Living Lab • Forest • Partner Farms
Smokey House Center is defined by the sprawling 3,950 acres of forestland that make up the majority of the property. Heterogeneity in soils, topography, and past land use history has resulted in a remarkably diverse mix of forest types, natural communities, and wildlife habitat across the property. The resulting matrix of forested ecosystems–nearly all of which have been protected under a New England Forest Foundation conservation easement since 2002–have provided the foundation for the work that has been conducted at Smokey House for decades.
Looking to the future, Smokey House’s forest will be the canvas on which the work of the Living Lab will be conducted; the very characteristics that make the forest so ecologically unique also make it ideal for research and education. In 2021, post-graduates of the Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment developed a forest management plan that has allowed Smokey House to move from a production-focused current use designation to one that emphasizes conservation. This will afford Smokey House new flexibility in taking a balanced and creative approach to multi-use forest management that involves active management, creation of reserves, applied research and demonstration, youth education and much more.
To learn more about the forest at Smokey House consider checking out the conservation management plan.
There is an elevation range of 2,555 feet across the property's forest.
The property makes up part of the headwaters of Mill Brook, which feeds into Otter Creek and eventually Lake Champlain.
A significant portion of the forest resides above 2,500 feet in elevation (only 3% of Vermont’s forests are found above 2,500 feet).
As of 2022, 4,265 acres of the forest are enrolled under Vermont’s conservation Current Use category, providing Smokey House with added flexibility when it comes to long-term planning and management.
Before being acquired by the Currier family in the 1950s, the property was made up of 35 different farms that all managed their woodlands in distinct ways, which has resulted in a range of forest structures and compositions.
A rich history of balanced management that has resulted in forest stands representing all stages of forest succession from early successional habitat to old forest.
From productive lowland forests to high elevation montane spruce stands, the variety of forest types at Smokey House is truly special:
583 acres of diverse northern hardwood forests dominated by species such as sugar maple, white ash, American beech and black cherry.
883 acres of enriched northern hardwood forests with exceptionally productive, calcium rich soils that house biodiverse plant communities.
460 acres of softwood and mixed forests, containing hemlock and white pine at lower elevations.
1,534 acres of northern hardwoods mixed with red spruce and yellow birch at higher elevations.
417 acres of balsam fir and red spruce forests that are of particularly significant ecological value.
83 acres of speckled alder-dominated swamplands home to a diversity of wetland plant and animal species.
The forest at Smokey House is part of an ecologically distinct and important regional landscape. Smokey House resides at the heart of the Taconic Range and directly adjacent to the Southern Green Mountains, making it a part of a “core habitat area” and key wildlife corridor connecting the Adirondacks to the Acadian forests. In fact, the southern property boundary borders a section of the Green Mountain National Forest that is designated as “remote backcountry forest.” Smokey House is also positioned within the Eastern Wildway, a matrix of protected areas across the eastern seaboard.
Furthermore, according to Vermont’s Conservation Design (VCD) project for Ecologically Functional Landscapes, Smokey House falls within a “rare” physical landscape diversity block, is part of two of the Highest Priority connectivity “interior forest” blocks (Taconic and Green), contains regionally important calcareous bedrock areas, and has significant areas of high-elevation spruce-fir forests (one of the highest priority forest types in the state).
Land Use History
Smokey House resides on the unceded territories of the Abanaki, Wabanaki (Dawnland Confederacy), and Mohican peoples known as N’dakinna. As the original stewards of the forest that now makes up Smokey House, members of these tribes managed and lived off of this landscape for generations. This active stewardship, in combination with other disturbances, resulted in a diversity of forest types and structures with variations in tree species and age classes across the landscape.
As European colonizers moved into the area and forcefully replaced indigenous communities, land use and human impacts on the landscape dramatically changed. Before colonization, Vermont was likely 95% forested. Between 1750 and 1850 it is estimated that roughly 75% of Vermont’s forests were cut down. This era of mass deforestation was driven by needs for timber, open pastures that supported a booming wool industry, and tilled fields used for subsistence agriculture. In Danby, a robust marble industry–supported by the largest underground marble quarry in the world–was also a primary driver of development.
Similar to much of New England, the majority of Smokey House’s landscape was cleared during this period. As farms were abandoned throughout the mid-1800s, previously open areas were recolonized by woody plants and eventually converted back into forest. Many of the forest stands we enjoy today at Smokey House originated during this period of forest reestablishment. Prior to the Currier family purchasing the land that makes up Smokey House in 1958, the property comprised 35 different farms. The forests that resided on these farms were all managed in different and distinct ways–some were periodically cut for firewood, some were tapped for maple syrup, others were high-graded for large-diameter, high quality timber.
During the Smokey House era, the forest has been managed with the goals of increasing forest resiliency, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity all while demonstrating the many benefits derived from multi-use working landscapes. This includes an active sugarbush, periodic silvicultural treatments meant to increase age class and structural diversity within the forest, as well as the protection of ecologically valuable areas like the high-elevation spruce-fir stands. In addition, the flagship YouthWorks Program that operated from 1974 to 2009, used and managed the forest to conduct hands-on work and learning for disadvantaged youth.