Windsor’s Beautiful Backyard Just Grew By 800 Acres

For all of its historical renown as a hub of manufacturing innovation, the town of Windsor boasts equally as much in its abundance of natural resources. 

Visitors, like the winged species they seek, regularly flock to Windsor’s Paradise Park to catch glimpses of an astonishing variety of birds that populate the area. And residents have long enjoyed access to the Park’s well-worn trails. At the southern end of town, too, Kennedy Pond welcomes swimmers and kayakers and its own teeming wildlife, there in the cool shadow of Mount Ascutney.

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For over 200 years, Windsor was also known to some as a “prison town”—an era that began in 1809 with the opening of Vermont’s first state penitentiary and ended in October 2017 when the Southeast State Correctional Facility, located off County Road, closed for good.

While the future of the shuttered prison facility is still being determined, the 826 acres of surrounding land have recently found new stewards—and offer yet another invaluable natural asset to the community.

The former Southeast State Correctional Facility sits on the east end of the property.

In March 2017, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (FWD) completed purchase of this property—a sprawling expanse of grasslands and wetlands—and have named it a wildlife management area (WMA), a designation that guarantees care of the land’s native plant and animal species as well as regulated opportunities for hunting, trapping, and fishing.

And the Windsor Grasslands, as the property now is known, is open to the public for a variety of other recreational uses, including snowmobiling, horseback riding, and hiking. Dogs are welcome, too.

Earlier this year, FWD biologist Chris Bernier 
led a public forum to discuss the department’s priorities for the Windsor Grasslands, which he calls “arguably one of the most diverse [habitats] that the department owns.”

Chief among the priorities: habitat management. And over the past year, Bernier has led an effort to eliminate the spread of the invasive, noxious weed known as poison parsnip. Aside from causing severe skin burns, Bernier said, “poison parsnip reduces the quality of the bird habitat. So it’s imperative we get on top of it and control it.”

Bush-hogging, mulching, and strategic fertilizer and herbicide applications have helped mitigate this and other weed growth and to improve soil quality. Bernier has also overseen maintenance of the hundreds of apple trees across the property.

Among the apple trees in the early morning light.

Another area of concern lies in what are known as riparian zones, the ecologically important margins of land along streams and wetlands, where plant life needs to be repaired and banks stabilized to improve water runoff into nearby Hubbard Brook, which flows down into the valley.

That work needs extra hands, so this Friday, October 26, beginning at noon, Bernier and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps are hosting a Volunteer Restoration Afternoon at the Windsor Grasslands. All are encouraged to join the collective effort to plant trees and pull weeds, among other important tasks—and to bask in the beauty of the place while you’re at it.

To learn more and register to volunteer, click here.

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