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Forest ‘Tool Kits’ in the Works

  • Members of teh Upper Valley High School Trail Corps perform trail maintenance work on Wright's Mountain in Bradford (Vt.) State Forest last summer.



Special to the Valley News
Saturday, April 07, 2018

 Three towns in the Upper Valley are revitalizing their town forests with new, comprehensive Town Forest Recreation Plans. With funding support from the U.S Forest Service, the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program is helping provide technical community planning assistance to 10 Vermont towns to address issues and opportunities in the use and stewardship of town forests. Three towns in the Upper Valley were invited to participate in the program: Bradford, Hartford, and Weathersfield, in addition to the towns of Hinesburg, Huntington, Hardwick, Marshfield, Middlebury, Richmond, and Woodbury.

Luckily, the Town Forest Recreation Planning Initiative will result in a tool kit available to all towns looking to improve their own town forests throughout the Upper Valley.

Though bureaucratic planning projects do not often elicit feelings of excitement, you should be elated if you live near one of these communities or any New England town that has its own forest. Town forests are often among the green spaces closest to residents in the Upper Valley, but unfortunately these lands do not benefit from the resources available to State Parks/Forests or National Parks/Forests. As a result, town forests may be under-utilized or underappreciated. Therefore, any initiative that specifically benefits these places is helping green spaces with very few external resources.

The Upper Valley has a long tradition of town-owned forests managed for public benefit. In Vermont and New Hampshire, over 300 municipalities own more than 100,000 acres of forestland open to the public.

Particularly in the Upper Valley, which lies between the large swaths of protected lands in the Green Mountains and White Mountains, town forests have received growing attention from local and regional interest groups, which realize these local areas are important community resources for both ecological and recreational opportunities. Some communities are experiencing increased demand and impact, while others are looking to enhance their town forest recreation opportunities as an asset and economic driver.

No two forests are identical, so the program fits the Upper Valley’s ethic of direct democratic participation by assisting Town Forest Steering Committees in creating their own plans to fit the needs of the forest and their local communities.

By the end of 2018, each forest will have developed a vision for forest-based recreation and stewardship in their forest(s), developed a detailed action-oriented Town Forest Recreation Plan, and created an Implementation Plan to ensure long-term success and achievement of the vision.

These remarkable local resources may not be recognized as town-owned parcels with loads of potential and may even be known by different names. Bradford’s Town Forest, also known as Wright’s Mountain, has been known for years as one of the most impressive and important places for outdoor recreation in the Upper Valley.

Similarly, Hartford Town Forest has a unique situation making local planning efforts imperative. Connecting seamlessly with Hurricane Forest Wildlife Refuge Trails, the Hartford Town Forest boasts a large network of multi-use trails within a few miles of White River Junction, Norwich, Hanover, and Lebanon.

Another unique example, Weathersfield Town Forest is a vast expanse of undeveloped land located on the southern flank of Mount Ascutney. Conservation of this property increased the corridor of permanently protected public lands around Mount Ascutney to more than 5,000 acres.

Drafts of Town Forest Recreation Plans will be presented in each local community in July. After revision, presentation of final plans will take place in September, with an Implementation Summit to take place in October.

The Upper Valley Trails Alliance is participating in the initial planning initiative as a local community partner and member of multiple steering committees and encourages other town forests in Vermont and New Hampshire to utilize the Town Forest Planning Tool- Kit when it becomes available in fall 2018.

With public support, the forest steering committees of Bradford, Weathersfield, and Hartford are currently identifying ongoing and potential topics to address in their unique plans, including ecological impacts, user conflicts, trailhead/forest access, road/trail/parking conditions, and opportunities for new recreational activities to draft an action plan.

Hopefully, through these efforts, town forests will be better prepared for the opportunities and challenges of the future to provide sustainable places for the Upper Valley to enjoy the outdoors for years to come.

Sean Ogle is the trail programs director for the Upper Valley Trails Alliance. He can be reached at sean.ogle@uvtrails.org or 802-649-9075.