$10,000 grant funds effort to plan future of biking & running trails

MIDDLEBURY — On any given summer day up on Chipman Hill, pedestrians, mountain bikers, runners and their four-legged companions travel through the trees, grateful for the 132-acre forest’s peace and quiet less than a 10-minute walk from Middlebury town center. The town forests — Chipman Hill, Means Woods and Battell Woods — are available for all to enjoy, but, until now, have not been managed under any overarching plan.
“We have these town resources, and they’ve been used by different people in different ways, but there’s never been anything comprehensive,” said Ashar Nelson, treasurer of the Addison County Bike Club.
Last week, the club and three other organizations associated with Middlebury’s town forests won $10,000 worth of multidisciplinary consulting that will help them establish a forest stewardship plan.
The goal of such a plan is to better serve both trail users and the forest itself.
The grant, given to 10 Vermont towns by the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program, will specifically aid the Addison County Bike Club, the Battell Partnership Trust, the Means Woods Trust and the town of Middlebury in managing Battell Woods, Chipman Hill and Means Woods.
“The most recent holistic planning was probably the creation of the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) by the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) 20 years ago, which links most of our town forests, and is the main connection of these three parcels,” the team’s application reads. “Further trail development, almost entirely on Chipman Hill and in Battell Woods for mountain biking, has largely been unplanned.”
Nelson and Carl Robinson, vice president of the Addison County Bike Club, will lead the planning project effort. They hope to accommodate what they call “explosive growth” in mountain biking on the town’s trails while also supporting pedestrian traffic and keeping the forest healthy.
“As the sport of mountain biking grows in popularity, we wish to maintain our town forests for all uses, protect the physical resources in these natural areas, and raise awareness of the benefits of outdoor activities, at both a personal and community scale,” the application reads.
Moving forward, the group’s first step will be outreach.
“Community input is needed,” Nelson said. “We’re not at the stage where we’re going to be cutting down trees and working on trail beds with shovels and doing physical work. It’s more like the mental and scientific underpinnings of what the future plan is.”
The group is especially eager to hear from community members with children. With more and more youngsters on the trails — and considering trails that weren’t necessarily built for beginner use — Nelson would like to make sure the plan is inclusive of those who become active at an early age.
With the professional consulting, the group hopes to improve trail users’ experience by balancing the needs of all users. That means avoiding potential dangers that exist in the intersection of mountain biking and pedestrian trails.
They also hope to protect the forest by managing wildlife habitat, finding an appropriate trail density, and providing and maintaining wildlife corridors.
“It’s going to take a lot of community,” Nelson said. “When the bike club started thinking about this, we knew we couldn’t go it alone. I think we’re set up well to be a partner with MALT and the town and the trusts that manage those forests to come up with a collective vision of what the future use of these trails are, and improve them for the whole community.”
The project, and all of its outreach, planning and development stages, is expected to be complete by Nov. 1, 2018. 

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