New Wildlife Area Preserves Habitat, History

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(Host) A new wildlife management area in Grafton and Athens is not only conserving the habitat of an endangered plant, it’s also preserving the historic homestead of Daisy Turner, whose family history tells an important story of slavery.

VPR’s Patti Daniels explains.

(Daniels) Daisy Turner was born in Grafton in 1883 to Sally and Alec Turner. They were escaped slaves who settled in Grafton after the Civil War. But since Daisy lived to be 104 years old, many people in Vermont still remember her. The petite woman’s commanding voice is preserved by the Vermont Folklife Center:

(Daisy Turner) "…But after I went home and told my father the story. And my father told me, it was no harm…."

(Daniels) Generations of Turners grew up in Vermont during Daisy’s lifetime, but the family’s homestead is now surrounded by open land and the house she lived in as an older woman has fallen into disrepair.

That’s where an endangered plant comes into play. The Northeastern Bullrush thrives in the wetlands near Turner Hill. A resident of the area brought it the attention of Vermont Fish and Wildlife:


(Jane Lazorchak) "That was sort of the impetus for the Department to collaborate with the Nature Conservancy, as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and VELCO, to raise the money to protect the area."

(Daniels) That’s Jane Lazorchak, land acquisitions coordinator for Fish and Wildlife. She initially looked at the Turner home only through the lens of habitat conservation:

(Lazorchak) "Right away I’m thinking about plants, wildlife, landscape and I thought, ugh – that house is an eyesore and it’s a potential liability for us, we need to figure out how to demo it right away."

(Daniels) But Lazorchak says her thinking changed after watching oral history videos of Daisy Turner telling stories of her family’s escape from slavery and early 20th century life in Vermont. And she’s happy that the effort to conserve an endangered species has a cultural benefit:

(Lazorchak) "I don’t think the money would have been there for the house if there wasn’t the funding there and the will to protect the land. Historic preservation is just something that there’s not that much money for."

(Daniels) Lazorchak says future visitors to the new Wildlife Management Area will eventually be able to sit on the porch of the Turner home, where Daisy Turner told stories for so many years.

For VPR News, I’m Patti Daniels.

(Host)  The new Turner Hill Wildlife Management Area will have an official opening this spring. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking to partner with a historic preservation group to partially rehabilitate the building that was Daisy Turner’s last home.

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