More access to backcountry fun

Posted


By Chris Mays

Brattleboro Reformer



DOVER — A recent meeting with National Forest Service representatives left members of a local trails committee hopeful that a project to expand public access to backcountry areas for biking, hiking and skiing could be completed next year.

"We went and hiked, and it was awesome," Andy McLean, chairman of the Dover Area Recreation Trails committee and Dover town clerk, said Wednesday during a committee meeting. "They were incredibly positive about our projects."

The goal is to have a parking area on Handle Road by an approximately 2.39 mile long, 50-feet wide path that will lead to a trail network within about 500 acres owned by the National Forest Service. The trailhead would enable public access to the Deerfield Ridge Trail, which is just south of Sunbrook, a mountain face at the Mount Snow ski resort. The property is outside of the resort's permitted area but resort employees are involved in the project.

The local proposal would be included in the forest service's Somerset Integrated Resource Project. The committee is looking at handing in details by November as the project goes out to public comment in December.

Committee member Steve Petrik said forest service representatives were "really impressed" at the Aug. 23 site visit.

"You know, our work paid off," said McLean.

He said trails will have to be built to forest service specifications and signs will need to be posted. He expects some fieldwork could be done this year. The committee meets again Sept. 19.

In an interview, McLean said the Somerset project also will focus on road maintenance, timber harvest, protecting different species and "redoing Grout Pond." His group is solely interested in recreation.

"And of course," McLean said, "as we look at the recreation, we will have and already have had some biologists and soils people come up."

He said land once owned by a lumber company was sold then private properties were built, creating limited access to the ridge trail until 2008 when the forest service purchased a piece of property that made entry through Handle Road possible without trespassing.

Nearby property owners have been made aware of the latest plans. Merrill Mundell is surveying and engineering for the trailhead and attorney Chris Cady is writing up easements to be signed by the Bearings Crossing condo complex and a neighbor to the south.

Ethan Ready, public affairs offices for the forest service, said his group has been working closely with the town of Dover, the DART committee and Mount Snow on issues related to the project.

"Cooperation is needed between the town of Dover, United States Forest Service and private land owners to the north and south of the Forest Service parcel in order to make that location work," he said in an email. "Work between all parties is continuing with the hope of identifying a proposed alternative that would satisfy the needs of all. We will continue to develop options for this access point with each stakeholder and provide additional details through our formal proposed action which we are currently planning on making available for public comment in December of 2018."

More than a dozen interested parties came out for the site visit "and some great ideas were day-lighted," said Ready.

"Those ideas included not only discussion on the proposed parking area but proposed concepts for the layout and use of a trail to access the Deerfield Ridge Trail," he said. "We look forward to our continued work and providing recreation access to the Green Mountain National Forest through our collaboration with the public, municipalities, and partners we serve."

McLean had brought a proposal to buy a subdivided lot for $500,000 to voters at annual Town Meeting in 2007. He said townspeople told him it was a good idea but he was "insane" to suggest the town should take out such a big bond. Instead, he was advised to try and work with the property newly acquired by the forest service. He recalled getting blank stares from forest service representatives when he first brought up elements of the project to them in 2007 when the land was under contract to be purchased.

Now, McLean said, the forest service is comfortable with some of his committee's ideas.

"It's all about having people at the National Forest Service who are willing to listen and help you and wanting to promote your project," he said. "That's what we've wound up with, finally, which is really cool."

McLean said adding trails can be difficult for the forest service because it does not have the resources to maintain and enforce their regulations on the trail system it already has. The partnerships, he said, were "key to the project getting as far as it did."

McLean called the ridge trail "beautiful."

"But it's not for everyone," he said. "You can end up in some thick areas. You definitely want to have your wits about you when you're out there."

He said some switchbacks will need to be built in some especially steep spots.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.




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