Town forests are as integral to Vermont's urban forest as the trees along streets and in town parks. There are over 68,000 acres of forestland owned by 168 municipalities, all open to the public to enjoy. The values of town forests are diverse, from watershed protection, wildlife habitat, and forests products to public recreation and tourist destinations, outdoor classrooms and community gathering places. Growing pressure on town forests for recreation, coupled with a lack of capacity at the municipal level to make an informed decision around balancing the growing recreation interests and the health of the forest, has led to a need for local recreation planning assistance.
To empower communities to move forward with confidence on recreation projects in their town forest, Vermont’s Urban & Community Forestry Program, a partnership of UVM Extension and Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, worked with a consulting firm that specializing in community planning, to engage the 10 communities in a year-long planning process to develop action-based town forest recreation plans. This process provided robust community involvement and consideration of potential projects, so the community can move forward with confidence knowing that it is addressing the needs and preferences of its residents and visitors, is protecting the forest resources in its charge and is effectively managing the forest for the resources and activities its values.
Throughout the year-long process, project partners and local steering committee members attended over 50 public meetings, walked over 60 miles of town forest trails, welcomed over 650 community members to town forest recreation planning presentations and public meetings, and engaged over 1,200 Vermonters in public visioning and planning for the future of their town forest! This work will continue, beyond the 10 communities, through an interactive town forest recreation planning toolkit, which will be available in early 2019 to help support all Vermont communities in sustainable, forest-based recreation planning in town forests.