A Forest for the Trees—and a Community, too!

March 14, 2012

 

Money might grow on trees, after all. In Barre Town, Vermont, a new study shows how creating a community forest could help boost the local economy.

 

Amidst the granite hills of Barre Town, Vermont, runs a 70-mile network of world-class mountain biking and cross-country skiing trails, drawing tourism dollars year-round—important for a place whose downtown consists of a handful of gas stations, restaurants, and a single bed-and-breakfast. At the center of the trail network sits 370 acres of privately owned land, and a target for residential homes. To thwart development and safeguard the network of trails and open space the local economy relies on, the town would have to purchase the land.

A recent study commissioned from the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics concluded that for every $1 the town invests in ownership of the proposed community forest, the local economy would realize returns of $22 by 2015. An impressive number-but how could a public forest pay such dividends? 

A Forest that Pays

Visiting bikers, hikers, skiers, and snowshoers are expected to spend $2.23 million in Barre Town between 2012 and 2015, creating a need for at least 20 new local resource and service jobs. The forest will connect to the Cross-Vermont Trail, a multi-use path that, when complete, will span the width of the state, further increasing the popularity of the forest-and the stream of money it generates. Public ownership of the land will permanently protect this natural playground and the revenue it brings to Barre Town.

"The forest will give people a reason to get off the interstate and visit Barre Town, whose businesses at this point count almost entirely on local residents," says Darren Winham, executive director of Barre

Area Development. "We plan on designing the property for maximum entertainment, including mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, running, horseback riding, rock climbing, swimming, scuba diving, rope courses, and possibly even dog-sledding."

Equally as important are rising property values, falling taxes, and the wealth of timber that lies within the forest. Readily accessible open space will increase the home values of 135 nearby homes, attracting new homeowners and businesses, while providing the tax savings that come with establishing public open space. And when sustainably managed, the forest will generate occasional timber revenue for the town.

"We're very excited to take ownership, build the trailhead parking lots, and post the Barre Town Community Forest signs," said Barre Town Manager, Carl Rogers. "The townspeople voted two to one in support of this project to conserve recreational opportunities and revenue, as well as the historical and cultural identity of Barre."

Further evidence conservation of this forest will pay? It provides 900 nearby students a place to play, protects wildlife habitat, and safeguards the town's drinking water supply.

Read the feature story on the Barre Town Forest in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of  Land&People magazine and read a summary of the economic report (PDF).