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Located in the ancestral homeland of the Abenaki and Wabanaki people
The dramatic Braintree Mountain Forest sits in Vermont’s Braintree Range and includes four peaks. Visitors can enjoy 360-degree mountain views and an excellent trail system for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
In partnership with Ridgeline Outdoor Collective (ROC), NEFF also offers backcountry downhill skiing at Braintree Mountain Forest. Braintree has trails and glades for backcountry skiing, and a challenging 1,000-foot slope.
This unique Community Forest represents the largest donation of land to NEFF in the organization’s history. Paul Kendall and Sharon Rives of the Todhah Hill Foundation gifted the forest to NEFF after the couple spent decades assembling it from smaller parcels of adjacent lands. They undertook this personal land conservation project to protect the headwaters of the Riford Brook watershed from development and to ensure opportunities for outdoor recreation and sustainable forestry.
NEFF conserves its Community Forests through ownership, and they are open daily, free to visit, and offer outdoor recreation opportunities. Unlike NEFF’s Community Forests, land protected by NEFF conservation easements—a legal tool—aren’t open to visitors unless their owners explicitly state so, because many belong to private individuals.
NEFF uses easements to conserve land owned by others. When a landowner grants NEFF an easement, it means they have permanently donated or sold to NEFF the landowner’s right to develop their own property, while the landowner otherwise retains ownership of their land; NEFF ensures the easements’ terms are met and enforced.
Paul Kendall grew up spending summers on his family’s property in Braintree, Vermont. His family would spend the morning working on the house or in the woods, and the afternoon exploring the surrounding woods, creeks, and mountains.
When he first retired, Paul lived on the family property with his wife, Sharon Rives. Paul and Sharon gradually purchased the surrounding forestland with the goal of conserving this continuous working forest forever. After considering many land trusts and conservation organizations, New England Forestry Foundation stood out as the best fit to meet Paul’s and Sharon’s conservation goals. In 2013, Paul and Sharon donated 1,547 acres to NEFF, ensuring the land will remain a working forest while also providing recreational opportunities to the public. Hear about their decision-making process as they walk the gorgeous Braintree lands in the following video.
Volunteers continue to help maintain trails and ski glade areas, and Braintree is open for backcountry skiing every winter. ROC began working with NEFF in 2014 to develop glades and trails along the peaks’ eastern flanks, and their leadership and volunteers have made sure skiing infrastructure and activity don’t interfere with forest management activities.
Visit the NEFF ROC Skiing page for more information and maps. Not a fan of skiing? Try hiking to the top of one of Braintree’s peaks to enjoy the view.
It is a crisp fall morning in Braintree, Vermont, complete with mist-shrouded valleys, crunchy leaves littering the ground, and woodsmoke pouring out of chimneys. After a few introductions, greetings and handshakes, I pile into the back of a pickup truck with a motley crew of people armed to the teeth with loppers, handsaws, and provisions. We bounce and jostle up the vertical trail on New England Forestry Foundation’s Braintree Mountain Forest, and after bottoming out a few times and dodging a few branches, we tumble out of the truck, ready for a day full of work and camaraderie.
Paul Kendall and Sharon Rives lead the charge, delegating tasks and setting the tone for a fun and productive day of trail work. Not only did Kendall and Rives donate Braintree Mountain Forest to NEFF in 2013, permanently conserving 1,547 acres of working forestland, they also volunteer as Forest Stewards, taking care of the trails and organizing workdays. Today, a group of their close friends are joining them to lop, saw, and clear branches and debris to maintain the pristine trails in the forest.
As the group works, they banter back and forth, telling stories of hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing on Braintree Mountain Forest. Kendall removes a branch with his pole saw, explaining through a sideways smile that he is making room for the perfect ski turn on the edge of the trail.
We break for lunch on top of Thirty-hirty, the tallest of four peaks on the property. The view is expansive—a pair of binoculars reveals the edge of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. After fueling up on sandwiches, mountain views, and Rives’ secret stash of dark chocolate, we continue working and follow the ridgeline to Skidoo Mountain. At the top we can hear a larger group of people further down the slope. While we have been clearing trails, another group has been working diligently to cut and maintain backcountry ski glades.
Zac Freeman, Braintree local and Vice President of Ridgeline Outdoor Collective (ROC), leads the volunteer group of backcountry skiing enthusiasts. Like many ROC members, Freeman lives to ski—when the snow flies, he is the first to make fresh tracks. His typical routine after a big snowstorm is to ski up the mountain by headlamp, and turn his skis downhill when the sun is barely above the horizon. These early mornings inspire Freeman and others to maintain and expand backcountry skiing opportunities at Braintree Mountain Forest.
Freeman works closely with NEFF, the forester on the property, and Kendall to ensure that the glade work fits within the woodland’s management plan. Since 2013, volunteers have cleared trails and glades, built and maintained a parking area and trail kiosk, and renovated the Bell Gates Cabin at the base of the glades. Their work demonstrates that forestry and backcountry skiing form a natural partnership. Because of this, Braintree Mountain Forest has been heralded as a model for backcountry skiing in New England.
When we reach Freeman’s group at the Bell Gates Cabin at the base of the glades, they have finished work for the day and are celebrating with bowls of chili and a warm bonfire. We join for the celebration and swap stories about the day’s work. With the sun setting below the trees and cold air settling around us, we share a common excitement for the coming snow and all the adventures that will come with it.
Want to head out and explore? Our interactive map of all NEFF Community Forests will help you get on your way. It provides property-specific trail maps you can download, as well information about each forest’s history, recreational opportunities, natural features, and more.