Waitsfield’s Scrag Forest Gateway project has received a second grant, this one for $125,000, from the Vermont Housing and Foundation Board. The new grant was announced this week. In May the project received a U.S. Forest Service grant of $256,650, bringing the total grant funding available to $381,650.
Waitsfield has a limited chance to purchase a 110-acre parcel of land that abuts the town’s Scrag Forest for $450,000. Adding that parcel to the town forest will provide a gateway into the town forest. The town’s current access, via Bowen Road, is limited as is parking.
The land is owned by Judy and Howard Saffan who have offered the town the chance to buy the land before it is sold for development. The Saffan parcel provides the only legal public access into the town forest.
“With town ownership of the land, the town forest will no longer be landlocked and significant improvements in parking and recreational trails could be made to it so that Mad River Valley residents and visitors can fully enjoy this special forest,” said Liza Walker of the Vermont Land Trust (VLT).
The appraised value of the parcel is $650,000. Waitsfield’s share in the purchase of the Saffan land is proposed as a $40,000 contribution from the town’s Restroom, Recreation and Conservation Fund. In addition to the contribution from Waitsfield, organizers will need to raise an additional $75,000 to cover project-related costs that range from title work, appraisals, mapping and legal work drafting the conservation easements. The sale will close in 2017.
Walker and Phil Huffman, chair of the Waitsfield Conservation Commission, are spearheading the project and are about to start their public outreach on the project. While the Waitsfield Select Board wrote a letter in support of the project, the board wants the VLT and the conservation commission to undertake extensive community outreach before committing to the $40,000 contribution.
“They gave their approval to go forward and seek grant funding from federal and state agencies and see if we could work out other aspects of the project. They said they wanted to see what happened with grants and then have further outreach from us and input from the public. Their vote was essentially to move forward with trying to make the project happen understanding that if the other pieces fell into place it would include a $40,000 contribution as the town’s skin in the game,” Huffman explained.
To that end, the conservation commission and VLT have put together a series of public events to provide the public with opportunities to learn more about the project. The Waitsfield Conservation Commission, with the Vermont Land Trust, will host a site visit to the land on Saturday, October 29, from 1 to 5 p.m. All are welcome to join for an orientation to the land proposed for town ownership. The event will include a trail walk to view property features such as a waterfall and a log landing used for the town’s recent timber harvest in the Scrag Forest. Weather and time permitting, there may also be a guided hike to higher elevations of the town’s existing Scrag Forest lands.
Additional events will include a property visit on Thursday, October 20, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., an evening public forum, date and place to be determined, and an open discussion about the project at the select board’s meeting on November 28. Following this series of outreach events, the select board will decide whether to go forward with town acquisition of this parcel.
“We want to offer an array of opportunities to provide every personality type the chance to get engaged. We’re really hoping to have some sort of awakening of the community that this is happening,” Walker said.
“From early on we’ve been keen, along with the select board, to have good community dialogue about this project. We hope that ultimately people do see this project as an important endeavor for the town to undertake and something that is worthy of a modest town investment that allows us to take advantage of the vast majority of funding coming from other sources,” Huffman explained.
“Our thinking is that if this idea is something that resonated with the community, with our community seeking more places to turn to for an afternoon hike with the dog or family, or a place to go hunting, it will work. The more we hear from people about what they want, the better the forest can serve the community,” Walker added.