- What is the future for public land in Huntington?
- Should we get a new town forest?
Background and Overview
The Huntington (population 1,875) Town Forest is a 100-acre parcel that abuts Camel’s Hump State Forest on one side and private lands on the others. In 1979, the woodworking company that owned the land sold it to the Nature Conservancy. In 1984, the Conservancy transferred the parcel to the State of Vermont, who sold it to the town that same year. The property was logged in 1991 but has not had forest management or harvesting since.
Access to the Forest is a tremendous challenge. There is no public access in the summer. In the winter, the .9 miles of trail (maintained by the Camel’s Hump Nordic Ski Area and the Catamount Trail Association) is only accessible by 3-mile snowshoe or cross-country ski trek. The Catamount Trail and the Camel’s Hump Challenge Trail pass through the boundaries of the forest under a winter-only easement. The town has been exploring improving access to the Forest for many years but has not found a solution. Currently, the Huntington Conservation Commission manages the Forest primarily as a wildlife habitat.
There are myriad other opportunities in Huntington for year-round outdoor and forest-based recreation. Many private landowners allow public recreational access to their properties, and multiple private institutions offer public recreation. The 20,000-acre Camel’s Hump State Park is partially in Huntington, including the trailhead for the park’s most popular summit trail. Camel’s Hump State Forest and the nearby Huntington Gap Wildlife Management Area are open to hunting, fishing and hiking. The Huntington River and its many tributaries provide opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating. Three of the state’s major trails – the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail and the Vermont Area Snow Travelers (VAST) trail – all pass through Huntington. The local VAST club has maintained winter trails in the area for over 40 years, working with private landowners and the State Forest to have access to a groomed trail corridor that connects neighboring towns and counties, bringing snow recreation from across the state.
Needs and Assessment
Recognizing that the current town forest would never been easily accessible, the steering committee reached out to their community in an attempt to learn their vision for the future of public lands in Huntington, and gauge their enthusiasm for purchasing a second town forest. Community members identified the following issues and needs:
1. Difficult/limited access to existing town forest and limited knowledge of its existence
2. Lack of public trails near village
3. No non-winter trails in existing town forest
4. No designated space for dogs in town
5. Limited opportunities for forest recreation and education in town
6. Neighbors’ concerns about increased use of the town forest or any future public land
7. Many trails on private land in town
8. People drive to other towns to walk or ride trails
9. Many in the community would like to see more options for mountain biking in huntington
10. Challenge with funding, timing, and capacity to purchase new land
11. Walking in town requires walking on main roads with limited shoulder
12. Limited access and information about camel’s Hump State Forest for visitors and residents
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 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. <each list item will link to its one pager>
Acquire a new town forest
Partnerships for recreation and programming
Trails and open space planning
Access paths and connections
Conservation and stewardship
The process was very useful for bringing smaller conversations that had been simmering for years to the broader community, and galvanizing support, reports Jenna Koloski of the Huntington Conservation Commission. She emphasizes that it is imperative to engage voices from the whole community, not just the ones who usually show up at Conservation Commission meetings. “Be deliberate about recruiting across the community. Be thoughtful about inclusivity,” she says.