by Bethany M. Dunbar
copyright the Chronicle 2-6-2013
CHARLESTON — “I can’t imagine anything I would be more proud to be associated with,” said Lydia Spitzer at the dedication of the Lydia Spitzer Demonstration Forest at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center on Friday.
Ms. Spitzer donated 1,300 acres to the center in 2008. She had donated conservation easements to the Vermont Land Trust in 2007. It is the largest donation the land trust has ever received, Tracy Zschau, regional director of the trust, said Friday.
“All I did was buy a piece of land a long time ago,” said Ms. Spitzer.
She said when she bought the land in 1993, she had thought she might be a visionary entrepreneur and start an enterprise with a school, trails, and other features that would support nature, forestry, and conservation.
She said by her fiftieth birthday when she had not done it, she thought it might be better to connect with her neighbors instead. Coincidentally Bill Manning had created the Vermont Leadership Center in 1989 with some of the same goals in mind. In the beginning the center owned no land at all, but in 2005 it got about 100 acres. The name and structure changed and the center became the NorthWoods Stewardship Center.
Ms. Spitzer has been more than a neighbor all along — more like a friend and fan. She described her relationship with the center as: “the absolute joy of being in love with this organization.”
She said the staff and board of NorthWoods are the ones who should get the credit, along with her grandfather, Ward Canaday, who made money during World War II with a company called the Willis Overland company that produced Jeeps used in the war.
Mr. Canaday made enough money to start a large trust, and the Canaday Trust has supported lots of arts and educational causes over the years. In the fall, the NorthWoods Stewardship Center was awarded a grant from Canaday of $185,000 to create the Forest Stewardship Institute. The grant will cover staff and the institute’s purpose will be to teach sustainable forestry practices to landowners and others.
There are already some hiking trails on the land, and plans are to make some more and link the existing trails, said Trails Coordinator Luke O’Brien. The land stretches over Tripp Hill to the shore of Echo Lake, where there is one trail already.
When Ms. Spitzer first bought the land, most of it had been cut off with little old growth remaining. One of her goals was to improve its value for forestry as well as educational purposes.
Mr. O’Brien said there were, at one time, 30 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, but they were too expensive to maintain as groomed trails. The new trails will be more likely ungroomed, basically self-service access to the land.
Logging roads will become available as trails as well, he said, for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and hiking and horseback riding in the summer.
Mr. Benoit said the plans are to build a bunk house and more parking lots and access spots over time. There are three new kiosks with information and a map, and three more are planned.
The institute will be working with the land trust and local Audubon societies, Mr. Benoit said.
Ms. Spitzer lives in North Pomfret. She has a kitchen designing business called Design Discovery. She said the land is beautiful, but as an absentee landowner it’s been difficult to keep an eye on it.
“There’s a lovely swamp. And somebody was putting out half a cow carcass,” she said, to bait coyotes to shoot. It’s an activity she didn’t like but it was hard to do anything about it from North Pomfret.
Donating the land is a win-win, she said.
“There is nothing I could have done with it that would be better,” she said. “It’s nice for me.”
NorthWoods Operations Manager Jayson Benoit spoke on behalf of the center, and presented Ms. Spitzer with an ash walking stick. The NorthWoods Stewardship Center has four permanent full-time employees and other seasonal help. In the summer there are 80 people working at the center, including the Conservation Corp student workers.
He said the center is approaching its twenty-fifth anniversary and has recently developed a recreation plan and new mission statement.
After each brief speech on Friday there was a round of applause, which included enthusiastic barking by the dogs on hand. Two of them were Ms. Spitzer’s golden doodles, which are half golden retriever and half standard poodle. They are named Milo and Hopper.
For more information, see the center’s website: www.northwoodscenter.org
contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]