A town forest recreation plan offers a voice to the community and a roadmap for community leaders and volunteers toward sustainable recreational use of the town forest. This step-by-step planning process is a framework to develop a community vision, invite robust community engagement, and create actionable strategies. The process is designed to be flexible and can be adapted to meet your community's needs and capacity.
10 Steps to Creating a Town Forest Recreation Plan
Step 1. Select a Community Steering Committee
The first step in the planning process is to form a steering committee. This is a short term committee tasked with meeting throughout the planning process to provide input, prepare for public workshops, discuss the public’s feedback, and help draft the action-based strategies for the town forest recreation plan. Committee members will also serve ambassadors, helping to champion the local planning process.
- The Steering Committee Guidance offers suggestions on selecting committee members and an overview of roles and responsibilities.
Step 2. Determine and Assess Existing Conditions
Once the steering committee is formed, the members will be tasked with documenting and assessing the existing conditions in the town forest and community at large. Specific tasks to gather metrics and information may include:
- Compile baseline documentation using the Baseline Information Checklist.
- Develop maps of the forest and the surrounding area, including a base map, a context map with surrounding parcels and a natural resource map. Use the Base Mapping Guidance.
- Create a Community Profile using the Community Profile Instructions to share community-level date and information at workshops and events.
- Hold a Forest Walk, with steering committee members and key stakeholders, to identify existing features, trails, and any issues to be addressed during the planning process. Use the Trail & Facility Assessment Form to capture identified features.
- Consider assessing current recreational use by conducting a trail count. See Volunteer Trail Counting Forms.
- Use the Natural Resource Inventory Guidelines to inventory existing natural resources
- Contact your County Forester using the County Forester Resource for assistance identifying natural resource features in the forest.
Step 3. Hold a Steering Committee Kickoff Meeting
To begin the public engagement process, you should inform and solicit the ideas of the steering committee at a kickoff meeting.
- Steering Committee Guidance provides an overview of the goals of this meeting and instructions on how to facilitate it.
- Use the Kick-off Meeting PowerPoint Presentation to share an overview of the process and role of steering committee members
- Each committee member will need to complete a SWOT Worksheet before the meeting
- Complete the Facilitator Worksheet at the meeting. This worksheet is intended to create an open-ended conversation with steering committee members around their vision for their town forest, their expectations for the plan, their ideas for the future, and the potential challenges they see in the process.
Step 4. Hold a Visioning Workshop
The first major public outreach event is a visioning workshop. This workshop is designed to encourage community participation through a series of stations set up in a room, including informational boards, dot exercises, comment cards, and one-on-one conversation. The goal of this event is to gain community input on needs and vision for the town forest.
To prepare for this workshop:
- Read the Public Engagement Overview for general tips and the overall process of collecting community input.
- Check out the Steering Committee Guidance for information on the steering committee's role in the meeting and necessary actions to prepare for each planning step.
- Details on the preparation for the workshop and meeting facilitation strategies are available in Public Meeting Facilitation Guidance. This guidance also contains instructions for filling out the Planning Boards that will be printed and displayed around the room to collect public input at the Public Visioning Workshop.
- Find guidance on how to publicize the meeting in Outreach and Promotional Materials Guidance and get Public Visioning Workshop Promotional Materials Templates such as a sample flyer, press release, social media posts, and newsletter article.
- Print the Workshop Sign-in Sheet to keep track of participants.
Step 5. Conduct a Community Survey
After the public visioning workshop, a community survey should be developed that asks the same questions asked at the visioning workshop in order to engage those who were unable to attend.
Step 6. Draft a Vision Framework
Once the visioning results are complete, and all stakeholders have had time to review them, the steering committee can begin drafting the vision framework.
- General instructions are provided in the Steering Committee Guidance.
- Once the survey is complete, use the Survey Guidance to interpret and analyze results. That document guides you through filling out the Draft Strategies Results Template, which will summarize the results of both the survey and visioning workshop.
- Each steering committee member can complete the Vision Framework Guidance and Worksheet, on their own, and then meet as a committee, or the committee can meet to complete it as a group. When completing this worksheet, the steering committee should consult the summarized Visioning Results, revisit the Facilitator Worksheet and SWOT Worksheet during the steering committee kick-off meeting, baseline maps, and any additional pertinent information such as the conservation easement (if applicable), as well as the town forest management plan.
- Use the Recreational Improvements Strategy Database as a reference to select strategies for the town forest recreation plan. The committee should select the key attributes and the strategies that they feel suit their forest, customizing the description to reflect forest-specific needs.
Step 7. Hold a Draft Strategies Workshop
After developing a vision framework, the next engagement event is a draft strategy workshop. The goal of this workshop is to present the community feedback heard in the visioning process and to develop strategies to support the community in achieving that vision for the town forest. This workshop has a slightly different format than the previous visioning workshop, with two parts: a presentation of the vision and an open house. After presenting the feedback and draft vision, attendees will be asked to prioritize the strategies on boards and will have an opportunity to suggest locations to implement specific strategies on a large map of the town forest.
- An overview of the goals of the workshop and instructions on preparing are found in the Public Meeting Facilitation Guidance.
- Information on the role of the steering committee is available in the Steering Committee Guidance.
- Materials for promoting the workshop are available in Promotional Materials Templates, along with suggestions on using these materials in Outreach and Promotional Material Guidance.
- Templates are available for the Priority Strategy Boards, PowerPoint Presentation, and Floor Mapping Exercise.
- The results of the meeting, including photos of the boards, should be compiled in the Strategies Results Template.
Step 8. Develop a Draft Plan
After the draft strategies workshop is complete, the steering committee is now ready to begin preparing a draft town forest recreation plan.
- The Steering Committee Guidance describes the recommended process for the steering committee to draft the plan.
- For inspiration and ideas, consult the case studies in the Town Forest Stories Pod.
- Based on the selected strategies and floor map from the strategies workshop, make a bubble diagram planning map using the Bubble Diagram Guidance. When choosing locations for the various strategies, consider the natural resources present in the forest. Refer to the information in Town Forest Natural Resources Guide to determine appropriate areas.
- Start with the Plan Template. The templates draw on materials and language prepared earlier in the planning process, such as the Vision Framework and Worksheet. To include estimated costs for the strategies, consult the Index of Standard Recreational Improvement Costs.
- Finally, the steering committee should share the plan with the County Forester using County Forester Resources.
Step 9. Present Draft Plan to Community
Once the draft plan is complete, the steering committee should present the draft plan to the Selectboard and community at large. This presentation is an opportunity to showcase not only the plan but to highlight the public engagement in the process. Any feedback or comments from this public presentation should be incorporated into the final document. The official adoption of the plan is up to the community. While it is not necessary, a letter of support form the Selectboard regarding the plan may be valuable when seeking funding for plan implementation.
Step 10. Implement the Plan
Finally, the last phase of the planning process is plan implementation. Fortunately, there are many resources available in the toolkit to help you implement the plan.
- Vermont Town Forest Stewardship Guide gives general guidance on stewardship in your town forest and shares examples and stories from town forests throughout Vermont.
- Model Proposal Review Process and the Town Forest Natural Resource Guide should be incorporated into the management of the forest to ensure future improvements to the forest are sensitive to natural resources, constructed according to best practices, and in line with the management plan and community vision for the forest.
- To raise the necessary funds for these improvements, check out the Funding Sources List and the Grant Writing Best Practices to help you win the grants.
Looking for specific planning resources? Check out the planning pods, that offer a collection of materials based on different themes from the planning process.