Centennial Woods has a long history and the current landscape is a direct result of dynamic change over time in terms of both, natural processes and societal processes.
Centennial Woods is always changing day-to-day and season-to-season. The first settlers were native Americans known as the Abenaki’s. Tool making supplies were found in Centennial and it is considered to be potential remnants of Abenakis.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, European settlers arrived at Centennial and there was massive deforestation. There has been reforrestation by the state and we are currently sitting at approximately 70% forest and 30% land. Due to the previous deforestation, Centennial and its surroundings were converted to agricultural lands for sheep grazing and dairy operations. We know this from findings of stone walls, barbed wire, and trails that date back to the mid-19th century.
Over time the land switched from grazing areas to subdivisions and reconsolidating. The farmland constituting present day centennial woods was largely sold off and subdivided. Slowly over time, UVM bought back centennial woods and now preserves this land.
When the University of Vermont purchased this land, they began consolidation of the tracts which took place over a long period of time (1891-1968). Most of the landowners homes were not in the woods but nearby. By the 1970’s, the university decided to take action saying, “the growing concern over the degradation of the natural environment.” UVM set aside nine different parcels of land as a “natural areas system” and in 1974, they set formal regulations for there use.
The first steps of conservation were cleaning up the woods. It was said, “until a short time ago, the area was ecologically damaged through activities such as landfills and destructive dumping… The administration is acutely concerned about the plan to be evolved in the area” (Brooks, 2019). There were logs of oil dumpings that were excavated. This information can be found in logs in UVM’s library. The university also found body parts in the woods which were likely from the medical school cadavers in the 1920s based on the condition of the bodies.
Over time Centennial was used for parking lots, urban development and housing complexes. This has led to the shrinkage of Centennial Woods. In 1991, UVM entered into an agreement with the city of Burlington which forced UVM to create management plans for Centennial and conserve the area in perpetuity.
Finally, in 1997, Centennial is conserved in perpetuity by UVM handing over the property rights of Centennial to the Vermont Land Trust which preserves land and prevents the rights of construction.