For the past 10 years or so, the Waitsfield Conservation Commission has received an annual budget of $2,000 for general operating funds and $10,000 for the restroom, recreation and conservation fund. Treasurer Bruno Grimaldi says that isn’t enough to provide the trail maintenance and other conservation-related expenses the town needs. “It gets spent really quickly,” he said at a conservation commission meeting on Monday, November 14. The budget is typically used for routine operating expenses for town properties the commission is responsible for, including town forest lands.
Over the past 10 years, the commission’s responsibilities have increased, said commission chair Curt Lindberg. Those responsibilities have included the acquisition and expansion of trail networks at the Scrag Mountain Forest parcel, as well as restoring the Austin parcel, among other projects. “To do that work, $2,000 is insufficient,” Lindberg said. “The commission has an objective of better maintaining the existing trail network. We’ve seen an increase in use of trails, which requires more care.”
According to Grimaldi, Warren, by comparison, has an annual budget of $20,000 and Fayston has a budget of $12,000. “We are an anomaly,” he said. He recommended seeking a budget increase to $5,000 for the commission’s annual operating budget and $20,000 for the restroom, recreation and conservation fund. The commission will make this request to the Waitsfield Select Board on Monday, November 22.
Lindberg said the commission is developing a systematic plan to monitor, maintain and improve existing trails. They are also pursuing new trails at Scrag Mountain Forest and will be hosting a public forum on Monday, November 29, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The public forum will be a hybrid event. Because of the ongoing pandemic and capacity limitations at the Waitsfield town office meeting room, the commission urges those interested in participating to join remotely by Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82822236237?pwd=NWxzREZDNmNIZnVhdXMwb1NEeStTQT09.
The proposed expanded trail network incorporates new trail segments on the Scrag gateway parcel acquired by the town in 2017, as well as improvements to trails on other parts of the town forest. This meeting marks the culmination of a year-long planning process with extensive public involvement led by the conservation commission in collaboration with trails consultant Mariah Keagy of Sinuosity.
“After a lot of hard work, thoughtful dialogue and really important public input over the past year, we’re excited to share our proposed trail network with the community,” said commission member and Scrag Trails Working Group lead Phil Huffman. “We think it strikes the right balance between enhancing trail-based opportunities at Scrag for Valley residents and visitors while also doing right by the land and all the other species who call it home.”
Soon after the public forum, the commission will present its final proposal to the select board for approval, and then will move forward with any required permitting and other steps needed before beginning trail construction during the 2022 field season. “If all goes according to plan, we look forward to welcoming community members to enjoy new trail experiences at Scrag by late summer or early fall next year!” Huffman said.