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By Lisa Loomis
The Waitsfield Conservation Commission wants public input on a management plan for the Wu Ledges Forest and the Austin property.
The commission will host a public forum next week on June 12 at the Waitsfield Elementary School to hear feedback on a proposed management plan for the parcels. It takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and there will be refreshments.
The land referred to as the Wu Ledges Forest is actually three parcels including the 123-acre Waldron parcel (gifted to the town in 2004) and the 15-acre Lawton parcel (gifted to the town in 2005), plus the 5-acre Austin parcel, donated to the town in 1999. In addition to these three properties, the town has a conservation easement on a 25.5-acre parcel located adjacent and between the Waldron and Lawton parcels which is currently owned by Sandy Lawton.
The property is referred to as the Wu Ledges at the request of Chauncey and Arleon Waldron who were good friends with James Wu and asked that the land be named in his honor. Since 2006, the conservation commission has conducted five studies of the properties including a natural communities inventory, an Audubon forest bird habitat assessment, a forest stewardship plan, a recreational trails inventory and an access assessment. Last fall the commission began working with Sharpless Ecologic to gather public input and draft a management plan.
Among the goals outlined in the plan (and on which public input is sought) are conservation of habitat for native plants and animals, as well as conserving biodiversity, promoting and managing noncommercial and nonmotorized uses of the parcel, protecting riparian buffers, practicing sustainable forestry and conserving the scenic beauty of and access to the land.
The property features forests, cliffs, wetlands, open land and river shores. Hardwood and hemlock forests grow on the slopes and ledges. At its lowest elevations it is in the Mad River floodplain and at its highest elevation (1,100 feet) it offers views of Waitsfield and Fayston to the west. The Wu Ledges Forest, combined with the town-owned Lareau Swim Hole, amounts to the protection of six-tenths of a mile of river frontage on the east side of the river and one-and-one-half-tenths of a mile on the west side.
The forest is well used for mountain biking, hiking and snowshoeing and can be accessed a variety of ways, including from the town's cemetery on Bridge Street, from Hastings Road and via the Austin parcel, by crossing the Mad River. The trail network is extensive but also informal and trails are not marked. There are no maps of the trails either. In addition to recreational uses, hunting, fishing and trapping are allowed during the appropriate legal seasons, although beaver trapping is discouraged due to the importance of beavers in maintaining diverse wetlands habitats.
The management plan spells out seven detailed objectives and actions as well as the timeframes for accomplishing each one. These include objectives such as developing a sustainable trail system, enhancing the Mad River floodplain, increasing public awareness and use of the Wu Ledges, finalizing conservation easements on the privately owned Lawton parcels, improving the boundaries of the forest, seeking municipal forest designation from the state and updating the forest stewardship plan.
The management plan can be viewed at www.waitsfieldvt.us/recreation/wu_ledges.cfm.