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Town studies trail options for two parcels

07/26/2007

By Erin Post

A parcel of town-owned land near the Warren School may be a prime location for an interpretive trail, and another 75 acres now hosting a gravel pit could accommodate a maze of mountain bike trails, possibly even a park for biking enthusiasts.

Those were some of the options that Josh Ryan, principal managing member of Timber and Stone LLC, presented to the select board July 24. Ryan was hired by the Warren Conservation Commission to assess the recreational possibilities on the town-owned parcels. A grant from the Northern Forest Alliance funded the work.

Conservation commission member Tara Hamilton said the project grew out of several listening sessions held late last year as well as a survey that revealed that "recreation is a top priority for the people who live here."

Ryan's report on trail options comes as the commission continues to work on management plans for the town-owned parcels. Select board members noted that any final plans are contingent on funding as well as town approval.

GOOD OPPORTUNITY FOR STUDENTS

For the Eaton parcel near the school, Ryan suggested two trail possibilities: an interpretive trail suitable for school children and a "vista trail" that takes advantage of a view of The Valley. He also included in his report a maintenance plan for a section of the Mad River Path that runs through the property.

Routes have been flagged, he said, and laid out with specific goals in mind.

Grades on the interpretive path are minimal to accommodate young children. By following the route, hikers would take in many facets of "northeast ecology" as well as some remnants of human activity, such as an old sugaring shack and weathered fencing that likely once enclosed a sheep pasture. Ten stops have been included in the proposed plan.

Although the "vista trail" would be a more strenuous trek and would require some professional help to build, it takes advantage of a feature that many outdoor enthusiasts would likely appreciate.

"The vista is well worth the work that would go into building this trail," Ryan said.

Ryan said the bulk of the work -- both on maintenance of the Mad River Path and construction of the interpretive trail -- could be done by volunteers. He estimated that about 80 percent of construction on the "vista trail" would require professionals experienced in stonework.

The interpretive trail may be a prime chance for collaboration between the town and school, and for students to gain some hands-on experience in science and history. They might even want to write some of the interpretive signs, Ryan said.

"Kids can do great artwork," he said. "Kids can write prose. The possibilities are endless."

MOUNTAIN BIKING POSSIBILITIES

For the roughly 75-acre gravel pit parcel, Ryan said existing logging roads could double as mountain bike trails. Single track routes he flagged may connect the roads in a network of trails.

The gravel pit itself, once it's retired, could be transformed into a park that includes a "pump track" for mountain bikers. Pump tracks allow bikers to tackle bumps, turns and other obstacles in a winding course.

"It's a great skill building thing," Ryan said, noting that a pump track in Stowe has turned into a regional attraction. "Potentially it could be a really neat draw."

If the park is constructed, the town may want to consider a gate to limit off-hours access, Ryan said, as well as additional protection around a fire pond on the property.

Select board members noted that more research is likely necessary regarding the parcel's Act 250 permit, which may prohibit certain activities.

If the town moves forward with the proposal, select board member Barry Simpson suggested that the town may consider striking a deal with adjoining landowners: In exchange for use of the town property as a staging area for logging operations, the landowners may allow public access to their land, opening up more terrain for mountain biking and hiking.

"I see the possibility of a real multiple use format up there," he said, adding that additional management would likely be necessary to ensure recreation does not interfere with periodic timber harvesting.

For the Eaton parcel, select board chair Mac Rood suggested looking into how a plan for affordable housing already on file with the town may co-exist with the proposed trails.

Conservation commission members said they planned to study Ryan's report and return to the board with a more detailed proposal that includes costs and possible funding sources.

Contact Erin Post at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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