The 1,640-acre West Windsor Town Forest is of great importance both locally and regionally. Comprising approximately 1/10th of the town, this conserved parcel protects one of the larger blocks of un-fragmented forest in the southern Connecticut Valley region. Combined with Ascutney State Park and privately-conserved acreages to the south and west, this land provides a significant wildlife habitat corridor north to south and east to west. Mount Ascutney as a whole, and the Town Forest land, specifically, contain many State-significant and uncommon natural communities and wildlife habitats, and is a hotspot for ecological biodiversity. Vermont Natural Heritage Program considers Mount Ascutney as the best example of elevation-dependent natural community variation in the State, and among the best in all of New England. The area provides significant wildlife habitat connectivity that is critical to sustaining the diverse and unique wildlife population Vermont is known for, including Moose, Black Bear, Bobcat, Fisher and Gray Fox.
Visitors are likely to find signs of porcupine up on the mountain and may come across amphibians such as wood frogs and American toads on the lower and upper slopes respectively. Bird songs may be heard from a variety of warblers (including black-throated green and blue, mourning, black and white, and chestnut-sided) as well as from hermit thrushes, scarlet tanagers, red eyed vireos, indigo buntings, common yellow throats, yellow bellied sapsuckers, and even oven birds.
The Upper Valley Land Trust is a co-holder of the conservation easement on the West Windsor Town Forest and worked closely with the community to develop an unprecedented easement to secure recreational access to our remarkable Ascutney Trails network in perpetuity. In 2015, UVLT coordinated with Ascutney Outdoors and STAB to host volunteer work days to remove invasive species and perform trail work. In the coming years, AO plans to join with UVLT to provide expanded outdoor experiences, including educational programs and interpretive walks focused on understanding the unique and special ecosystems of Mt. Ascutney.
As part of our 2015/2016 collaboration with Dartmouth College, we participated with a senior field study class to develop an assessment of the impact of invasive species on mountain ecosystems. This research will serve as a basis for the implementation of a cohesive monitoring program that aims to promote the conservation of the area’s ecosystems.
Perhaps most importantly, the Parcel’s ecological importance will serve as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for lessons on ecology or tracking climate change impacts but is available to all who visit whether to recreate in a natural landscape or simply take in its’ natural beauty.