LYNDON — The Vermont Land Trust (VLT) is partnering with the Kingdom Trail Association (KTA) to raise money for the purchase 269 acres of land on Darling Hill Road known as “Heaven’s Bench.”
Funds from the KTA memberships plus grants through the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board and other foundations have helped to raise about 60 percent of the $671,000 needed to purchase the property. The organizations are urging people to help close the gap, approximately $280,000 remains to be raised.
The campaign focuses on closing that fundraising gap with the hoped-for help from private donors, foundations and local businesses, said Liz Walker, regional director for the Vermont Land Trust.
Donations are being sought to help preserve the open space and rural character on Darling Ridge, which draws in many thousand recreational trail users annually for mountain biking, running, hiking, Nordic skiing, fat biking and snowshoeing, the land trust states.
KTA is a network of trails on private lands in the NEK with more than 100 miles available for recreational use in the towns of Burke, Lyndon, Kirby and East Haven.
The nonprofit trails group in 2019 worked to secure the purchase to prevent it from being developed.
“The Kingdom Trail Association acted quickly to buy the 229-acre property with bridge financing,” the post on the land trust’s website explained. “KTA also agreed to buy 40 neighboring acres to secure adjoining trails. Now, KTA is working with the Vermont Land Trust to make sure these properties will remain undeveloped and open to the public.”
The land trust campaign kickoff notes that there are seven miles of trails for public access as well as a mile-long segment of snowmobile trail that is an important link for the VAST trail system.
“This iconic land hosts nearly seven miles of trails in the heart of the Kingdom Trails system, and connects to Heaven’s Bench, a scenic knoll offering stunning panoramic views,” Walker said. “The land extends east from Darling Hill Road with farmland and forests and continues all the way to the East Branch of the Passumpsic River.”
KTA previously secured bridge financing for the 229 acre parcel, previously owned by Quiros, LLC, and obtained a purchase and sale contract for the purchase of an adjoining 40 acre parcel, Walker said.
VLT and KTA seek public help to complete the project.
“This effort will secure KTA’s ownership and ensure the land remains undeveloped and available for public recreation, farming and forestry - all of which are vital to the Northeast Kingdom economy and communities,” she explained.
She said the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board committed $150,000 to the effort.
Quiros was forced to surrender more than $81 million in assets after reaching a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations of a Ponzi-like scheme at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain resorts, in which Quiros was the accused mastermind. His assets have been sold off and continue to be through the federal receivership put into place by the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the case.
“Our primary goal is to ensure permanent public access to this land and its recreational trails,” said Abby Long, executive director of KTA. “Additionally, the project will preserve many other important features: scenic views, rural character, productive farm and forestland and important ecological values.”
Long said earlier that the trails association does own one other parcel, “KTA owns a 133-acre parcel, also on Darling Ridge, that we conserved with the VT Land Trust and VT Housing and Conservation Board in 2015.”
Donations to the Heaven’s Bench Campaign can be sent to: Vermont Land Trust, 8 Bailey Ave., Montpelier, VT 05602.