Dick and Leanna DeNeale donated a conservation easement on their property to Champlain Area Trails (CATS), a nonprofit organization that has created twenty-three miles of hiking trails in the Champlain Valley since 2009.
“Years ago, when we bought this property, I wanted to be sure it stayed open and available for farming—that it would always grow crops and not turn into a housing development,” Leanna DeNeale said in a news release. “We are so happy to work with CATS to fulfill our dream.”
The property is located on the west side of Route 22 in the town of Willsboro, just north of Essex. It includes about 150 acres of forest, with some wetlands. The rest is farmland.
Chris Maron, executive director of CATS, said the easement forbids logging and requires farming to adhere to sustainable-agriculture practices. It will permit the construction of one house (in addition to the one already on the property).
Maron said the forestland is mostly deciduous woods typical of the region, but it also includes remnants of a clay-plain forest once more common in the valley. In time, he said, the woods will become an old-growth forest.
Most of the farmland is used for growing hay and crops. The DeNeales had been leasing 116 acres to neighboring Sunset Farms, an organic beef-cattle farm. As part of the CATS deal, the couple sold those acres to Sunset Farms, which also is bound by the terms of the easement.
The property is thought to harbor deer, bobcat, fisher, and mink, among other wildlife.
Maron said CATS plans to create a two-mile loop trail for hiking and skiing. For the most part, it will follow old logging roads in the woods. The organization hopes to open the trail on June 1, National Trails Day.
Eventually, Maron said, CATS aims to incorporate the trail into a longer trail that will connect the hamlets of Essex and Willsboro.
Photo provided by CATS: Leanna and Dick DeNeale on their Willsboro property.