Ten towns to get help developing town forest action plans

The Vermont Town Forest Recreation Planning Community Assistance Program has selected 10 communities to receive help with developing town forest recreation and stewardship action plans.

The recipients are Bradford, Hartford, Hardwick, Huntington, Marshfield, Middlebury, Richmond, Wells, Weathersfield and Woodbury. Each town will work with a multidisciplinary team of foresters, community planners and other experts, who will provide advice and technical support, valued at up to $10,000, for multi-use management policy and planning, infrastructure, resource protection, volunteerism and economic development.

"Vermont has a long and proud tradition of town-owned and managed forests," says Kate Forrer, outreach specialist with the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry (VT UCF) Program. "More than 168 municipalities own more than 67,000 acres of forestland, all open for public benefit."

The project is funded through a grant from the USDA Forest Service and requires an in-kind match of volunteer hours, such as public education and community engagement. It is sponsored by VT UCF, a collaborative effort of University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR). Partners are the FPR Recreation Program, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and UVM Extension's Vermont Tourism Research Center.

To be eligible for assistance, towns were required to have, or to soon acquire, a publicly owned parcel of land suitable for a town forest. In addition to providing a letter of support from municipal officials, each applicant was asked to identify a group willing to spearhead the efforts locally such as a conservation commission, tree board or a new ad hoc committee. The selection committee also looked at each town's long-term stewardship goals, conservation status and other community planning efforts such as its open space plan or recreational use planning.

"The values of these town forests are diverse," Forrer points out, "including for watershed protection, wildlife habitat, forest products, outdoor classrooms and neighborhood gathering places. This program seeks to increase the capacity of communities to plan for Vermont's growing forest-based recreation industry, now worth $187 million annually, and develop new resources to support sustainable town forest stewardship and forest-based recreation."