special places are cherished by the local people and they would do anything to protect them and keep their access. They have had great support with the community and from diverse people who shared their experience. One of those people is Arthur Westing, who provided expertise in developing the structure of the organization and drafted the original management plan. Alison Latham was passionate enough that she was willing to commit her retirement funds at the beginning to purchase that first parcel, hoping to be reimbursed. She did get her money back eventually and that original purchase made all the rest possible. It was very risky for her to do, but in the end it paid off. Another dedicated original member is Beverly Major, who shepherded the organization through 15 years of rapid growth as the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Judy Anderson, an advisor, has repeatedly encouraged the organization to see the bigger picture and context of conservation efforts and explained methods for accomplishing goals. The organization benefited tremendously from the follow through and continuity of several individuals who still work on projects now. Repeated strategic planning throughout the years has helped the group dynamics evolve as the organization has grown as new Board members have come through.
Fundraising, writing grants, maintaining good communications, and maintaining trails all take a lot of time and volunteer energy. At first they had to figure out a way to become an organization as a non profit group and that was a daunting task. It requires persistence and commitment to work for it, but that status makes it possible to apply for grants and raise money. Lastly, the board structure has had to evolve, as the larger scale of projects and membership has expanded. They have had to change the methods in order to keep the Board functioning well, maintain the widespread trail system, and manage land across many towns. As the world changes, the methods have to change as well to incorporate new issues, the coming and going of people who are involved, and stay relevant with the conservation movement.