Over the next year, VT Urban & Community Forestry Program (VT UCF) will be working with, SE Group, a consulting firm that specializes in community planning, to engage ten selected communities in a robust planning process to develop action-based town forest recreation plans. The planning model includes public visioning sessions, needs assessments, facilitated walks in the forests, and a plan that provides actionable strategies to assist communities in taking the next steps. In 2018, we will be developing comprehensive action-oriented town forest stewardship and recreation plans in ten communities throughout Vermont. Based on the outcomes of these diverse forests and communities, we’ll release a town forest recreation planning toolkit to support sustainable, forest-based recreation in town forests statewide.
More Details on the Town Forest Recreation Planning Toolkit
Specifically, the intent behind the Forest Recreation Planning Toolkit is to build up a replicable process and a set of tools that can be used for both this professionally-facilitated process with the first ten communities, and for other towns to do their own plans after this project has ended. The process below describes the elements of the toolkit and how it could be used by communities.
The Toolkit will clearly outline the overall process and specific steps needed to complete a Town Forest Recreation Action Plan, including identification of who should complete each step in the process and the support and resources available to communities. It will also include a series of modular materials communities could “turn on and off” depending on each town forests’ unique situation and set of issues (passive recreation, agriculture, mountain biking, wildlife, winter use, ponds/lakes, education, etc.).
The suite of tailored materials could be delivered through completion of an online survey form that asks community leaders to answer a series of questions about the character, location, existing facilities and desired activities in their town forest. Based on their responses, the community would be directed to content that will help them develop a Town Forest Recreation Plan. Content would be provided through templated PDF or Microsoft Office materials that will allow them to edit them for their own needs—either to add the specific town forest name, community logos, etc. or to modify questions and materials to suit their requirements.
Content included in the Toolkit will be organized through five (5) specific “pods.” These will include an existing conditions and assessment pod, a public engagement pod, a natural resource pod, a plan development pod, and an implementation pod. Each are described below.
The existing conditions and assessment pod will provide a checklist to communities to identify background information and municipal plans that should be considered in developing their plan. This pod will also include trail counting forms and extrapolation sheets modified for Vermont from the National Bike and Pedestrian Documentation Project materials. Trail and facility assessment checklists will also be included, so the baseline conditions of the town forest can be well understood. Information about available resources such as VT UCF and the county foresters will also be provided.
The public engagement pod will provide a series of promotional material templates, such as flyers and press releases, and public meeting materials, like informational boards and handouts, that communities can use to explore concepts and constraints with the public. Informational board templates will provide opportunities to both present information and gather feedback through write in questions, dot exercises and similar interactions. Visioning materials that allow towns to identify their priorities for use of their forests will be an integral part of this pod. For
example, use of this pod will enable communities to understand how they prioritize natural habitat, extraction, and recreation, of if they seek a combination of all three. Instructions on how to use the VT Center for Geographic Information (VCGI) interactive map viewer to produce basic maps will also be included in this pod. Finally, guidance and best practices on how to facilitate public meetings will round out the range of materials available in this pod.
The natural resources pod will focus on forest health; streams; wetlands; rare, threatened and endangered species; significant wildlife habitat; and significant natural communities. For this pod we will develop a check list with specific questions related to each of the resources above. In the Toolbox will be links to existing data resources that can be used to answer checklist questions. A component of this will be the ANR atlas which provides the known occurrences of all the resources listed above. Another important component is for individual towns to contact knowledgeable residents and the County Forester. Through the checklist the towns will prescreen their forests for the presence of significant resources that will need to be considered as part of any projects. Depending on the activities proposed, the kit will provide links to relevant regulatory documents and contact information at both the State and Federal level for each of the natural resource areas. Our focus in the Toolkit is to make towns aware of potential resource issues and to provide the connections to resources and people available to help them without any expense.
The plan development pod will help facilitate the development of a Town Forest Recreation Plan by interested communities. The pod will include templates and guidance on crafting a vision statement for a town forest. This pod will also include case studies of each of the 10 selected communities and their plans, highlighting the process they undertook. The plan development pod will also create a recreational improvements strategy database that will allow communities to search sample implementation actions based on resources, topics or activities. This database will include all strategies contained in the 10 established plans. Template action plan tables with columns for responsibility, timing (immediate, short-term, medium-term, long-term), partners involved, action or planning dependencies, available support resources, funding and grant opportunities, and order of magnitude costs will also be included.
The implementation pod will contain a list of available grant, funding and support resources relevant to the specific situation identified for each town forest. The pod will also include the completed action plans from all ten communities, highlighting the most effective implementation strategies. An index of standard recreational improvement costs (based on the order-of-magnitude costs generated for the 10 selected communities) will also be provided to give communities a sense of the costs associated with contemplated improvements. Grant writing best practices and local plan adoption guidance will also be included in this pod.
The Ten Towns VT UCF and SE Group will be working with are:
If you have questions about the program please contact Kate Forrer at firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-476-2003 ext 210.
This initiative is funded in part by a grant from the USDA Forest Service and is a partnership with FPR Recreation Program; the Vermont Agency of Commerce, and Community Development; and UVM Extension’s Vermont Tourism Research Center.