What is the Scrag Forest Gateway Project?
The Town of Waitsfield has a now-or-never opportunity to acquire a key 110-acre private parcel next to the 640-acre Scrag Town Forest from its current owners at a steeply discounted price. If the Town does not acquire the parcel it will be sold for development, severely constraining options for public access to our Town Forest and adversely affecting ecological values of the property. The Waitsfield Conservation Commission is partnering with the Vermont Land Trust to pursue this important project.
What makes the Scrag Town Forest special?
The Scrag Forest offers diverse recreational opportunities such as hiking, bird-watching, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing and hunting, as well as revenue to the Town from timber harvesting and sugaring. Located 10 minutes from Waitsfield Village, the property includes unbroken forestland, pristine streams, waterfalls, a high elevation beaver pond, habitat for a vast array of wildlife and plants, productive timberland, and more than one mile of undeveloped ridgeline along the Northfield Mountains. All but 20 acres of the Scrag Forest’s 640 acres have been donated to the Town over the past 25 years.
How will this addition of land improve the Town Forest?
Town ownership of this 110-acre parcel will enable the creation of a permanent trailhead with adequate parking and easy public access to the Town Forest. It will also provide an area for easier trail routes; help bolster the Valley’s 4-season, recreation-based economy; protect forest and water resources which are vital for wildlife habitat, water quality, reducing downstream flooding and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere; and potentially support future municipal timber harvests and sugaring licenses.
What is the cost of acquiring this land?
The 110-acre parcel has been professionally appraised at $650,000. After the owners’ discount of $200,000, the purchase price is $450,000. Other costs associated with acquisition and conservation total $45,000, bringing the overall cost to $495,000.
How much is the Town’s share?
The town’s contribution will be limited to $40,000. These funds will be appropriated from the Town’s Restroom, Recreation and Conservation Reserve Fund, which has a current balance of $83,000.
What are the other sources of funding for this project?
The Town has been awarded two highly competitive federal and state grants: $256,650 from the United States Forest Service Community Forest Program (Scrag was one of only eight nationwide recipients in 2016) and $125,000 from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Another $75,000 in private, tax-deductible donations will be raised to complete the acquisition and conservation of the land.
Will there be additional future costs to the Town?
The Waitsfield Conservation Commission, which has stewardship responsibility for the Scrag Town Forest, estimates 10-year management and implementation costs for the Forest and the additional 110-acre parcel will be roughly $200,000. Costs include management planning, trailhead and trail construction, signage/maps, habitat projects, remediation of an old eroded skid road, and a contribution to winter maintenance of Bowen Road (shared with the other landowners on the road).
How will future costs be funded?
The Town already has secured substantial funding toward these future costs from the recent timber harvest, past private contributions, and a forthcoming sugaring license. The current owners have offered $25,000 for the new parking area, and the balance of funds needed will be secured from public grants and private fundraising. No local tax revenue is expected to be required.
What would be the overall tax impact of the project?
The 110-acre parcel would be town-owned, and therefore not taxed. As a vacant lot appraised at $650,000, the loss of town tax revenue would be roughly $2,348. If there were no other changes to the Grand List or town budget, this would result in a property tax increase of approximately $.60/$100,000 of assessed value per property in Waitsfield (for example $1.20 for an owner of a $200,000 home). The town would also forego potential tax revenue if the site is not developed for a single family home. However, new municipal taxes from the large new house on adjacent land at the end of Bowen Road will more than offset the decline in the Grand List and lost municipal taxes from Town acquisition of the 110-acre parcel.
What would the economic benefits be?
Four-season outdoor recreation is a key component of the Mad River Valley economy and our future vitality. Recreation trails attract tourists and new residents who invest in real estate and spend money at local restaurants, inns and shops. A new study commissioned by the Mad River Valley Planning District indicates that the Blueberry Lake Trails have contributed $1.9 million dollars annually to the local economy. The Gateway Project is the key to making the Scrag Forest a more accessible destination that can enhance Waitsfield’s year-round economic vitality.
What will happen if the Town does not acquire the gateway parcel?
The landowners will sell the land, which includes a permitted estate-quality house site, to a private buyer. A new house will be built, and the private driveway commonly used by the public to access the Town Forest likely will be gated. Parking will be severely restricted and access to the Town Forest will be limited to a narrow, 2/3-mile long footpath. The Town will lose a critical opportunity to make important improvements to public access, parking and trails that are needed to enable the Town Forest to reach its full potential as a community asset. And other important public benefits such as wildlife habitat, water quality protection, reduced flooding, and intact forestland will be diminished.
How can I learn more about the Scrag Forest Gateway Project?
1) JOIN the Waitsfield Conservation Commission for one of two upcoming Scrag Town Forest Walks.
Thursday, October 20th from 3:30-6:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 29th from 1:00-5:00 p.m.
2) ATTEND AND SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
Project Presentation and Public Forum: Wednesday, November 2nd, 7:00 p.m. Waitsfield United Church of Christ, 4335 Main Street.
Waitsfield Select Board meeting: Monday, November 28th, 6:30 p.m. at the Town Office.
3) VISIT www.waitsfieldvt.us for project Q & A, maps, and photos
4) ASK QUESTIONS Phil Huffman, Chair, Waitsfield Conservation Commission Phil@madriver.com, 496-3490
Liza Walker, Mad River Valley Director, Vermont Land Trust, Liza@vlt.org, 496-3690
Cindy Carr, Volunteer, Waitsfield Resident, firstname.lastname@example.org, 496-6464; 496-3500
5) PROVIDE WRITTEN COMMENTS Waitsfield Select Board c/o email@example.com