Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS TOWN — Starting as a place that most people didn’t know how to find and now, getting recognized as a Vermont Centennial Town Forest Award recipient, the St. Albans Town Forest has come a long way.
The town will be honored tomorrow at the Community Conservation Summit held at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center. It is among 13 other communities recognized as having the model town forest in its county.
Nancy Patch, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation county forester for Franklin County, nominated the St. Albans Town Forest. She said this week that though she helps manage eight different town forests across the county, “St. Albans stood out recently.”
Patch added, “[There’s] this new interest, this great interest that has come about in the last couple of years.”
New signs, a management plan for timber, wildlife and songbird habitat, trail cleanup and encouragement to recreate by RiseVT and the Franklin County Mountain Biking Club have all come about as part of that revitalization.
The beginning of the town forest was in 1953, when local resident, state forester and – according to his New York Times obituary – “father of Vermont Skiing,” Perry Merrill designated 27 acres along French Hill Road. As more parcels were added, the forest grew to its current 162-acre expanse, and it was largely used for timber harvesting for half a century.
“Not a lot has gone on there,” said Patch. “The citizens of the town – I don’t think that they knew they had a town forest.”
They may have gotten more hints as time – and more activities – occurred there. In 2010, a forest management plan was drawn up, executed and completed last year. It became the first bird habitat demonstration forest in the state in partnership with Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and Audubon Vermont, and in 2012, five gaps were cut to enhance songbird habitat.
Around the same time, said Patch, “One of the middle school teachers contacted me to take the kids out there.”
In March 2014, the St. Albans Town Selectboard had signs erected so people would know where to find the forest – it’s up along a dirt road that cuts through one private property – and they also applied for Vermont Youth Conservation Corps work.
The VYCC has done trail maintenance the past two summers. “They really make the forest much more accessible,” said Patch. “They’re very family friendly.”
And now, more trail folks are hopping on board. RiseVT, a local community health initiative based at Northwestern Medical Center, recently partnered with St. Albans Town Parks and Recreation Committee and provided a $2,500 grant to create a complete trail plan with Stowe-based trail company Sinuosity.
“The town forest seems like a great project because there’s a real interest in expanding the trail network,” said RiseVT health advocate Jessica Frost. “We’ve been able to make a real integrated plan that will be able to [include] a wide variety of uses.” These will include mountain biking, hiking, walking, snowshoeing and skiing.
The trails are expected to be completed in phases over a couple of years. In the meantime, said Frost, “we’re trying to build some community support for the project.”
The town forest will be listed on a new resources page on RiseVT’s website, mentioned in blog posts, and eventually, included on TrailFinder.com. RiseVT is also going to host some events around it.
The first will be held on Saturday, Nov. 14, in conjunction with the Franklin County Mountain Biking Club, a community trail cleanup.
With the flurry of activity at the St. Albans Town Forest, Patch said it was a natural choice for the one time Vermont Centennial Town Forest Award nomination.
Patch said of the award, “I hope it encourages the town to see the value of the town forest and to continue the good work that people are now getting more interested in.”
In addition to the new recreation opportunities there, Patch said it is generally important for education and wildlife habitat – it’s part of an 8,000-acre tract of forest across St. Albans, Swanton and Fairfield.
“Public forest lands that are managed can be demonstration projects for private lands,” said Patch. There are also interpretive signs along the trails now so more school teachers can bring students to learn, too.
“It’s also just a place to get away and walk on a landscape for contemplation,” said Patch.
St. Albans Town Manager Carrie Johnson said this week that she’s excited about all that’s going on at the town Forest given its somewhat lackluster past. “More people are realizing that this is a good county-wide resource,” she said. “I hope more and more people can utilize it.”