ARLINGTON — The Arlington Recreational and Park Committee, in collaboration with the Arlington Town Activities Committee, is purchasing 400 acres of Red Mountain woodland for $287,000 to create an Arlington Town Forest.
Pending select board approval of the purchase, the town will own the forest, which will remain as conservation land.
According to activities committee chairman Hooper Pickering, “the project provides the community with the chance to conserve an excellent piece of forest land within the town. The community will also be provided with access to a variety of outdoor activities.”
The town forest project has been in the works for approximately two years, originally an idea of the town renewal committee, which stopped functioning in June. The goal of the town renewal committee was to enhance opportunities throughout Arlington.
Arlington town administrator Nick Zaiac says that the purchase of the property must still be voted on by the select board.
“This is by no means a sure thing because of the way that this acquisition has gone through,” said Zaiac. “There are ongoing potentially perpetual public obligations that would come from the purchase of this property, and we feel that it would be really really important to make exactly clear to the public what we’re getting into.”
“All (select board) members have understood both the positives and negatives of this (project),” said Zaiac. “Until the point of a vote, it is entirely unclear whether this project will move forward at all.”
The first proposed trail would begin at the public parking access area at the end of Wilcox Road. The trail would provide hikers with the opportunity to access three vistas, including Flag Rock, a popular destination for many locals. This trail will become a seven-mile loop with access to all three lookouts and return to the public parking area.
Zaiac says the group’s have proposed adding an additional easement to access the property from Wilcox Road and the granting of that easement is “anything but certain.”
Zaiac says the select board also “sees risks related to whether the property would be accessible to everyone in town.”
The closing date was extended from Dec. 11 to July, 30, 2021, and the inspection date was also extended from Oct.16, to April 30, 2021, according to an amendment document. The extension was a mutual agreement between the town of Arlington — the purchaser — and current land owners BLY Hollow LLC.
Zaiac says the extension allows the Arlington Recreational and Park Committee more time to raise the funds necessary to purchase the property while also giving the town more time to look into the project.
“That would allow ... for the town to explore all of the risks and get the necessary legal opinions that we need to make sure that we are not going to face unlimited unfunded liabilities related to this property,” said Zaiac.
The land acquisition “will provide new recreational and educational opportunities, as well as future connections to local/regional trail systems,” according to Pickering.
Pickering said that there are no specific programs or activities planned at this point.
“There are plans to create some sort of group that would work to continue to develop the outdoor recreation opportunities and provide signage and do trail maintenance,” said Pickering. “Once the project is complete there would be a chance to schedule specific activities for the community.”
Elizabeth Baker, a spokesperson for the initiative, said the positives of the project include educational opportunities for local students and additional visitors the trail system could draw. “ I think it’s going to be a wonderful enhancement to what the town offers,” she said.
According to the Red Mountain property acquisition budget, the purchase of Red Mountain cost $245,000 while Vermont land trust fees and stewardship was an additional $40,636 and $1,364 was budgeted for “fundraising costs.”
The acquisition of the land is being largely funded by a $150,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Additional grants from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Wild East Action Fund ($25,000) and a $50,000 “discount” grant from the Conservation Fund are also supporting the acquisition.
“This is going to become a reality. We’ve had a very good response to fundraising,” Baker said.
The remaining balance of $62,000 will be raised through a community fundraising campaign that will run until Feb. 28.
The Arlington Recreational and Park Committee will match up to $20,000, dollar for dollar, for donations received.
“We are hoping to have the land open for recreational opportunities by the end of the summer 2021 and possibly sooner,” said Pickering.
For those interested in donating toward the project, tax deductible checks can be made out to ARPC, Inc. — Red Mountain Project, and can be mailed to P.O. Box 218, Arlington, VT 05250.
Greg Sukiennik contributed to this report.