Board Talks Town Forest, Community Event

by Doug McClure

WOLCOTT – At last Wednesday’s select board meeting, the Wolcott board received a “very positive” update on the Wolcott Town Forest by Senior Project Manager Kate Wanner from the Trust for Public Land. The board also looked toward a September 10 community event designed to engage the public on opportunities the board identified for the town. 

A big piece of the Wolcott Town Forest’s viability is funding. Wanner has been working with Town Administrator Randall Szott to keep expenditures as low as possible. She previously described Vermont’s Water Infrastructure Sponsorship Program (WISPr) as a way to limit costs. WISPr funding involves a process where larger towns making upgrades to their wastewater infrastructure agree to sponsor small projects in other towns in exchange for better terms from the Vermont Clean Water State Revolving Fund. 

Burlington is one such town, and Wanner said “they are very positive about sponsoring the project.” The timeline is tight, as Burlington’s Water Resources Division must meet its deadlines by the end of the year. If it were to happen, Wanner said, “then they would be able to spin off up to $1.2m for natural resources infrastructure projects” such as the town forest. Burlington wants to fund the $350,000 Winooski Valley Park District Project, which means up to $940,000 could become available. 

The funds can be used for land purchases and associated costs such as surveying, title work, appraisal, and environmental funds. The timeline means a “definitive” answer probably won’t come until mid-November. 

If the sponsorship does not work out, Wanner said other options are on the table for a “Plan B” to fund the town forest, including applying for funds from the federal government, the Vermont Housing Conservation Board, or the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC). It is possible that a small portion of Wolcott’s American Rescue Plan Act funding could be used, but Wanner said, “we are trying to limit the cost to Wolcott [so] it will be minimal.”

Wanner said that the VOREC grants, which do not have a town match, are for creating recreational infrastructure and range from $50,000 to $200,000. Wanner said that her target is to spend only $25,000 of town money, even if the project’s full-scale version, with a million-dollar budget, is chosen. 

The family selling a 100-acre parcel considered in the town forest’s plans would like to sell the entire 330 acres. The property extends to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT). Wanner said while the section near the LVRT is steep, it has a logging road. The town might have an opportunity for timber harvesting, sugaring, or additional recreational opportunities. 

An organization is considering placing back-country huts along the proposed Velomont Trail to connect northern and southern Vermont. That organization would be responsible for the upkeep, reservations, and cleaning.

Vice chair Kurt Klein wondered what impact it might have on the Grand List if the town acquired the entire 637 acres, which is more than double what was previously proposed. “A lot of it” is presently under Current Use, it was explained, meaning it would not impact the grand list. 

A second question would be maintaining the property itself. Wanner said it depended on what was envisioned. County foresters work with towns to create management plans, she said, but sometimes towns create other committees depending on what the use is. A major trail network might be best maintained by its own committee, and she said she is speaking with experts in trail creation in the area.

The board agreed to have the planning commission sign a letter of intent for the VOREC grants, as its deadline was imminent, but wanted to investigate the larger parcel before making any decisions. 

Details are now set for the September 10 community event that will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department will man the grills for hamburgers and hot dogs, and the Girl Scouts will have children’s games in the green space behind the library. The town will set up booths with details on the array of topics that the select board has been discussing over the previous months. Those would include the town forest, the community garden/green space plan, ARPA funding, broadband, the old schoolhouse and sewer solutions. The school board might also be at the event to host an ice cream social. Another idea in the works is a photo contest whose winner might see their photo on the Wolcott Town Report.