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Williston’s secret, overgrown parks

Observer photo by Jess Wisloski A VELCO entry point to Brownell Mountain off Lincoln Road.
Observer photo by Jess Wisloski
A utility entry point to Brownell Mountain on private land, off Lincoln Road.

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

The town of Williston, which is currently engaged in a process with the Trust for Public Land to claim ownership of the mountain bike and walking trails at Catamount Outdoor Family Center, is sitting on a great big secret.

[Editor’s note: Story was updated as of March 14, 2017, clarifying or correcting some of the originally published information.]

It is simply filled with acres and acres of unused parkland. While calling the undeveloped territory that’s scattered across the community “parkland” might be a stretch for some, for the wildlife enthusiast, or rugged outdoor explorer, or even just someone who wants to know what lies less than a mile as the crow flies, the land might be exactly what they’re looking for some quiet, sunny afternoon.

In the interest of public service, the Observer has compiled an inventory of the known and secretly utilized wilderness land that, because it’s public, is free for residents to use. Whether you’ll enjoy it or not, that’s a different story. (As a caution to readers: none of the spaces you’re about to read of have been established with parking areas, or developed for recreational use in any way whatsoever. They could be in the future, at the town’s initiative. We’re using the term “park” in a very liberal way.)

Unknown parks

Farmer Lyon Property

Where to find it: Behind Town Hall in the village.

Good for: Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking

What’s the deal? The Selectboard bought 24.67 acres of land behind Town Hall back in 1994 from owner Warren Lyon, with the help of the Trust for Public Land and money from the Environmental Reserve Fund (the same fund being tapped to help buy Catamount.) There is a 16-acre conservation easement on the land, and public access is allowed, but no trail system or clearance takes place. “It’s pretty much just an open meadow,” Melinda Scott, senior conservation planner for the town, said. Start at the bottom of the hill and make an incline, and the property ends near I-89.

Pine Ridge forest

Where to find it: Sandwiched between NETS campus on Pine Lane and Governor Chittenden Road, the unmarked 42-acre publicly owned plot can be found coming north from Route 2, on Gov. Chittenden Road, from the .36 mile mark to .425 miles in. It’s between a stream and on the west side of the road.

Good for: Hiking or biking, if you can find the trails.

What’s the deal? Now overgrown, the former woods walks for Pine Ridge students, in a network of walking paths, exist here. It’s rolling, with 3-400-foot inclines. It may one day link up with a trail that would connect to Catamount. “We haven’t even really begun to look at and plan for that piece of property to be honest,” said Scott. “It’s a pretty rugged piece of property, it’s got steep ravines… I walked it a year ago, it’s a beautiful forest over there, very wild, very rugged terrain, I’m not really sure what the town would use it for, maybe just a single trail, maybe not.”

For a Google Map of locations, visit this link.

Brownell Mountain

Where to find it: The mountain lies between South Brownell Road and Route 2A, with no official public access. Contrary to the original report here, there is NO public access to the land via Lincoln Road, it appears. Scott said she’s accessed it off South Brownell, by pulling over on the side of the road, and a VELCO access road off Route 2A may be a potential access point in the future to the eastern side of the town’s parcel.

Good for: Possibly views, archeology and totally rugged wilderness walking. Maybe sledding or backcountry skiing.

What’s the deal? The town was given 107 acres of the north side and the summit, according to Scott, around 1990 as a gift from Renee Chaloux. The hill has an 850-foot gain in altitude. According to a UVM website, it was once an island in Lake Champlain, 12,000 years ago. More recent history saw it as a private ski hill, operating in the 1950s through 1970s for local families. Currently, there is no developed trail system or official public access. She said the town has contemplated having a trailhead on South Brownell.

Observer contributed art A map of the Pine Ridge trails. The town owns land north of the creek on Gov. Chittenden Road. For an interactive Google map with locations of each park mentioned in the story, visit willistonobserver.com and read the story online.
Observer contributed art
A map of the Pine Ridge trails. The town owns land north of the creek on Gov. Chittenden Road. For an interactive Google map with locations of each park mentioned in the story, visit willistonobserver.com and read the story online.

Other secret spots

Mud Pond’s boardwalk (west side)

Where to find it: The VAST trailhead runs along the west side of South Road, parallel to the road. Enter by parking at Mud Pond’s parking area, or use a pull off that has room for one car, and a sugaring line that runs across it. Walk the wider trail till it comes across the west side of Mud Pond, and you’ll find a long stretch of boardwalk in great condition with a nice pond view.

Good for: Hiking, bird watching, dog walking

What’s the deal? VAST is a network of trails built for use by snowmobilers, and offers public right of way in areas that might not otherwise be accessible. Take advantage in the warmer months by using them when they bisect public trail systems. For more: http://vtvast.org/trails.html.

Williston canoe launch

Where to find it: River-front canoe access that offers a put-in point right on the Winooski River off North Williston Road. Pull off is just south of the bridge on the east side of the road.

Good for: Day kayak or canoeing on the Winooski.

What’s the deal? In 1995, the town received an Irrevocable Offer of Dedication from Raymond and Gisele Fontaine for “a parcel of land sufficient for use as a public canoe access to the Winooski River and parking for no less than four cars, as presently used by the public, to be located easterly of and adjacent to North Williston Road and southerly of and adjacent to the Winooski River at the North Williston Road bridge,” Scott said, however, it’s not clear that the dedication has been realized. Current owners said they believed it to be be, however, and that people do use the drive, which would then be a right of way.

For an interactive Google map marking locations to access these wild parks, click here.