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The town forest grows up

Vermont Town Forests

New England is rich in traditions, and our favorite is the community forest. It's an idea with its roots in the colonial era, when surveyors set aside public commons for grazing livestock, gathering fuel, and supporting schools and churches. Later laws gave local authorities the ability to establish town forests, whose timber harvests could help cover expenses.

Today, town forests are still sustaining local timber economies. But they're also proving beneficial in ways early New Englanders didn't anticipate: protecting watersheds, attracting tourists, and safeguarding green space as communities grow. As Vermont marks the 100th anniversary of its Municipal Forest Act, we're taking a look at three award-winning Trust for Public Land projects where the time-honored town forest model is being put to new use.

Barre Town Forest

Barre Town ForestPhoto credit: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

A century ago, Barre Town was a major hub for granite. But as mining operations slowed, sugar maple and birch began to reclaim the abandoned quarries, setting the stage for some world-class mountain biking. In 2013, The Trust or Public Land helped permanently protect Barre Town Forest, a magnet for hikers, snowmobilers, and riders who come from across the region to tackle rocky trails with names like "Boulder Dash." As well as an athletic challenge, the trails offer a fascinating glimpse into the community's past: relics and remnants of the old quarry dot the forest, with interpretive signage helps put it all in context. 

Brushwood Community Forest

Brushwood Community ForestPhoto credit: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

For modern-day land planners, conservation is often less about expanding public lands than linking them together. Connectivity boosts trail options for people looking to hike, camp, and explore the woods—plus it's critical for wildlife that need unbroken habitat to roam. Brushwood Community Forest, spanning the towns of Fairlee and West Fairlee, joined two existing pieces of public land to create one of the largest blocks of undeveloped forest the region. Its diverse tree species and large wetland ecosystems are a refuge for bald eagle, moose, bear, and even bobcat—slowly returning to the woods of Vermont after a long absence. 

West Windsor Town Forest

West Windsor Town ForestPhoto credit: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

In West Windsor, we're working with neighbors to improve their much-loved town forest with an unusual addition: a former ski resort. For more than 60 years, Ascutney Mountain drew skiers and snowboarders—as well as hikers and bikers, who use the trails in the summer months. When the resort closed down, locals feared the loss of their favorite trails to development and rallied to add the mountain to the town forest. We're working hard to make it happen. (You can help!)
 

With so much to offer, it's no wonder that the idea of locally owned woodlands has spread from New England all way to the redwoods of California. Is there a community forest where you live? Make it a part of your own traditions! They're the perfect place for a fun day out. 

 

Comments

Jonathan Gibson
The Montpelier office of The Trust for Public Land, with a small but extremely capable staff, is having a terrific impact throughout Vermont in achieving TPL's mission of protecting "land for people" and for ecological values as well. In addition to its work on town forests, TPL has supplied the inspiration and the organizing expertise to establish the new Jim Jeffords State Forest in the central Vermont town of Shrewsbury. This addition to the state's public lands will connect two existing State Forests and will honor Vermont's late U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords for his conservation leadership, which TPL carries on.
Patricia Montef...
As long as you allow the trapping and killing of our precious wildlife, including non-targeted endangered and threatened species, to bolster the fur industry and individual monetary gain, on these lands I can not support all your work. Trapping is not conservation.
Donna Dixon
Beautiful!
Michael Alexander
Thank you for sharing .It is wonderful to spend time in the woods, a place of peace and comfort. Wish there was more of it protected from the thought that every thing needs to produce money.
kate strohm-priesman
A very good idea of communities taking back there forest land. We hare much BLM and national forests here in Oregon, but I fear my grandchildren will never see the wide open spaces and beautiful forests of our country that I have been blessed to experience. There has to be a way to keep our open spaces from greedy business and government sell-offs. Keep up the great work you do!
Lenore Budd
The Trust for Public Land was also instrumental in the creation of Hinesburg's LaPlatte Headwaters Town Forest. The primary rationales for conserving this land were the protection of water quality and wildlife habitat (Indiana Bat), but the forest also provides some timber revenue for the town and offers miles of trails that have become very popular for hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing.

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