News Briefs

Visionary philanthropist donates life’s work to state

By Julia Purdy
HUBBARDTON—“Kit” Carson Davidson died Thursday, Sept. 28, 2016, at age 92, but he remains in spirit in the uplands of the Hubbardton home he called “Taconic Mountains Ramble.” This unique corner of Rutland County has been enjoyed by locals and world travelers alike, and its transfer Oct. 5 to the state of Vermont assures that it will remain undeveloped, free and open to the public in perpetuity, as Vermont’s newest state park.
The Carson Davidson Revocable Trust turned 204 of a total 420 acres to the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, with the rest of the property to follow. The transfer was long hoped for by Davidson and in his last weeks he learned that the state had accepted his bequest. He supplied a full survey of the property and bequeathed his remaining wealth to Vermont Parks Forever to cover the costs of managing the park, according to his privately-hired land manager, Alyssa Bennett.
After a diligent search for exactly what they wanted, New Yorkers Davidson and his wife Mickie bought the property in 1966 from Clayton Calvin, a farmer who had fallen on hard times. A long driveway ends at an open vista down the western flank of the Taconics Range, with the crags of Mount Zion to the right and the rolling hayfields of the valley below.
For a time the Davidsons divided their time between Hubbardton and Burlington, which Mickie relished, calling it “like Greenwich Village in Vermont.” When Mickie passed away in 2002, Davidson moved permanently into a single-wide mobile home at the top of the property, and here he—a city boy and award-winning documentary filmmaker—threw himself into trail-building, creating paths that wind among the ledges, spread over the fields and climb onto Pittsford Ridge to heavy forest and waterfalls. He named his project “Taconic Mountains Ramble.”
Realizing that he could use some help, he asked around in Rutland. Alyssa Bennett had been “pasting jobs together” and wanted to live outside the city, so she answered the call and was hired on the spot. She began working in May 2012, juggling the new job with her part-time position in Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation’s wildlife division as a small mammals biologist specializing in bats.
Davidson “trained” Bennett for his vision, she told The Mountain Times, shortly before Davidson’s death. She lives on the property and provided care for Davidson as well as stewarding the trails and assisting visitors. When she began, she said, there were no trail signs, the trail map was confusing, and the trails were “primitive” and subject to erosion. “You’re inheriting an aging park,” he told her.
Davidson asked her to create signage and improve the trails, while keeping them as natural as possible. She invented an icon—a Japanese stone lantern—for the signs and marked the entrance to the property, off St. John Road, immediately south of the Hubbardton Battlefield.
She also developed a “trailhead” with a large signboard for notices and a sign-in book. There are names from all over the world. Davidson’s vision embraced the public use and enjoyment of his creation, and Bennett said, “It feels like such a privilege to work toward that vision.” While camping, campfires and smoking are prohibited, visitors have been to ride horseback, hunt, snowshoe and ski, have picnics and gatherings, get married or engaged, and bring their dogs. A V.A.S.T. (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trail runs through the property.
Atop  the cliffs of Mount Zion, hikers can get a panorama of the Hubbardton Battlefield, or scramble out to Moot Point, which looks due south. One favorite destination is the “Japanese” or “Zen” garden, inspired by Davidson’s time in Japan.  Below the mobile home, a long hayfield drops to the road far below, and bales dot the fields across the valley. Above the mobile home, a field has been planted to clover and is graced by a towering elm named “Mickie’s Elm.” The hay is harvested by a neighboring farmer in exchange for brush-hogging the hillside around the mobile, keeping the land open to the view.
Other neighbors—local Vermonters of modest means—assist in managing this special place. So much land around Vermont is being posted now, Bennett explained, that the neighbors help out because they value the openness and accessibility. One neighbor mows paths through the fields so visitors don’t trample the hay; another neighbor by the driveway watches out for winter trespassers, when the gate is closed.
She said that the long-range management plan under the state ownership will include gathering information about what is already in place.
“The most important part for me is for people to understand the generosity of just two people and how many other individuals that can touch,” Bennett said.
As for Bennett’s future, Joanne Garton of the department stated in a phone interview that Bennett will be able to live on the property until the end of 2018, and the state plans to hire her as a seasonal employee.

Photo by Julia Purdy
Rock formations are scattered at a viewing area from Moot Point on the “Taconic Mountains Ramble” trails.

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