TOWNSHEND -- Vermont's old roads continue to prompt new questions as some towns grapple with maps and historical research ahead of a 2015 deadline set by the state.
The "ancient road" issue is the topic of a 6 p.m. hearing Monday at Townshend's town hall, where officials plan to talk about several public routes that, in some cases, don't even have clear names.
Johnathan Croft, the state's mapping-unit chief and the point man on ancient roads, said Vermont's towns have taken varying approaches to a complicated state law that has consequences for governments and for property owners.
"It's very nuanced," Croft said. "I've handled a lot of questions on ancient roads from 2006 on."
That's the year when state lawmakers approved Act 178, which requires towns to account for all class 4 roads and "legal trails" on official maps by July 1, 2015. Those that are not mapped by then will cease to be public rights of way and will revert to adjoining landowners.
It sounds simple enough, but there are many complications. Because towns receive no state aid for those lesser roads, many have not appeared on maps for generations.
And a town's selectboard, if it wants to add a class 4 road or trail to the official map, must show the state proof that the route is public. Examples of adequate proof include surveys or meeting minutes.
Croft acknowledges the difficulty of finding such proof in some cases.
Asked what town officials should do if they cannot find documentation, Croft said simply: "That's a really tough one."
"It's about trying to find whatever documentation there is," he said, adding that Selectboards cannot simply declare that a road is public.
"We want to see something more concrete than that," Croft said.
That may be one reason that officials in some towns simply have decided not to get involved in a difficult, time-consuming process. Newfane is one example.
"The town of Newfane decided to keep the highway map as it stands," Administrative Assistant Shannon Meckle said. "They didn't add any (roads), and they didn't take any away."
In neighboring Dummerston, officials still are discussing the issue and may hold a hearing later this year.
Townshend's hearing on Monday will focus on several "ancient roads and corridors" including Fessenden Cemetery, Barber, Gale, Round Hill Cemetery, School House, Fisher, Greenwood Drive, Phoenix Way, Top Notch Farm Lane, Riverdale, Steifel and Deer Ridge.
Also listed are "unnamed Melis/Bills" and "unnamed Eastwood/Charles."
Hedy Harris, who chairs Townshend's Selectboard, said officials have been studying the town's ancient roads and have made several site visits.
"There are lots of these that nobody cares one way or the other about," Harris said.
But she points out that some old roads still could serve a purpose. Residents may use them for recreational purposes, for instance, or a route may be an important access for emergency personnel.
If the town doesn't map such a road by 2015, "then we have no right to do anything with it," Harris said.
Preserving or abdicating public rights of way is the point of the state's mapping mandate.
Croft said confusion over old road boundaries has been sparking legal disputes. In one case, a couple that was trying to expand their Chittenden home in 2003 were informed that the house actually had been built on a road that had not been maintained since the early 1800s.
That case was resolved by a court settlement. But Croft said it illustrates an important point about long-forgotten roads and Vermont law.
"If a highway is legally established and never formally discontinued, it stays on the books," he said.
It is not clear, though, whether the state's push for mapping will resolve all such issues.
There is no question that roads known as "unidentified corridors" -- defined as those routes that don't appear on a map and "are not otherwise clearly observable by physical evidence of their use as a highway or trail" -- will disappear in 2015.
But Croft acknowledged that officials remain unclear about the fate of unmapped roads that still show clear signs of being a road.
"For those that are observable, it's still an open question what happens," he said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275..