Bissonette Farm Protected (VT)

Hinesburg, Vermont, 12/3/2007: After a two-year effort, the former Bissonette Farm, over 600 acres at the headwaters of the LaPlatte River, is protected. Much of this land had been farmed by the Bissonette family since 1919. In contemplating retirement from farming, Wayne and Barbara Bissonette’s decision to work with conservation organizations was driven by their long time commitment to the community and recognition that their retirement goals could be achieved without developing the land. This diverse property of open fields, rolling wooded hills, and stunning Green Mountain views at the headwaters of the LaPlatte River will permanently remain a defining landscape in the southern part of Hinesburg. This land with natural floodplains and meandering streams will be used forever for farming, hiking, hunting, and fishing.

Hinesburg Select Board Chair Robert Bast and students of the Hinesburg Community School were joined by Governor Jim Douglas, to accept the gift of a new 300-acre Hinesburg Riparian Forest from The Trust for Public Land, the Hinesburg Land Trust, and the Vermont Land Trust. Representatives from all three Departments in the Agency of Natural Resources and other local officials also joined in the celebration of the protection of an important piece of this community’s heritage and culture.

The total conservation project costs were $3.67 million and the partners assembled funds from a variety of sources, including federal and state grants, foundations and individual contributions. “The diversity of funding sources is a reflection of the numerous resources this land contains and the generosity of so many Vermonters,” said Andrea Morgante of the Hinesburg Land Trust. “It was an extraordinary effort by those who stood up and said this land is important for Hinesburg and for Vermont.”

LaPlatte River and Area Wetlands

More than five miles of the LaPlatte River and its tributaries are located on the parcel, flowing 14 miles into Lake Champlain at Shelburne Bay, a source of drinking water for 68,000 people in Chittenden County. A $220,000 grant from Vermont’s Clean and Clear Program supports acquisition of a portion of the property which includes the LaPlatte River and 130 acres of wetlands that will be restored with funding provided by the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program. Through this conservation effort, the LaPlatte River’s natural meandering pattern will be restored and the wetlands and floodplains will redevelop over time. The public benefits will include improving a source of drinking water, reducing flood-related erosion, and restoring aquatic habitat and species.

“This project is significant because it represents the first closing on a land conservation project that was funded in part with wetlands and river protection dollars from my Clean and Clear Action Plan,” Governor Douglas said. “The restoration and conservation of 130 acres of wetlands, and the protection of three miles of the LaPlatte River and associated river corridor where forested buffers and floodplains may re-establish, should make an important contribution in reducing phosphorus loading to the river and Lake Champlain.”

Hinesburg Riparian Forest

The Bissonette Family sold a conservation easement on 301 acres, along Gilman Road, as it was transferred to the Town of Hinesburg to become the Hinesburg Riparian Town Forest. The forested area is the northernmost-known habitat for the federally-endangered Indiana bat. This habitat will be protected, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund: Recovery Land Acquisition Grant in partnership with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said, “Our land is part of our legacy as Vermonters, and good stewardship helps us convey that legacy to future generations. This remarkable project is a superb example of what can be accomplished when public agencies, nonprofits and private citizens work together with clear goals.”

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board also provided a major grant to help the Town of Hinesburg acquire the forestland that is threaded with public trails and possesses unusual natural communities, as well as some rare plants. Rob Bast, chair of Hinesburg Select Board, said the Town Forest will be open to hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, hunting and fishing.

“Of the many worthy aspects of the LaPlatte Headwaters project, one that is most exciting to us is the creation of a new community forest in Hinesburg,” said Rodger Krussman, state director for The Trust for Public Land. “Since 2000, TPL has helped create six community forests in northern New England, and these are all models of a community’s ability to link conservation goals with public access and economic imperatives.”

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife contributed $150,000 towards the purchase of a conservation easement on a 140-acre neighboring forested parcel which serves as habitat for the Indiana bat and contains a rare natural community called Clayplain Forest. The grant was awarded through the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP), which offers a variety of tools to landowners including funds for conservation easements and cooperative management agreements, and was the first LIP grant in the state of Vermont. The Vermont Land Trust and the VT Department of Fish and Wildlife will work with the landowner to ensure the property is managed in a way that promotes the ecological integrity of the Clayplain forest and maintains the right habitat conditions for Indiana bat, two complimentary goals.

Working Farmland

The project will also keep farming a vital part of Hinesburg. The Vermont Land Trust, in partnership with the Castanea Foundation, will conserve the farmland along Hines Road and Gilman Road and transfer it to new owner-operators who will purchase the property at its agricultural value. This portion of the property will have a perpetual farmland conservation easement placed on it and ensures the property will be affordable for future farm owners.

“As Vermonters have watched land values in the state increase dramatically, especially in Chittenden County, it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to gain access to productive and affordable farmland” said John Roe, vice president for conservation at the Vermont Land Trust. “With this effort, future generations of Hinesburg are assured these 150 acres will be farmland available for local food production.”

At today’s event, students learned about some of the special ecological features of the property from staff of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. “This school is the perfect location to celebrate this conservation effort,” said Andrea Morgante. “This land is really a gift to these students and to future generations. We hope they will be inspired to visit this area often, and to become good future stewards of this land.”

This LaPlatte Headwaters Initiative would not have been possible without generous contributions from the town of Hinesburg, the Castanea Foundation, several other private foundations, and hundreds of individual donors. To close the funding gap and provide needed housing to the community, twenty-one acres of the property will be sold for a limited development of no more than six houses, surrounded by open space.