The Blueberry Hill WMA, roughly 1100 acres of mixed woodlands in the towns of Castleton and Ira, was landlocked when the route 4 bypass was put in some 30 years ago. Sportsmen and women, other than those who owned adjoining land, lost access to this property.
In 2000 Paul Taylor, owner of an adjoining property announced his intention to sell his land. Fish & Wildlife secured an option to buy the proferred parcel. If an out-of-state sportsmen's club had obtained the property, Vermonters would have lost the possibility of access to their own WMA again.
Negotiations between the property owner and the state broke down when the Castleton select board expressed its opposition to having any more land in Castleton taken off its tax rolls due to state ownership. At a public hearing in Castleton in January, 2001, the land acquisition specialist for Fish & Wildlife couldn't state conclusively that the parcel of land for sale actually abutted the WMA, despite the fact that state's option to buy had been in effect for several months.
In early 2001, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmens Clubs debated the advisability of purchasing the property in order to guarantee public access to the WMA. Paul Taylor, the seller, was interested in working with the Federation. We hired a surveyor to research the deed and find the property boundaries. Once we determined that the parcel does abut the state land and that we could secure a mortgage, we worked with Mr. Taylor and concluded the purchase in August, 2001.
This is the first time in its history that the Federation has owned land and this purchase is the largest financial project we've ever undertaken. Once we completed the purchase we initiated a fund raising campaign, under the auspices of the Federation Fund for Conservation and Training, with a goal of raising $100,000 to recover the cost of the initial survey and engineering tests, build an off-road parking lot, erect signage and, of course, pay off the mortgage and provide for paying the property taxes. As of August, 2002 we've raised about $45,600, a long way from our goal. We've received donations, some of them very generous, from individuals, businesses and clubs.
To help speed up the parking lot construction, we applied for and won a grant from Fish & Wildilfe, from federal money they received, for the estimated construction cost. As of this writing the archeological inspection of the site, required for the grant, has been completed, the memorandum of agreement is being drafted by attorney Steve Hill of Fish & Wildlife and we are awaiting the final funds disbursement so we can begin construction. Our goal has been to have the parking lot in place by deer season, 2002.
The Federation has pledged that this parcel of land will be open to the public for any activity which is permitted on the adjoining WMA so long as the WMA itself remains unencumbered with restrictions to public access.
If you'd like to support this worthwhile venture, please send your tax deductible contribution to:
Federation Fund for Conservation and Training
P.O. Box 8523
Essex, VT 05451-8523