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Community hike treks through Ashley Forest

  • Mariah Lawrence and her son Rowan, 8, of Tunbridge, Vt., laugh at the name of poodle moss while learning on a nature walk showing off the Ashley Community Forest land purchased by the Alliance for Vermont Communities in Strafford, Vt., on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mike Hebb, of the Strafford Conservation Commission, shows a kind of moss to Miriam Newman, of Strafford, Vt., during his nature walk showing off the Ashley Community Forest land recently purchased by the Alliance for Vermont Communities in Strafford on Saturday, May 18, 2019. "This sounds like a great project, and I want to be able to support it," Newman said. "It's a really nice parcel." (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, David Paganelli, of Strafford, Vt.; Paul Harwood, of Tunbridge, Vt.; President of the board of the Alliance for Vermont Communities Michael Sacca; and Kate Bass, of Strafford, look at a map of the Ashley Community Forest area during a nature walk showing off the land purchased by the Alliance last year in Strafford on Saturday, May 18, 2019. "I want to learn about the forest that might become our town forest," Bass said. "It's still a work in progress," Sacca said, adding, "There's plenty of work to be done." (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Saturday, May 18, 2019

SHARON — Binoculars and bird sightings abounded Saturday morning during a community walk through Ashley Forest near the Sharon-Strafford border, as residents got a peek at land that may one day be owned by the two towns.

The walk was one in a series, coordinated by the Alliance for Vermont Communities and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, that aim to show off the 218-acre parcel as Sharon and Strafford prepare to hash out a possible plan to receive and share the wooded property.

The 2-mile hike — facilitated by local naturalists Kathy Thompson and Mike Hebb — created a teaching opportunity for Mariah Lawrence, of Tunbridge.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Lawrence, a mother of four. “I definitely can’t wait to utilize this. We home-school, so this is kind of like our classroom. ... For me, too — I learn just as much as them, and being on (a group walk) like this is super-inspiring for all of us.”

Lawrence wasn’t the only one there for the learning opportunity. Kate Bass, a member of Strafford’s Conservation Commission, was one of the nearly 20 people on hand for Saturday’s event.

“The more you’re educated about a place, the more you’re apt to protect it and preserve it,” Bass said. “That’s why environmental education is so important in all levels, from the forest kindergartens up to this kind of stuff.”

Bass said a governance structure needs to be in place before ownership of the forest can be transferred.

AVC initially purchased the land last year in an effort to thwart Utah engineer David Hall and his proposed sustainable community, NewVistas, which was intended to house some 20,000 people. Hall acquired approximately 1,500 acres toward his goal, but eventually abandoned the project when met with strong local resistance.

AVC hopes to gift Ashley Forest as a single parcel to the two towns — which happen to sit in different counties — but it won’t make for a simple transaction.

“There’s not a lot of models for two-town ownership,” said Michael Sacca, the local nonprofit’s board president. “We’ve sort of been looking not just locally in Vermont, but in other New England states, and there really isn’t a lot of precedent for this. In fact, I was talking with someone in Massachusetts who’s trying to administer something like this for 1,000 acres and 800 parcels or something crazy and he said, ‘Let me know what you come up with.’ ”

Part of the gift would include $20,000 toward a management fund, an account that could be augmented down the road by the property’s wealth of timber resources.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Miriam Newman, a 30-year resident of Strafford. “I hope it can be finalized. There’s no downside in my mind to preserving this property for the public.”

However things work out for the property, the trip on Saturday was worth it for Lawrence, the home-schooling mother, who was joined by her son Rowan, an 8-year-old nature enthusiast.

“Rowan really loves to find out things about the outdoors,” she said. “He loves raptors and he loves rodents, and I guess I thought this would be the perfect thing for us to do this morning.”

Information on future guided community walks is available at www.alliancevermont.org.

Adam Boffey can be reached at boffeyadam@gmail.com.