Oak Hill trails plan gets preliminary OK

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BELLOWS FALLS — A proposal to build a set of trails on 100 acres of town and village-owned land on Oak Hill met with support and some questions.

The Windham County Trails Alliance received the blessings of the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees Tuesday evening to start the process of mapping the trail system, but board members held off on approving the full plan.

The trails group, which is made up primarily of mountain bikers, wants to rebuild some trails that already exist on village and town-owned land on Oak Hill, which includes a ridgeline near Griswold Drive in Bellows Falls, and build two new trails.

"Oak Hill is not an overtly unique forested landscape, yet it harbors a strong sense of beauty," states the trail project outline.

Joe Frigo of Bellows Falls, a member of the trails alliance, said his group was willing to take on the project, and he said the trails would be open to hikers and walkers as well as mountain bikers. He said electric-assist bikes would also be welcome. He said his group was part of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.

He said the views from the ridgeline were "amazing."

Frigo said he hadn't been able to discover who built the existing trails. "Clearly there was a plan," he said.

He said the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps had no record of it.

Trustees had concern with the five-page agreement, saying that potential valuable timber might be cut in the trail-making process.

The board voted to authorize WCoTA to study and map the area, but with the understanding it would come back with a more concrete plan.

"It has a lot of blanks; it isn't complete," said Village President Deborah Wright.

Trustee James McAuliffe said he wanted the public to have a chance to weigh in as well.

Frigo is also seeking approval from the Rockingham Select Board.

Frigo said he wanted to work with the village and town forester, and while he originally said no trees bigger than a six-inch diameter would be cut, Trustee Stefan Golec said a six-inch tree should not be cut. Frigo said the goal was to have a low-speed trail, with a lot of twisting and turning.

Rockingham owns 37 acres on Oak Hill, while Bellows Falls owns just under 100, Frigo said.

Frigo said there are two existing kiosks at the trail heads — one on Griswold Drive and the other on Cedar Crest Road. He proposed moving the Cedar kiosk to the Bellows Falls Recreation Center. Frigo said the group had liability insurance.

"It is an amazing resource," said Frigo, noting that the trail network would attract visitors to the area, as well as new residents.

Rockingham Development Director Gary Fox agreed with Frigo's assessment, that increased outdoor recreation opportunities were a big attraction.

"It's a great economic development tool," Fox said.

"This seems like a great use of village property," said Trustee Jonathan Wright, who said he walks on the Oak Hill land all the time.

Golec said the Oak Hill property was near the village's water supply, Minard's Pond, and he said he was concerned about mountain bike-caused erosion affecting water quality.

Frigo said the Oak Hill land was far enough away from Minard's Pond that any runoff would be away from the pond, and he said the trails alliance would control any erosion.

Golec said he was also concerned about motorized traffic on the trails, and again Frigo said the trail system was for non-motorized recreation, with the exception of the motor-assist bicycles.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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