ST. ALBANS — The town needs to raise approximately $24,000 in order to fully finance their $66,000 comprehensive trail plan for the St. Albans Town Forest, which proposes adding two miles of trails and infrastructure to reduce the environmental impact of visitors to the area.
Jessica Frost, a RiseVT health advocate for the town, and Bridget Butler, the owner of Bird Diva Consulting, presented an overview of the trail plan to the St. Albans Rotary Club mid-day Tuesday. Following the presentation was a question and answer session in which Frost and Butler asked for help with strategizing ways to come up with the money before December.
Located in one of St. Albans’ most intact forest blocks, the 162-acre town forest has 2.6 miles of trails designated for walking, hiking, biking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
“I love the town forest,” Butler said. “It is a gem.”
Butler said she visits the forest because she loves the birds up there, including rose breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, mourning warblers and wood ducks nesting in the beaver pond.
“Back in 2015, a number of patch cuts were done on the farthest part of the property to open up some of the landscape to encourage more birds there,” she said. “And I will tell you, it’s doing a great job.”
Butler said one of the patches was cut with sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker, in mind. “They are everywhere there now. It’s really wonderful. But there’s also folks who want to be able to ride bikes and to snowshoe and to cross country ski up there and the trails just aren’t in the greatest condition for that.”
Frost said there is a strong interest from the community in the property, with lots of people using the trails already. When RiseVT hosted a trail clean up day with the Franklin County Mountain Bike Club, 40 or so people attended. “There were actually more people than we had work to do at that time, which was really exciting,” she said.
Unfortunately, with more people using the property, there is a higher impact to the trails and the environment. “The property is wet so we have seeps; we have wet areas,” Butler said. “So the impact on the property [will] increase if we don’t manage the trails appropriately.”
The town and RiseVT have already accomplished a good deal amount of work in developing literature about the property and maintaining and building trails. Franklin County Forester Nancy Patch developed a Forest Management Plan. The town worked with Audubon Vermont to do a bird assessment of the forest and get an idea of what kind of birds are on the property. With the help of RiseVT, the town received a $16,000 Recreation and Trails Grant in 2015 to build two trails.
The pair came together once again to hire Sinuosity, a trail development company, to make a comprehensive trail plan, which outlines the current trails and the updates needed with associated costs. “This takes our work to the next level,” Butler said, because by improving the trails there, the town will be “able to get more people out on the property but do it in a way that’s going to protect the health of the wildlife and the forest.”
“With this plan from Sinuosity, they’ve actually created it to minimize a lot of the environmental impacts,” Frost said. “The way it is now, people can go up and there’s still erosion and there’s still some runoff that’s not really controlled.”
She said Sinuosity’s plan takes care of the environmental concerns.
Frost said the town wants to build two additional miles of trail in order to designate certain trails for specific purposes, such as more complicated, hilly trails for advanced mountain biking and wider trails for large groups to walk down.
In the future, both Frost and Butler said they hope environmental groups, school classrooms and summer programs visit the property to learn more about the outdoors.
The town also has a commitment from the mountain bike club and the Department of Public Works to help maintain the trails once built and restored.
Butler said the bulk of the $66,000 price tag is for putting in infrastructure that will help erosion and runoff like culverts and bogged bridges.
“We do need professional trail builders to do the proper installation,” Frost said. “Volunteers can only do so much, but when it comes to things like building culverts and bridges, they have to kind of be done up to a certain standard for trail usage.”
Butler said Sinuosity is available to complete this work for the town when the time comes.
In the mean time, the project already has a $7,000 commitment from RiseVT and up to $10,000 from the town.
Butler said they plan on applying for another Recreation and Trails grant in December. The state grants up to 80 percent of the overall project cost, but no more than $50,000. “We are in good standing with the state right now,” she said. “They’ve already supported us a little bit with this project.”
She said it would be great if the state fully funded the rest of the costs at $48,000, but for the time being, the town has planned for only $24,000. This leaves around $24,000 or so to raise.
Butler asked the Rotary to help come up with a strategy to close that gap so when the town goes into the grant process, they can say they have a huge grant match of more than the 20 percent.
Rotary members suggested setting up QR code for the forest and hanging it up on the kiosk so people can donate while it’s still in the forefront of their minds. Another suggested harvesting some of the forest for lumber.
At the end of the presentation, Butler invited the Rotary members to close their eyes and visualize the property with all the updates. Imagine mountain bikers being able to move through some of those areas that are wet and mucky without impacting the trails, she said.
“Imagine groups from the recreation department, local landowners coming to the property to learn a little bit more about forest management practices that are good for wildlife and forest health,” Butler continued. “Imagine kids down at the pond catching frogs and watching the wood ducks come in and out of the boxes. Imagine folks being able to enjoy this property in a way that, well, keeps them healthy and whole.”