- Getting started with a new town forest
Richmond has a unique opportunity to find a balance from the start. When the community started the planning process, they were in the final stages of acquiring a 428-acre parcel that would become the Richmond Town Forest. Many ideas were being considered in the community for potential uses including traditional uses like hunting and hiking to using the forest as a site to train trail builders. In addition, Richmond residents and business people were interested in exploring the connection between the town forest and downtown, thus supporting Richmond's growth as an outdoor recreation destination and increasing economic opportunities for existing restaurants, breweries, shops, and services.
The Andrews Community Forest is a 428-acre, largely forested parcel just outside Richmond village (population 4,115). The property is a diverse forestland with two small meadows. It was once a working farm with pasture lands and logging operations. The farm, including barns on an adjacent property, is listed on the national register of historic places.
The forest is part of the Chittenden County Uplands Conservation Project and is part of a 6,000 acre contiguous forestland, adjoining the 72,000 acre Mt Mansfield Forest Block. The VT Department of Fish and Wildlife has ranked the parcel in the top 3% of wildlife habitats in the state and it is in Vermont’s only “globally important bird area.” It contains several headwater streams that flow into the Winooski River. The property also includes a small beaver pond, wetlands, and at least two vernal pools. The quality of these water resources is directly related to the health of the surrounding forest.
Farming operations began on the property in about 1800. In 1923, the Andrews family took ownership, actively managing the forest and allowing hunting and other public recreational use. In 2018, with the assistance of the Vermont Land Trust, the town purchased the parcel from the family to create a new community forest. Simultaneous with the sale, a conservation easement was conveyed to both the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to protect the property’s natural resources and ensure public access in perpetuity.
The conservation easement also requires a management plan for the forest. The Community Forest Steering Committee, working with SE Group and Arrowwood Environmental, developed a forest management plan in the fall of 2018. The plan sets the allowed uses, management objectives, and management actions for the forest. Currently, a Vermont Area Snow Travelers (VAST) trail and old forest management roads are the primary trail system, though a new, sustainably built trail system is planned for the forest.
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. From it, the planning commission selected several steps that seemed to achieve the greatest result with a manageable amount of effort. Strategies include:
- Parking lot and trailhead development
- Existing trail conditions assessment and review
- Develop a trail system
- Access paths and connections
- Trail markers and signage
- Richmond Trails Collaborative
- Host school programs and scientific research in the forest
Words of Wisdom
"For a small town like Richmond, it's key to have support from interested organizations outside of town government when developing these kinds of plans," says Geoff Urbanik who was Richmond's Town Manager during the process. He also notes that having a plan for what to do with the Town Forest was instrumental in acquiring the land.