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Bluffside: Building Community Takes Communal Spaces


One of the pleasures of this job is the time on the road, traveling to every corner of the state. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Bluffside Farm project in Newport with a group of leaders from the Vermont Land Trust and other organizations that are committed to adapting this remarkable former dairy farm into an incredible asset for the Newport community.

The land trust acquired the 129-acre property in 2015, and we’re proud to support their work building trails and conserving its natural beauty with a Community Foundation Regional and Local Impact grant.

On our walk through the property, Tracy Zschau, the land trust’s conservation director, described seeing bald eagles fishing from the property, though the location of the nest is kept secret. We wandered along a graveled beach and looked out, south across Lake Memphremagog toward downtown Newport, and over west towards the mountain ridges and Jay Peak rising in the distance.

The land trust is closing in on its fundraising goal to pay for the project: seven miles of recreation trail coming out from the waterfront in downtown Newport, passing through Bluffside and eventually connecting north to existing bike paths in Canada.

It’s a project that will help Vermont match the superb bike and recreation infrastructure of our neighbors to the north, and it fits with the Community Foundation’s strategic goal of spurring economic development.

The new path will bring cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts into downtown, which will boost local businesses. Creating more energy and excitement along the lake is a major goal of Newport’s vision for the future, and Bluffside is poised to play a critical role.

However, when I was walking the farm, I was struck by something more fundamental about why this project aligns with the Community Foundation’s work.

We’ve made it the primary focus of our discretionary giving to reduce inequality by closing the opportunity gap that now yawns between families with means and those without.

How does the work at Bluffside help to close that gap?

The heart of community is a sense of common experience. When the lives of poor families and the lives of families with means become too disparate and too disconnected from one another, it is incredibly difficult to remember that we’re part of the same community, and that we share a common civic enterprise and that our prospects are intertwined.

That’s because we just don’t experience the economy and our communities in the same way.

A shared space that’s open to the public and easily accessible by all – where we can share meaningful experiences of the natural world; spaces where we can stand in the same place and look back across the lake and literally share the same view of town – offer a common set of experiences that can begin to stitch back together the fraying fabric of community.

Sometimes I get asked about the intersection between conservation and closing the opportunity gap. Beyond the important ecological and economic benefits of the conservation that’s taking place at Bluffside, it is the serendipity that can occur there, and the shared pride in place it will engender, which has great power to rebuild the sense of potential in a community. That, I believe, is the true promise of this project.

It’s exciting to think about the future that comes with such a dynamic project, and we’re fortunate to have groups like the Vermont Land Trust, the Northern Border Regional Commission, and others working so hard to bring it all together.

I hope to see you on the trail someday.