Water shaped rocks and water swirls on river.

Tools for Landowners

A how-to guide for the future of your land.

Behind each of our conservation projects is a visionary landowner. Thinking about the future of your land can be overwhelming, but we can help you figure out a solution that’s right for you. Whether you’re a landowner, or whether you’re someone who sees an opportunity in your community, this is a great place to start.

2024  Conservation Priorities

Where are we protecting land this year? We are taking a watershed-scale approach to protecting our rivers. This will help communities in need by allowing larger contiguous ecosystems to regain functions and values and build climate resilience.  First on the list are the upper Winooski and Lamoille basins in northern Vermont and Basin 11 in southern Vermont, where the West, Williams, Saxtons, and Connecticut Rivers flow. Our conservation and river corridor easements will work together in these regions to provide flood resiliency benefits across town or village lines.

Do you own land in or surrounding these towns? 

Lamoille River

Upper Winooski River

West River

Saxtons and Williams River

Elmore Plainfield Jamaica Andover
Wolcott Marshfield Londonderry Brattleboro
Hyde Park Cabot Marlboro Chester
Johnson Barre Peru Dummerston
Jericho East Montpelier Townshend Guilford
Morrisville North Montpelier Wardsboro Newfane
Cambridge Calais Weston Putney
Eden Woodbury Windham Rockingham
Walden Worcester Winhall Westminster

We may be completing more projects near you this year, or your land may be the perfect fit for our conservation program. Read below to learn more about the process of protecting your land. 

Why Vermont River Conservancy

There are a lot of land trusts out there. In Vermont, we’re the only land trust that’s focused specifically on rivers. Like other land trusts, we buy land and we hold easements. But because of our focus on rivers – from public access, to floodplain protections, to headwaters – we offer a few unique conservation solutions that may be just what you’re looking for.

Path to Protection

Every conservation project looks different, but here’s a general roadmap. Along the way, you can reach out to us at any time:

  1. Establish your goal. What path you choose will depend on your goals. Maybe you’re a farmer who wants to keep farming, but you also want to make sure your section of river is healthy. Maybe generations of local kids have crossed your land to get to a favorite swimming hole, and you want to make sure kids can have that same experience generations from now. Maybe you simply love your stream-filled forest and want to give it the chance to grow old.
  2. Scoping. This is a fancy name for initial conversations. This might start with a phone call or a visit to your land. We’ll take a look at maps, listen to your goals, begin to get a sense of your land’s unique features, and learn from you. You’ll have the chance to ask us questions, too. Together, we’ll begin to get a sense of your vision and how we can help you meet your goals.
  3. Implementation. There are a lot of steps here, and specifics will depend on your path to protection. Things may look different if you’re looking to sell your land, or if you’re looking to place an easement on your land. Common steps here include an appraisal, survey, detailed mapping and documentation, and even fundraising to make the project happen. In the end – whether it’s a river corridor easement, public access, or a land purchase – a lawyer will help with final paperwork.
  4. Stewardship. None of our projects are “done” after implementation. When we buy land or hold an easement, we’re also taking on responsibility for upholding the land’s conservation values – forever. In most cases, we’ll reach out to landowners every year to monitor the property. We’ll check to see how the riverbank is doing, see if there have been any changes in land use, and connect with the landowner. Or, if it’s a project with public access, we may help build or maintain trails, river access, parking, or kiosks.

Tools in the Toolbox

The land trust toolbox can seem complicated, but it mostly comes down to this:  “fee holdings” and “easements.”

Fee Holdings

This is the official legal term for something very simple:  selling or buying land. If a landowner wants to sell their land and a land trust buys it, that’s a “fee holding.”


Landowners have certain rights for their land. What you can do of course depends on local ordinances and zoning, but in general landowners can build things like houses or barns, mow or farm right up to a riverbank, cut down trees, drive, and more. An easement is an agreement between a land trust and a landowner, where the landowner agrees to give up some of these options. For example, conservation easements often state that the landowner (now or any future landowner) won’t build new structures within the easement area, or that the landowner will allow riverside trees and shrubs to grow naturally.

Easements may cover an entire property. Or they may just cover a portion of the property. This depends on the landowner’s goals for their land.

A landowner can donate the easement and the easement value is considered a charitable donation, which usually has tax benefits. Or, the land trust can purchase the easement from the landowner.

Easements We Use Most

Swirling waters of a Vermont river © Kurt Budliger

River Corridor Easements

Unique to Vermont River Conservancy, these easements allow people to continue owning and using their land, often for agriculture. Rather than a straight line on a map, these easements follow the river and landforms, creating a “buffer” of 50 or 100 feet (sometimes more) around the river. Within this easement, landowners agree to allow plants to grow within 50-feet of the river, which stabilizes banks and provides wildlife habitat. They also agree to allow the river to move naturally across the land. They won’t dig canals or force the river into a straight line, they won’t line the riverbank with “rip-rap” of tires or granite. They’ll allow the river to flood, and move, and change its course over time.

Paddlers on a Lamoille Paddlers' Trail Campsite.

Public Access Easements

This is where Vermont River Conservancy got its start. Without the help of landowners, Vermont’s beloved swimming holes, fishing sites, and paddling trails could be cut off for future generations. While the specific details are up to the landowner, often a public access easement may just cover a small portion of land, ensuring that people will always be able to get to the river to experience the joy of splashing on a warm day, paddling downstream, or casting a line. Several of our public access easements are just for small paddlers' campsites, creating unique opportunities for people to experience a night under the stars after a long day on the river.

An anglers' freshly caught fish from a Vermont river.

Conservation Easements

Most often used when Vermont River Conservancy (or another conservation partner) is buying the land, these easements help uphold the land’s public access and conservation values. They’re sometimes used for small ½-acre parcels to buy the land and ensure public access, or to protect wildlife and conservation values on lands that are hundreds or even thousands of acres.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an easement worth?

The value of a conservation easements is basically a “before” and “after” appraisal scenario. First, what is the land’s market value before the conservation easement is in place? Then, what would the land’s market value be after an easement is in place? The difference between the two appraisals is considered the value of the conservation easement.

Can I just protect part of my land?

Easements may cover an entire property. Or they may just cover a portion of the property. This depends on the landowner’s goals for their land.

Can I donate land or an easement?

Donating land or easements is a great way to fulfill your vision for the future of your land. In most cases, donating land or an easement qualifies as a charitable contribution, which may help landowners get significant tax benefits that can help offset their gift.

Can a land trust own the land AND hold an easement on the same property?

When all is said and done, the landowner and the easement holder must always be different entities. Think of it like the separation of church and state. The separation increases accountability and helps uphold the conservation values.

Here’s an example: A landowner owns 2-acres on a river that’s a well known swimming hole. They’re ready to sell the land and want to make sure local kids can always enjoy this special place. A land trust buys the land (“in fee”) and puts a conservation easement on the land. The easement is the legal document that says the land will never be developed, and will always allow public access. The land trust can’t hold the land and the easement. In these instances, we might transfer the land to a local town to “own” the land, and we’ll hold the easement to follow-through on the easement responsibilities. Or maybe we’ll continue to own the land, but another organization will co-hold the easement with us. It’s a land trust system of checks and balances that ensures accountability and maximizes conservation.

Does Vermont River Conservancy buy land and/or easements?

In some cases, Vermont River Conservancy may be able to buy land or an easement. In these cases, the land must have outstanding community or natural benefits. The landowner may still provide a reduced price (for example, sell the land or easement for less than its appraised value) to get some tax benefits. In these cases, we rely on private donations, grants, and other financial support to make the project possible.