September 28, 2006

By Erin Post

A forest stewardship plan for about 175 acres of public land in Moretown is in the works, town officials say, with the project to be completed by the spring of 2007.

Steve Sharp, chair of the Moretown Planning Commission, said a meeting between the select board, planning commission, school board, and recreation committee is scheduled for October 16 at 5 p.m. in the Moretown Elementary School to discuss goals and objectives for the stewardship plan. Development of the plan is to be funded through a $2,100 grant from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

According to information from the state, projects must be completed and budget documentation submitted by June 30, 2007.

The multi-board meeting comes as the planning commission continues to gather information about the property, which stretches from Route 100B in Moretown Village east to South Hill Road. Although recreational fields behind Moretown Elementary School are included in the property, the remaining land is generally undeveloped "beyond logging and recreational trails," according to the town's grant proposal.

"This portion of the property has experienced a wide range of uses including logging, mountain biking, hiking, and snowshoeing," the proposal reads.

Developing a stewardship plan should help the town decide how to best use the property in the future, decreasing the potential for "conflict and poor decision making," the grant proposal states.

"The planning process will give town officers and citizens an opportunity to discuss and debate land use issues before they become contentious," the proposal reads.

It calls for the hiring of a consultant to help the town draft the stewardship plan, which is slated to include a comprehensive resource inventory in 16 areas, including forest health, soil type and water quality issues as well as potential recreational opportunities and aesthetic qualities.

The plan also calls for the creation of 'management units,' Sharp said. These would divide the land based on potential uses.

"Certain units might be designated for recreational uses such as around the school and rec fields," he said. "Other units might focus on other goals such as wildlife or timber production."

Russ Barrett, Washington County forester for the state of Vermont, is now working on a forest stand map for the town property. Information from this work should help the town make "sound forest management decisions," Barrett said, by providing information on the roughly 8 to 10 stands, or contiguous groups of trees, within the Moretown forest. Forest composition, quality, and value are determined by evaluating the forest in one-tenth of an acre "plots."

Barrett said via an email that his field work is largely complete, and that he hopes to "have a preliminary report ready for the commission by the 19th of October."

Other resources available to the town are a previous forest management plan created by Barrett in the early 1990s as well as a community map compiled in 2004. This project, completed with help from Moretown Elementary School students, used Global Positioning Systems (GPS) equipment to inventory resources including trails, springs, and forest stands.

Sharp described the stewardship plan as a more "holistic plan" that builds on these prior projects.

The community planning grant was funded through the Trees for Local Communities Cost-Share Grant Program, administered through Vermont's Urban and Community Forestry Grants Program.

As part of the program, Moretown is required to match the grant amount, either through cash or in-kind contributions. The grant proposal calls for the town to contribute $600 cash and $1,560 in both youth and adult volunteer labor.

Sharp said public meetings in addition to the one on October 16 likely be held as work on the stewardship plan moves forward to "discuss and debate what Moretown's citizens envision for the town land."