- Building trust in the community
Hartford’s 423-acre town forest has become a recreation destination for its 10,000 residents, as well as people working in or visiting the region. The growing popularity of mountain biking has created challenges between the Hartford Conservation Commission (HCC) and user groups interested in developing more trails. The community is interested in understanding more about the impacts of trails on the health of the forest and its ecosystems, as well as how best to develop trail networks without impacting the other values provided by their town forest.
The Hartford Town Forest is a 423-acre parcel located in a hilly section of town, where it adjoins the 142-acre Hurricane Forest Wildlife Refuge owned by the town's Parks and Recreation Department. The Town Forest includes 12.5 miles of trails that are used recreationally for mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hunting, and snowmobiling. The town forest is managed by the Hartford Conservation Commission; it is under active forest management, guided by a forest management plan, and offers a variety of forestry demonstration sites. The forest hosts an interesting array of wildlife habitats and natural communities.
In about 1900, two reservoirs were constructed to provide municipal water for Hartford and nearby villages. In the 1950s, when the Town transitioned to a well system, the reservoirs and surrounding land fell into disuse. After several decades of minimal municipal attention, the Hartford Conservation Commission emerged in the late 1990s to take an active management role, including multiple rounds of planning and resource inventories, and managing the forest primarily for recreation, as wildlife habitat, and as working land. However, the HCC has struggled to integrate all the plans and inventories. Additionally, as mountain biking has gotten more popular, numerous non-sanctioned trails have appeared in potentially delicate areas of the forest. The tension between the mountain bike community and the conservation commission became non-productive.
The word trees below demonstrate what the community answered when they were asked what word or phrase best describes their existing or desired future experience with the town forest – the size of the word corresponds to the number of times it appeared in the responses.
Strategies to Implement Vision
As a result of the planning process, the town generated a robust action plan matrix. Action steps include:
- Review and redesign existing trail
- Improve signage and wayfinding
- Pause places
- Trails collaborative and maintenance
- Improve maps of the forest – keep up to date, online and in print
- Formal process for proposing and reviewing new trails and facilities
Words of Wisdom
Matt Osborn, town planner and staff support to the Conservation Commission, says that the planning process was very helpful. Additionally, he valued the materials (available in the toolkit pods) provided by the consultants for building trust and drawing the community into discussion. He stressed that having an outside, neutral party conduct the process was very helpful in a community where tensions between different vision for the forest ran high.