Elisabeth Russell and John and Judy Wiggin have conserved two properties that continue a local initiative begun more than two decades ago. The Norwich-Hartford Neighborhood Greenway Project has focused on connecting and expanding conserved land in the Bragg Hill/Jericho section of the two towns, within the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail and local connector trails. A volunteer steering committee comprised of neighbors and conservation commissioners provided guidance and outreach. UVLT and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy supported them.
The effort got started in the early 1990’s. A conservation easement donated by Genevieve Williamson in 1993 protected 68 acres at Happy Hill. Subsequently more than twenty parcels were conserved through the generosity of their owners. Today more than 1200 acres of privately owned land are under conservation easement, much within the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail.
John and Judy Wiggin have donated a conservation easement protecting 60.36 acres rising beyond the southern peak of Griggs Mountain in Norwich. The Wiggin property lies just north of the historic Jericho Rural Historic District, which is located in both Hartford and Norwich, and has a long rooted history in the Wiggin and Lyman family, dating back to the mid-1800’s.
This historical connection to the land that the Wiggin family holds was a driving factor in John and Judy’s decision to conserve the property. John spent a great deal of his youth on the property with his grandparents and which is where his great-grandfather Philip F. Lyman and his wife Aurilla Dexter Lyman had first purchased during the Civil War. Philip raised horses for the Union Army and continued after the war to raise many Lyman children on their subsistence farm. Eldest child Fannie Lyman married Erwin Wiggin in 1885 and the property passed in the 1920’s to their son Herbert, then to his son Jack in 1982 then to the current owners in 1999. John and Judy live in the original yet updated house first built in 1793 with the property still comprised of the same acres as when acquired in the 1860’s.
John is an experienced forester, and he has used that experience to develop a forest management plan for and maintain the land he holds so closely to his heart. The land possesses a great deal of conservation value, as it features highly ranked forested habitat, native flora and fauna, and a stream and vernal pool, both of which are now protected by a buffer.
It is important for both John and Judy that the network of trails throughout the land remain available for non-motorized access to the members of the community. The land is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail Corridor, and a portion of the original Appalachian Trail crosses through a northern portion of their land. There is also a welcomed VAST trail that cuts across the southern portion of the protected property.
Through their donation of a conservation easement, the Wiggin family has ensured that all of the spectacular features of this land will be available to the community for generations to come. It is their hope that by conserving this land which lies between two properties conserved as part of the Norwich-Hartford Neighborhood Greenway Project in 1996, they will inspire more neighbors to do the same, and that this unfragmented block of conserved lands will spread into the Jericho Rural Historic District.
Liz Russell conserved the spectacular 118-acre Cossingham Farm property in 2002 and has maintained a popular network of trails there since. This summer, a 12-acre parcel adjoining her land and the Appalachian Trail corridor lands went up for sale. The parcel was approved for residential development, but rather than see a house built so close to her conserved fields and the Appalachian Trail, Liz purchased the land with the goal of donating a conservation easement to UVLT and then selling the land to her neighbors who wish to manage it with their land. The protection of this woodland is consistent with goals of the Norwich Conservation Commission and with UVLT’s mission to help conserve unfragmented core forest areas for the benefit of wildlife, water quality and scenic and recreational enjoyment by the general public.
Like Liz Russell, Marion McCollom Hampton conserved a large old hill farm property in the Greenway corridor many years ago. She subsequently purchased about 50 acres of adjacent forestland and donated her second conservation easement in July 2015.
The efforts of these four landowners demonstrate that conservation connections continue to inspire others. The seeds of the local initiative — generosity, neighborliness, volunteerism and a deep appreciation for nature – are strong and growing.