Hardwick Trails and Buffalo Mountain: how can we be more proactive about planning our shared space with multiple, sometimes conflicting, stakeholders? How can we increase access to an underutilized but beloved public good?
Hardwick: population 2,949.
The Hardwick Town Forest consists of two properties, Hardwick Trails and Buffalo Mountain. Hardwick Trails is behind Hazen Union School and is comprised of multiple parcels each owned by the school district or one of various town departments. It’s actively used by several schools, including Hazen Union School and the
Green Mountain Technology and Career Center Forestry Program (they practice logging, maintain a sugar bush, and help with forest maintenance), and by the greater Hardwick community. A 9.6 mile multi-use trail network, maintained by the Hardwick Trails Committee and other volunteers, is popular for skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and mountain biking. Trails are groomed in the winter, and cross-country ski and shoe shoeing equipment are available for the community in a cabin at the entrance to the trails. Some natural resource inventories have been conducted on the school-owned parcel; there have been no plans or inventories done on the town-owned parcel.
Buffalo Mountain is a 70-acre parcel owned by the town. It is remote, undeveloped, and underutilized, accessed primarily by snowmobilers and ATV riders via a trail on one side of the parcel or a class 4 road on the other. Some forest management has occurred, but no other plans or natural resource inventories have been completed on the parcel.
Needs and Assessment
The steering committee came into this process wondering how they could improve communication, community, and strategies between multiple stakeholders with different opinions. Instead, they found that the community wanted to focus on physical improvements to the sites. Through the public engagement process, community members identified the issues and needs associated with the forest to be resolved in this planning process, including:
1. Define management scheme through multi-party collaboration
2. Improve access and awareness of Buffalo Mountain parcel
3. Creation of a scenic vista point or destination on Buffalo Mountain
4. Creation of a forest management plan for Buffalo Mountain
5. Creation of a forest management plan for Hardwick Trails
6. Connecting Hardwick Trails to a broader regional trail system
7. Connectivity with Lamoille Valley Rail Trail
8. Coordinated forest education program
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.
As a result of the planning process, the community 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. <each list item will link to its one pager>
- Trail network connectivity
- Hardwick Trails interpretive signage
- Enhance community cross-country skiing
- New trails at Hardwick Trails
- Improve access to Buffalo Mountain
- Trail system at Buffalo Mountain
- Warming hut on Buffalo Mountain
- Town forest committee
Ideas Worth Sharing
“The best results will come from patient and thorough canvassing of the community’s wants and needs,” says Eric Remick, Chair of the Select Board, when asked if he has any advice to share on the process. “It’s not always exciting, but the results are important so be sure to spend the necessary time on the community survey and the needs assessment portions of the process.”