- Balancing multiple management objectives and uses
With 620 acres the Virginia Stranahan Memorial Forest offers a little bit for everyone including a diverse array of recreation opportunities, outdoor education, maple sugaring, ecologically sensitive areas, and wildlife habitat. Requests for additional trails and uses have begun to create user conflicts on trails and a growing sense that there needs to be an overarching plan based on input from the community to guide decisions. Once they have the balance question answered, Marshfield is interested in tackling the specifics of trails planning and design.
Marshfield (population 1,650) has a strong connection with neighboring Plainfield, as the two towns share a school and residents often shop and recreate in the neighboring town.
The Virginia Stranahan Memorial Town Forest, on the western edge of Marshfield, is a 620-acre forest with 500 acres of forest and 120 acres of mixed agricultural and pasture lands. The town acquired the land in 2007, buying it at a reduced price from the Stranahan Trust. From the time of Marshfield’s founding until the town’s acquisition, the parcel was a private farm and forest with logging operations, homesteads and agriculture. Many of the former logging roads are now used as trails. The town forest has 6 miles of hiking/mountain biking/skiing trails, and 1.3 miles of Vermont Area Snow Travelers (VAST) trail running through it. It features vernal pools, beaver ponds, rich hardwood forests, streams, wildflowers, and is a habitat for many species. The property also has an apple orchard and historic foundations and stone walls. A leased subarbush also exists on the property. Riders in Plainfield and Marshfield (RIPM) have constructed bike-optimized multi-use trails throughout sections of the forest. Some of the bike trails follow the tap lines, and the sugarer is able to raise and lower the lines depending on the season to optimize forest accessibility.
The property’s conservation easement is co-held by the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The easement stresses the conservation of natural resources and limits development (including limiting the forest to two six-car parking lots). It also mandates that the town prepare a forest management plan, to be approved by the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The town has prepared such a plan and updates it on a 5-year cycle. The plan establishes the management structure of the forest: the Stranahan Stewardship Committee is responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the forest; and the town Select Board makes all big-picture management decisions. Recent discussions about timber management have been controversial.
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. The following pages are highlights from that table. They provide more detail on the strategies that are most likely to achieve the community’s vision for the forest and that have been identified by community members and the steering committee as top priorities. These include:
- Existing trail review and redesign
- Improving access from Jake Martin Road
- Local Partnerships and Engagement
- Formal process for proposing and reviewing new trails and facilities
- Pause places
- Enhance homestead area
Words of Wisdom
"We loved attending meetings with the other towns that were working through this process with us," says Sarah Foster, member of the Forest Committee. "Walking into a room with a broad range of people with different skillsets but coming together with a common ground was hugely valuable." Marshfield did have some trouble getting all their stakeholders to the table. "We noticed our meetings were skewing away from the demographics of our town," Foster continues. "We'd like to find a way to make the community feedback portions easier for working people so everyone's voices can be represented as we make a plan for our public forest."