ST. ALBANS TOWN — The 162 acres of woods atop French Hill don’t particularly stand out. They are, after all, part of an 8,000-acre forest block spanning St. Albans, Swanton and Fairfield.
The clue to knowing that particular bundle of trees on the hill belongs within the St. Albans Town Forest is an open, green gate, and at this time of year, sole tire tracks on a snowy road.
But at Monday’s town selectboard meeting, indications were that the town forest’s low profile is in the midst of getting a boost. Town Manager Carrie Johnson reported that a project in accordance with County Forester Nancy Patch’s 2010 management plan was completed this winter, Johnson also said that improvements to the forest would continue to grow.
Logging on the adjacent property to the forest, doing forest maintenance, and creating four or five open spaces to allow habitat growth for bird species were among the items completed this winter. These efforts and others in the future will be in accordance with 2010 management plan’s goals of increasing recreation opportunities, improving timber, facilitating wildlife habitat, and generally making the most of the forest’s natural resources.
“[That] project is actually moving along quite nicely,” Johnson said. She added that the cold this winter was helpful for forest management, which is best done before spring so as to not disturb wildlife.
Johnson also mentioned that Town Planner Maren Hill is working on publicizing the forest and what it will offer in the future. In an e-mail sent yesterday, Hill laid out what kinds of projects are in the works in the upcoming year.
The Foresters for Birds project, for instance, is an effort led by Patch that will help facilitate songbird habitat through good timber practices and habitat management. Northern Vermont is a breeding ground for some neo-tropical songbird species, which are currently on the decline due to habitat loss both on breeding grounds and wintering grounds according to Patch’s management report.
Among these birds are a dozen species designated “responsibility birds” by Audubon Vermont, including the colorful the Blue-headed Vireo, Canada Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.
The town has applied for a Recreation Trails Program grant in order to fund Foresters for Birds project signs, and the grant also would fund trail improvement by Vermont Youth Conservation Corps this upcoming summer and help produce a new town forest map.
Hill also said the town has agreed to work with Northwestern Medical Center on a Vermont Department of Health grant that would help purchase education and outreach materials. “Many of the trails are suitable for novice mountain bikers and young trail users, so we also hope to create a tip sheet,” Hill wrote. She added that these projects were in the initial stages, but were coming along.
At the selectboard meeting Monday, new member Stanley Dukas brought up one of the most immediate needs for the town forest.
“You almost feel like you’re on private property because there’s no signs,” Dukas said, explaining that he drove in by the forest access road but quickly turned around, unsure he was in the right place.
“I agree, we need to get some signage,” said selectboard chair Bernie Boudreau. He added that there should be some sort of town forest tours offered to residents and visitors in order to get more people acquainted with the area.
“It’s a great piece of property that people should take advantage of,” Boudreau said.