Members of the Mad River Valley Trails Collaborative work with conservation officers from local cities along with other members of community organizations to discuss how to work together to ensure that the values of recreation and governance of the land can be properly balanced.
Last Thursday, September 23, Mad River Rec District Chair Liza Walker, Mad River Valley Planning District Director Joshua Schwartz, Friends of the Mad River Director Corrie Miller, Mad River Riders Chairman Bob Kogut, Mad River Valley Chamber Director Eric Friedman and Mad River Path Association Director Ross Saxton met with conservation officers from Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston to discuss efforts and the stewardMRV program launched this summer to manage the Valley’s recreational access points. The group also received an update on the Recreation District’s plan to submit a grant to Vermont Outdoor Recreation and Economic Collaboration on behalf of group members.
But much of the real work of the meeting, held under the American Flatbread pavilion, was discussing the vision of community trails and planning for outdoor recreation and environmental integrity.
Waitsfield Conservation Commissioner Phil Huffman opened the discussion by pointing out that conservation officers from the three cities had been discussing these issues with Friends of the Mad River (FMR) for several months.
Huffman said he wanted to educate people on a number of topics and projects that have evolved for more than a decade since the original Mad River Valley Trails summit in 2010.
“By talking about it this summer, we made our thinking so concrete that it felt right to bring this into a bigger circle,” he began.
OPPORTUNITY TO ENGAGE
He pointed out that there is now an opportunity to get involved and take the next steps in the ongoing discussion on how to create the most sustainable network of trails that will take full advantage of the trails for people, outdoor recreation, fun, fitness and wellbeing as well as economic development and the creation of a sense of place.
This work focuses on how to capitalize on all of the above while maintaining The Valley’s ecological health and integrity in terms of wildlife habitat, water quality, flood resistance, and more.
“We at Valley have the opportunity to raise the gold standard for a balance between environmental integrity and maximum recreation, given our history of great work and collaboration, the advances we’ve made and the social capital we have. We have the opportunity here to do something that will serve as a model for other places, ”he said.
He referred to some of the most recent situations suggesting the development of trails that were led through Wild Ginseng at Warren and another suggesting trails in the Phen Basin at Fayston. In both cases, he said, there would have been more dialogue between those proposing the trails, FMR and the conservation commissions, they could have been avoided.
“Early engagement and sharing of information can help prevent frictions and potholes along the way,” said Huffman.
To this end, he suggested that the group consider some short, medium and long term goals for “wider, collaborative dialogue”.
Short-term goals include improving the dialogue and collaboration between members of the Trail Collaboration, nature conservation commissions and FMR to take them to another level and share information that cities have about environmentally sensitive areas and locations that are in the process of Searching for a location should be avoided.
The mid-term goals, set through 2022, could include a follow-up on MRV Moves efforts from over a decade ago, a broader, valley-wide vision, and planning for trails that take a step back and explore where trails are best for all users are built and where ecologically sensitive areas can be found as well as places that should remain untouched for those who want to travel in the forest without hiking trails.
In the long term, Huffman said, the goal is to institutionalize all of this as much as possible, with improved and more frequent interaction between groups, improved dialogue and information sharing that can affect both thinking and planning collectively and individually.
BIOSPHERE IN ERROR
George Schenk, member of the Warren Conservation Commission and host of the meeting at Amerian Flatbread, warned that the biosphere is in trouble because the human footprint is too large and threatens wildlife and biodiversity.
“Every time we build infrastructure in the wild, we expand our footprint. We have to talk about how we can reduce the human footprint, ”said Schenk.
“This is a very difficult challenge as we are talking about expanding the network of trails into areas where there are currently no trails. It will be critical that new wildlife-sensitive trails be designed and there may be some restrictions on how and when trails are used, ”he said.
Huffman responded, emphasizing the importance of developing trails with the best environmental knowledge and working to minimize the impact.
“I channel Eric (Friedman) sometimes and think about our band and who we are in The Valley and StewardMRV and I think part of our brand is our trail network and how we care about that work. That is the gold standard. We’re working to balance the things we think are important, ”added Corrie Miller, FMR.
Participants divided into small groups to discuss their general thoughts on the thoughts Huffman shared and ways to improve those thoughts.
The meeting was filmed by MRVTV, including reports from the small group work. Find it at www.mrvtv.com.