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Parcel Conserved On Third Branch

  • Bethel landowner Chuck Davis has agreed to conserve 89 acres of land with valuable wildlife habitat along the east side of the Third Branch of the White River through a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust The land is about a mile upstream of Bethel village. Courtesy photo (Vermont Land Trust)

    Bethel landowner Chuck Davis has agreed to conserve 89 acres of land with valuable wildlife habitat along the east side of the Third Branch of the White River through a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust The land is about a mile upstream of Bethel village. Courtesy photo (Vermont Land Trust)

  • Bethel landowner Chuck Davis has agreed to conserve 89 acres of land with valuable wildlife habitat along the east side of the Third Branch of the White River through a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust The land is about a mile upstream of Bethel village. Courtesy photo (Vermont Land Trust)

Bethel — A half-mile stretch of the Third Branch of the White River and the landscape along it will be conserved for generations, thanks to a Bethel landowner.

Chuck Davis was born to homesteaders in Alaska and grew up in the Mojave Desert, moving to the Northeast to practice medicine in New York City and New Jersey. Fifteen years ago, when he drove past a farmhouse a mile upstream of Bethel village, he knew he had to have it.

“It was one of those things where I drove past saw it and really knew that this was the place that I would live until I died,” Davis said. “I loved the old, dilapidated house from the 1860s, the beautiful river, trails and farm. I put an offer up soon after I saw it.”

Davis, who retired three years ago at 60, made major renovations to the house, but has preserved the land exactly as it was when he bought it.

“During the first rainstorm, I ran out of pots and pans to catch all the leaks,” Davis said. “The house needed a new roof, new furnace, new wiring, etc. But the land itself has been respected.”

To help with the preservation of his land, Davis called the Vermont Land Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to land conservation.

Elise Annes, vice president of community relations at the trust, said Davis’ donation of the land for an easement fit into the land trust’s mission to protect productive and natural resources in Vermont.

“Chuck Davis generously wanted to put his land in conservation. When we looked at it, we were able to discern that it was appropriate for a conservation easement and a river buffer,” she said.

A conservation easement gives certain property rights to the land trust so that it can maintain and preserve the land. The easement is tied to the land, so that even when the landowner dies or the property is sold, the land trust still retains the conservation rights.

“I wanted to be part of an organization that saw the need for the preservation of Vermont as a rural state, with more than just the human species in mind,” Davis said. “They were very straightforward with me. They told me I would never be able to develop this land and that ‘this is your pact with us.’ I liked their goals, their philosophy and their patience with me as we tried to figure it all out.”

The land trust found that there were three different “natural communities” on Davis’ property that had ecological significance in Vermont — a silver maple-ostrich fern riverine floodplain forest, a river cobble shore and a rivershore grassland. These natural communities are distinctive groups of animals and plants that grow together and rely on each other.

“They’re somewhat rare, because of the uses we put the forest to over the centuries,” said Bob Linck, the central Vermont director at the land trust. “A lot of the forest land has been converted to farmland or roads, human-dominated landscapes. Chuck’s property is interesting because of the sheer diversity associated with a relatively small amount of acreage.”

Davis and the Vermont Land Trust also worked with Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation on designating the river buffer, also known as a “river corridor management area.”

According to Gretchen Alexander, a DEC river scientist who worked on the project, rivers change their shape and direction over time. They erode the bank in some places and deposit sediment in others, and this dynamic process is natural for rivers.

Human intervention in this process is “detrimental to the river and can increase flood hazards,” Alexander said.

“Over time, as we constrained rivers, they were straightened and hardened, but eventually the river gathers a lot of extra power,” Linck said. “The river has no natural course and it creates havoc both with human structures and natural corridors. We’re going to think about how the river can begin to establish its natural pattern. It’s a complicated thing that river scientists will have to help us with.”

To create a more natural course for the river, Davis and the land trust will plant certain kinds of vegetation around the river, creating a 50-foot buffer that will help the river flow along a more natural course. This will have the added benefit of protecting Bethel, a mile downstream, from flooding. The town suffered extensive flood damage during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, including from the Third Branch.

“The buffer ensures that these locations act as pressure-release valves during flooding situations,” Alexander said.

According to Linck, conserving the Davis property has been an especially worthwhile project.

“This has been one of my favorite conservation projects because you have a landowner dedicated to the best interests of the land,” he said. “He’s really interested in seeing its best natural character come out.”

Lauren Bender can be reached at lbender@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.