December 15, 2018

Allen Brook trail expansion clears Act 250

Town wins approval to transfer agricultural restrictions off parcel

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Allen Brook Nature Trail that loops out from Williston Community Park is set for expansion this summer after the Town of Williston received approval from Vermont Act 250 land use commissioners in December to develop a trail extension to Jensen Road.

The Williston Conservation Commission is also planning to finish work on six interpretive signs, co-developed with the Lake Champlain Basin Program, and install them this spring. The signs will provide trail-walkers with details about the ecosystem, wildlife and watershed of the Allen Brook, a state-designated impaired waterway that flows through Williston Village.

The half-mile trail extension is already partially built on town-owned land north of the park. But when the town submitted a grant application through the Vermont Recreation Trails Program last year to complete the extension, a deed restriction that requires the land remain set aside for agricultural use was revealed, preventing the development of a trail.

The restriction was added to the parcel as mitigation for the development of the nearby Keystone Estates subdivision. The 14-acre parcel was deeded to the town when the subdivision was approved in 2010. The town extended the nature trail to Michael Drive later that year.

“Because it was set aside for mitigation of prime agricultural soils, technically it should not have had a trail on it,” Williston Conservation Planner Melinda Scott said.

The town’s Act 250 application proposed a transfer of the agricultural set-aside to another town-owned parcel south of Route 2, known as the Mahan Farm. That parcel is better suited to agriculture than the Allen Brook parcel, Scott said. In fact, the town currently leases a portion of it for corn production.

“We are proposing an alternative mitigation strategy that would better achieve the protection of land for agricultural uses, while also achieving other important Act 250 goals including protection of streams, wetlands, scenic and natural beauty, and the goals of our municipal plan,” Scott wrote in the Act 250 application. “The Mahan Farm parcel is a much better alternative, is currently in agricultural use, and the town would like to permanently protect its continued use for agriculture.”

The District Environmental Commission that governs Vermont’s Act 250 land use regulations approved the plan Dec. 28, making the existing trail extension legal and opening the door for completion of the trail to Jensen Drive.

“This parcel is a key component of the development of trail connections in the village,” the application states. “(It is) one of the few remaining wild areas in the village that sees regular use by walkers, runners and wildlife watchers alike … The existing trail is well-used and well-loved by village residents.”

The town plans to recruit the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps this summer to build the trail extension.

Meanwhile, the interpretive signs will be installed this spring around the park and along the trail. They will cover the subjects of stormwater management, the Allen Brook watershed and ecosystem, riparian restoration, land use changes and beaver habitat.

All this weeks News Articles