Part of the Essex Highlands will soon be the home to a new set of trails.
Through a conservation easement between landowners Dick and Leanna DeNeale donated to Champlain Area Trails, 319 acres of the highlands, located off of Rte. 22 between the towns of Essex and Willsboro, will be preserved for environmental and agricultural purposes.
CATS Executive Director Chris Maron said that the property provides several interesting aspects.
“There is a beautiful pine forest that is part of the property, and there is a clay-plane forest, which is very interesting,” Maron said. “Clay-plane forests are unusual in the Champlain Valley because most of the clay areas were turned into farmland. The few remaining remnants of these forests are important.”
Maron said that he first talked to the DeNeale’s about the easement in 2005 when he was with the Nature Conservancy.
“There were not some of the tax incentives that are in place now,” Maron said. “I am pleased that we were able to make it happen.”
“Years ago, when we bought this property, I wanted to be sure it stayed open and available for farming and that it would always grow crops and not turn into a housing development,” Leanna DeNeale said. “We are so happy to work with CATS to fulfill our dream.”
Mr. DeNeale said he is pleased CATS would be creating a trail to allow people to enjoy the property.
“I especially love the forest and the little pine grove on the far west side,” he said. “We are pleased that a trail will allow others to walk through the woods and see the variety of trees and wildlife.”
Maron said that work on the trails will start with planning the routes in January and some field work in the spring in order to have everything finalized for National Trail Day, June 1.
“The trails will follow some old logging roads, so there is not much work that will need to be done,” Maron said. “The main things will be finalizing the route, cutting some branches and creating some boardwalks that will be used to get through some wetland areas.”
Maron said there will be chances for people to experience the area before the trails are completed.
“We’ll have some preview hikes for people to see how great this new trail will be and hopefully have it ready to open on National Trails Day,” Maron said. “It will be a wonderful addition to the network of trails we are developing to link our communities. We are grateful that the DeNeales acted on their vision to conserve their property, promote farming and allow for public access.”
Maron said that the project advances goals identified in the new Willsboro Comprehensive Land Use Plan to preserve farmland, encourage active agricultural use of the land, and require agricultural management practices that reduce soil erosion and protect clean water. It also promotes the goals of conserving woodlands, wetlands, open space, and scenic vistas while providing a trail for outdoor recreation.
This is the second conservation easement donated to CATS, the first including 77 acres of land in the Corbeau Creel area of Chazy.
For more on CATS, call 962-2287 or visit champlainareatrails.com.