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Fall Guide: Take a walk on the new interconnecting trails in Brandon

TRAILS LIKE THIS one now loop through Downtown Brandon as well as connect the outlying parts of the community to each other. The interconnecting trails — which now entail seven pathways in addition to the Hawk Hill trails — are part of an effort by the DBA Design Group to champion the town’s natural and cultural assets.

BRANDON — About a decade ago, the Downtown Brandon Alliance’s Design Group took an unrealized draft proposal by the McKernon Group called “The Backyard Plan” and launched what has become miles of interconnected pedestrian pathways throughout the town, now known as Brandon Greenways.

It’s been a journey involving dozens of committee members and years of dedicated effort. The effort has included a half-dozen public forums called Barn Raisings, a series of articles in The Reporter newspaper called EyeSpy to raise public awareness of Brandon’s historic buildings and the history of its downtown, and most recently trails connecting the town’s parks as well as dozens of miles of recreational running, walking and biking trails that loop through the town and into Forest Dale and the town’s more rural perimeter.

Throughout it all, no one has been more invested and poured more energy into the project than Brandon resident Robert Black, a group facilitator/architect/teacher and artist and longtime chair of the Downtown Business Alliance’s Design committee.

Black and a few other key members of the Greenways committee recently presented an overview of their decade of work, shared their vision of what they hope to accomplish, and set the stage for the group’s next steps.

BEGINNINGS

In a recent interview, Black recalled that the effort got its roots back in 2010 when the town earned its Designated Downtown status under the guidance of then Economic Development Director Steve Beck. It was then the town formed the Downtown Brandon Alliance, patterned after the National Main Street Program, which established four strategic action committees: organizational, design, promotion and economic restructuring.

“Building on the leadership of our first DBA president, attorney Jim Leary,” Black said, “the group has continued each year to work with the state, town, Brandon Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce and local volunteer groups to make substantial progress in all four areas.”

Among those projects, the DBA-Design Group was instrumental in engaging the Brandon community, selectboard and the Segment 6 project engineers to make design and safety improvements to the previously approved plans. Some of those changes included wider sidewalks on Center Street, an expanded and more functional plan for Central Park, improvements to downtown pedestrian walkways, and additional parking for the Stephen Douglas Museum and Visitor Center.

That same year, in 2013, the group took up an initiative by the McKernon Group to building a short walking path connecting the Brandon Inn with the businesses along Center Street near the Neshobe River Upper Falls. From there, other inter-connected pedestrian pathways throughout the downtown were designed and maps were created to stimulate public interest and involvement.

Fast forward to the past three years, during which the work on Route 7’s Segment 6 was completed, and the committee’s efforts have focused on beautifying the downtown, Forest Dale and Park Village, and creating safe pedestrian/bicycle routes to Neshobe School/Forest Dale and to Estabrook Park/Park Village. The latest effort includes developing Public Art projects, including murals on downtown buildings and a pending “monumental new sculpture to honor Forest Dale resident, Thomas Davenport, the first U.S. patent holder of the electric motor.”

GREENWAYS

The Greenways initiative, in particular, has seen a series of seven trails developed within the town. Those include:

• Brandon Parks Walk: a 1.5-mile loop through the downtown on sidewalks to the five parks (Crescent Park, Seminary Hill Park, Kennedy Park, Central Park and Green Park.

• Mt. Pleasant Walk: a 2.5-mile uphill loop on sidewalks and residential streets with scenic views of the Green and Taconic mountains.

• Compass Center/Hollow Road Loop: a 4.5 mile jaunt along scenic paved and dirt roads, starting at the Compass Center.

• Richmond Road Walk: a 6.5-mile walk along paved and dirt roads that passes farms, woods and wetlands frogs and birds as well as emus at the Neshobe Farm.

• Ferson Road Walk: a 9.6-mile walk along paved and dirt roads.

• Iron Furnace Loop: a 7-mile hike along paved roads and a short trail to the 19th century iron furnace in Forest Dale.

• Sanderson Covered Bridge/Barn Opera Loop: a 7.7 mile loop along paved and dirt roads, passing through an historic covered bridge and past the Barn Opera.

These walks are complimented by the Hawk Hill Heritage trails, which sits on 230 acres of pristine woodland preserved by the Vermont Area Land Trust and managed by the regional school board. The trails are maintained by the Moosalamoo Center, an Otter Valley Union High School outdoor educational program.

All of this is mapped out on a slick, tri-panel 11-inch-by-17-inch brochure that is part of the Brandon Gateways to Adventure branding adopted by the Brandon Chamber of Commerce. That effort has 11 other areas of the town’s history and culture also documented in similar brochures, including gateways to mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing, road biking, backcountry skiing, walking and running, the arts, history, architecture, homespun, and birding.

It all adds up to a lot of promotional material that champions Brandon’s natural and cultural assets.

GOING FORWARD

While the groundwork has been laid for Brandon Greenways, there’s much work to be done fine-tuning pathways, beautifying parks and maintaining the infrastructure — all aspects that Black hopes to achieve by involving community support, which gets at the heart of what the group hopes to accomplish.

“The purpose of our group,” Black said, “is to say, ‘Let’s get off the things that may divide us and do what we can to knit the community together in ways that we can be proud of. It’s a larger vision of common purpose. Nothing political or partisan, just working together on projects that improve the town and where we live.”

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