Forest Purchased Twice, Protected Forever

  • Published in News

In the final days of 2013, Bill and Sue Jefferys, Fayston, donated a conservation easement to the Vermont Land Trust on 127 acres of forest and farmland off of Strong Road in Fayston.

The heart of this land is a 90-acre forested parcel, a part of the farm which Bill's parents, Bill and Ena, had originally purchased in 1957 from Sam Strong. This particular parcel was later sold by Bill and Ena. Last year, Bill and Sue Jefferys seized the opportunity to buy back the land, which had never been developed, when it came on the market.

"We bought this land so that we could conserve it," said Bill Jr. "We were excited to put the pieces of our family's land back together and protect it from development permanently."

The conserved land is a part of the original farm owned by the Strong family who settled in Fayston in the early 1800s. Sam Strong's father, Matthew, was a Vermonter born in 1836 in Fayston.

Bill and Ena Jefferys came to the Mad River Valley in 1956 for a visit to family friends. They fell in love with The Valley and returned to purchase the farm, which included the civil-war era barn moved by the Strong family from what is now Baird in the Bush Road.

For several decades, the Jefferys visited the property primarily in the summers, when Bill Sr. was on a summer retreat from his position as a clergyman serving near Philadelphia. Over the years, the Jefferys sold off portions of the original 215-acre farm until Ena protested the sale of the scenic pasture below the family home.

In 1979, Bill Jr. and Sue stepped in to purchase the remaining 38 acres from Bill's parents, who continued to enjoy the property in the summers. In 1982, Bill and Ena moved to Vermont to live full-time on the property. With their sons in tow, Bill and Sue carried on the tradition of summer visits from Texas, where Sue was a registered nurse and Bill worked as a professor of astronomy at the University of Texas.

The Jefferys retired and moved to Fayston in 2005 to begin a new life on the land they had known for so long.

The Jefferys property is a part of a 1,100-acre area of contiguous forest bound by Strong Road, Center Fayston Road, Randall Road and Airport Road. The area was identified as a "core habitat" in Fayston's 2007 Natural Heritage Inventory.

The study noted the area's diverse topography, ranging from forested wetlands and streams to steep ledges—features Sue and her friend Sheila Braun can attest to from their regular explorations of the land on horseback.

The Jefferys' conservation easement will support their management of the property for timber and stewardship of its unique natural resources, including wetlands, streams and a vernal pool. Their conservation effort ensures that the scenic pastures along Strong Road, once cherished by Ena Jefferys and now used as pasture for horses and neighbor Nancy Phillips' and her husband Steve Doherty's sheep, will remain available for farming into the future.

The conservation easement on the Jefferys' land is a legal agreement that limits subdivision and development, while allowing sustainable, productive use of the land. The Vermont Land Trust will be responsible for staying in touch with all future owners of the property and seeing that the terms of the conservation easement are upheld. The Freeman Foundation provided essential support for the Jefferys project and VLT's stewardship of the conservation easement in perpetuity.

"Sue and Bill's generous donation of a conservation easement on this special property will help to protect Fayston's significant resources: farmland and vast stretches of forestland with streams, wetlands and wildlife habitat and places for recreation and discovery," said Liza Walker, Mad River Valley director for the Vermont Land Trust.

"The Jefferys are contributing to a legacy of conservation in the Mad River Valley which will be greatly valued by future generations," she added.