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Episcopal Church in Vermont is close to permanent protection of urban wilderness

Episcopal Church in Vermont is close to permanent protection of urban wilderness

A story in this week announces that the Episcopal Church in Vermont is within $50,000 of its $818,000 goal in the protection of 163 acres of urban wilderness it owns, Rock Point:

The Rock Point and Arms Forest Coalition – which includes Parks Foundation of Burlington, the Lake Champlain Land Trust, the Episcopal Church in Vermont and the City of Burlington – announced the goal of permanently protecting critical shoreline forests and improving public access to  163 acres off the Burlington bike path.

The land. which stretches from Lake Champlain to North Avenue, is owned by the Episcopal Church in Vermont.

“The last piece that was important to us was that the land continued to be available to the people of Burlington and elsewhere to access private property with managed public access,” said Bishop Thomas Ely of the Episcopal Church in Vermont.

A 2016 story in Seven Days gives some background into the property’s history and use:

Rock Point has been under Episcopal auspices since the early 1800s, when it hosted John Henry Hopkins, a Dublin-born book illustrator who became the church’s first Vermont bishop. He built his home there, as well as a striking Gothic-style school, which later burned down. Hopkins’ son deeded the land to the Episcopal diocese on the condition that it would continue to serve as the bishop’s residence and as a place for education.

Today, a grand edifice of stone and wood at the entrance fulfills the latter purpose. Down a narrow drive just beyond Burlington High School, it’s home to Rock Point School, with roughly two dozen students. The alternative boarding school is affiliated with the diocese but is not religious.

On the grounds beyond are playing fields, community gardens, a working sugarhouse, 35 standing solar panels and a modest brick building that serves as the diocese’s headquarters.

On the promontory, a conference center, summer camp cabins, an outdoor chapel and the bishop’s house are nestled discreetly in the forest. Wind-swept cedars cling to the dramatic bluffs overlooking the lake. Trails traverse the property.

The diocese has long allowed anyone to come onto the land, and Ely estimates that roughly 10,000 people do so each year. The diocese asks that visitors pick up a free pass online or at the headquarters, but it’s easy to enter the private property accidentally from North Beach or the Burlington Bike Path, which bisects it.

Schools, youth groups and spiritual organizations regularly use the land at no charge. Geologists from across the country come to study two stacked rock masses visible from the water that are part of the Champlain Thrust Fault, which stretches from Québec to New York.

From a press release on the diocese website:

“Over the last six years the City has succeeded at expanding public access to and enjoyment of Lake Champlain by creating new parks and improving public lake access in the Urban Reserve, behind the Water Plant, and on the western acres of Cambrian Rise,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “Expanding and improving public access to 163-acres of spectacular natural lands in the heart of the City dramatically expands this effort and will further ensure that future generations of Burlingtonians will continue to enjoy an outstanding quality of life and access to the outdoors even as we grow and evolve. When completed, City residents will have access to the Lake Champlain shoreline nearly contiguous from Perkins Pier to Rock Point. Thank you to the Episcopal Church, the other members of the Coalition, and our City team for working tirelessly to make today’s announcement possible.”

“We are so proud to be working to conserve one of the most ecologically significant shoreline forests in our 40-year history,” noted Chris Boget, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Land Trust. “Not only does this incredible conservation project protect the water quality of Lake Champlain, it also allows folks to visit the old-growth trees, majestic cliffs, and restored trails of this magnificent natural area.”

The Coalition has worked together to conserve 113.5 acres at Rock Point with easements to allow for conservation and public access and improve the trail system on an additional 50 acres of the adjacent Arms Forest. The fundraising goal for conservation, stewardship, and trail improvements for public use is $818,000. Funds have now been contributed through the City’s Conservation Legacy Fund, supporters of the Coalition groups, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the State of Vermont Recreational Trails Program, and private donors, leaving the Coalition with less than $50,000 to reach our goal.

Previous Cafe coverage of this project:

Dio Vermont farms its own energy (1/21/17).

Image from Burlington Geographic page on Rock Point’s history and usage.



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Tom Little

This is a terrific accomplishment for the Episcopal Church in Vermont, for many reasons, not the least of which will be opening planned access to the property to the public on a sustainable basis.

On note: the lovely, vintage postcard misstates the name of the then Bishop, who was Bishop Hall (not Hull). The Wiki bio needs some work, but I get a kick out of this excerpt: “Hall died having outlived two Coadjutor bishops elected to succeed him.”

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