There’s a profound sense of responsibility that comes with creating a community in a place as pristine and striking in natural splendor as the foothills of Mt. Mansfield
State Forest. From the time Spruce Peak was conceived in the early 2000’s, the development team understood the significance of working in tune with the alpine ecosystem, leaving a small footprint, and showing reverence for the creatures that thrive here—while at the same time building a vibrant hamlet.
“Being a steward of nature and promoting cohabitation with wildlife is fundamental to our intent,” says Sam Gaines, president of Spruce Peak. “To do this, we designed a
mountain village that is relatively compact, comprised of 34 acres, while preserving 2000 acres of surrounding forest.” According to Tom Rogers, a biologist with
the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, “creating condensed development and leaving areas of undisturbed habitat intact is crucially important for conserving wildlife.”
When mapping out the layout of Spruce Peak, planners took care to protect wildlife corridors, which are bands of natural land connecting two areas of habitat. “Animals need to be able to move about the landscape to find food, mates, and places to raise their young or hibernate for the winter,” Rogers says. “When wildlife corridors are destroyed, areas of habitat become cut off from each other, turning each patch into an increasingly small island.” With limited access to resources, it’s harder for animals to survive.
The development team also preserved a number of deer yards. “During harsh winter weather, deer gather in these dense forests of hemlock, spruce, and fir to avoid the coldest winds and deepest snow,” Rogers says. Not only do deer yards provide shelter, but it’s easier for animals to move around and find food because the thick canopy of trees hinders undergrowth. The landscape designers even made the village itself wildlife-friendly, planting wildflowers that attract pollinators and promoting bear food sources, like beech trees (beech nuts are a favorite bear snack) and serviceberry trees (which have delicious, edible red or bluish-black berries).
As a result, Spruce Peak has fostered a uniquely intimate relationship with nature. It’s part of what makes this such a remarkable place to visit—or call home. Ken Taylor, who owns a mountain cabin on Nosedive Drive, has spotted bear and moose in his backyard. “It is very special to live near wildlife, and there is a certain anticipation of it, whether it’s seeing a giant moose walking up Big Spruce, or finding bear claw marks on the Mountain Course trees,” Taylor says. “Sure, the views are drop-dead gorgeous—but the animals add another dimension that you don’t appreciate until you’ve experienced it.”
Vermont has only one species of bear: the black bear, which is active from April to November, and then hibernates in the winter. “People are most likely to spot them in April and May, when they come out of their dens very hungry and are looking for food in garbage cans and dumpsters,” says Rogers. “They’re also commonly seen in the fall, when they go through hyperphagia. During this period, they eat virtually every moment they are awake, putting on a tremendous amount of weight for the winter.
”What should you do if you encounter a bear? “Black bears are very safe; we have had virtually zero bear attacks in Vermont,” Rogers says. “Be respectful, give it space—especially if it’s a mother with cubs—and appreciate it.”
Watch the bear, notice how it reacts to you, and if it seems agitated, slowly back away while talking to it in a relaxed tone. “Bears respond the same way a person would,” Rogers says. “If you elevate the situation and shout at it, it will probably run away. If you move and speak calmly, it will understand through body language that you are not a threat.”
Walk on the Wild Side
If you’re hoping to glimpse some creatures during your stay, you’re in luck. “Greater Mt. Mansfield is unique in terms of animal habitat,” Rogers says. “Because of the dramatic change in elevation from top to bottom, you can experience a tremendous amount of biodiversity in a small area—it’s a real treat.” Check out this timeline of which beasts you can see when…and then set your alarm clock!
Before dawn: Deer, Moose, Bears, Birds, Raccoons, Fisher, Fox, Coyote, Beaver
Afternoon: Garter snake, Eastern newt
get Back to Nature
The average American spends upwards of 11 hours a day interacting with media, according to a Nielson study, and the more we tune into technology, the less we connect with the natural world. A recent report, The Nature of Americans, found that the majority of adults in the U.S. spend fewer than five hours in nature each week, while children ages 8-12 spend three times as many hours using a computer, smartphone, or television as they do playing outdoors.
But getting outside is one of the best things you can do for your body and brain. An extensive body of research has proven that walking for as little as 20 minutes in a natural environment reduces stress and anxiety; increases feelings of happiness and relaxation; and boosts creativity, attention span, and memory function. It even makes people more generous, helpful, kind, and trusting. (The same effect wasn’t seen when participants strolled through urban settings.)
All the more reason to literally and figuratively unplug during your stay at Spruce Peak, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this alpine sanctuary.