Ascutney Ski Area Lease Signed

Nonprofit, Town Agree on Land Use

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, April 29, 2016

Brownsville — The nonprofit organization created to develop and manage the expanded town-owned recreational property following last year’s acquistion of the former Ascutney Mountain Resort ski area has signed a land lease agreement with the town.

The agreement makes official the relationship between Ascutney Outdoors and the town, said Laura Farrell, executive director of AO.

“Now we can move forward with submitting our management plan and budget,” she said.

Farrell said the group has been working on the five-year plan for several months and although they have until the end of October, per the lease, to submit it to the Selectboard, they want to have it finished by early summer.

The plan will lay out Ascutney Outdoors’ goals and provide a timeline and budget. Farrell said Ascutney Outdoors will manage the existing trails on the 1,100-acre town forest and develop new recreational opportunities on the abutting 470 acres that formerly was the ski area.

“It will explain how it can be sustained, how it will be funded and how to make it affordable,” Farrell said of the management plan.

The entirety of the nearly 1,600-acre property is under a conservation easement. The lease agreement says any projects undertaken by AO “shall be subject to and consistent with the easement, the Community Forest Management Plan and Act 250 permitting.”

The town, through the Trust for Public Land, completed the purchase of the ski area in December after raising about $900,000, including grants, donations and town money. The resort shut down in August 2010 because of financial problems and the bulk of the equipment, including all but one lift, eventually was sold, signaling an end to any chance the resort would reopen under different ownership.

The town, fearful the land could be sold off for development, undertook an aggressive approach to buy it, and won overwhelming voter approval at a fall 2014 special Town Meeting to proceed with the purchase.

The long-term expectation is that a well-developed recreational area for non-motorized vehicles will attract visitors from around the Northeast and also help shore up property values on the mountain, which took a hit when the resort closed.

The town forest has about 30 miles of trails built and maintained by Sports Trails of the Ascutney Basin. The group strongly supports expansion of the trail network, which eventually could connect to the state park on the eastern side of Mount Ascutney.

Other provisions of the lease agreement include AO being responsible for promoting recreational activities in the easement area, constructing and maintaining facilities, and raising money needed to sustain these activities with no expectation of financial assistance from the town.

The easement also specifies that up to three lifts and one new structure could be built, but only with approval from the Upper Valley Land Trust and the town.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.