Copy of the press release from The Stowe Land Trust detailing the history behind the successful effort to preserve Cady Hill Forest.
STOWE, Vt. - - "Someday, that entire hillside will be developed." It was August 2003, and as the freshly-minted executive director of Stowe Land Trust (SLT), I was getting a tour of the lands that were on the organizations 'high priority' list from Tom Jackman, Stowe's Town Planner. The ridgeline and hundreds of acres that would someday become Cady Hill Forest were owned by a developer whose plans included the construction of 94 housing units along the hillside extending south from the heart of Stowe Village.
It was about that time that the Stowe Mountain Bike Club, a scrappy group of skilled riders and hard-core trail enthusiasts, quietly began building sinewy single-track through the dense hemlock forests on Cady Hill. The Club had already received permission to develop and maintain trails on the adjacent Macutchan Forest, a 60-acre landlocked parcel owned by the Town. Over time, the Club expanded its network, building miles of single track on the adjacent Cady Hill Forest lands with tacit approval of the landowner. The result was what locals call the 'town loops' and evolved into a hidden gem of Stowe riding.
In the intervening years, plans for development moved slowly - tied up in permitting until the untimely death of the landowner in 2005. While the estate was settled, the housing bubble peaked, with values for the Cady Hill Forest land climbing as high as $5.2M before it burst in early 2007. Since then, the land languished on the market as values steadily fell.
Tourism Economy Stowe's tourism-based economy is driven largely by the beauty of the natural landscape and the recreational resources that are literally in everyone's backyard. By 2010, the Stowe Mountain Bike Club had evolved from a hodge-podge of diehard riders to an organized group, integral to development of multi-use trails in the region and closely affiliated with the broader mission of the nascent Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). Together the bike groups have built and continually maintain nearly 50 miles of trail in Stowe and Waterbury, a neighboring community to the south. As the network gained notoriety, VMBA worked to have the area identified as an International Mountain Bicycling Association "Ride Center", a designation that reflects high standards for sustainable trails and quality of experience. Colloquially referred to as the 'Vermont Ride Center', the network already attracts riders from around the northeast and Canada.
The partnership between Stowe Land Trust, Stowe Mountain Bike Club and the Town of Stowe had also evolved and was put into practice throughout the community. The land trust purchased and conserved land, the Town became its long-term owner, and the Club signed on to manage and maintain the extensive trail networks. The partnership worked well, and by 2011, was poised to take on the acquisition that would secure the 11 mile trail network and protect the heart of Stowe riding.
"You should just buy it." Rick Sokoloff, the president of Stowe Mountain Bike Club said to me one day in early 2011 of the 258 acre Cady Hill Forest, which was then owned by two separate landowners. Despite what was sure to be a daunting price tag, the research began and the questions started flowing: how much of the land can the land trust afford to purchase in order to protect its natural resources and the trail network? Who will own it? What about permitting, parking and public access? Will the landowner agree to our timeframe? And most importantly, where to find the money?
Irene Presents Opportunities In the wake of Hurricane Irene, many Vermont communities that lost everything were looking for ways to make investments in the assets that remained. While Stowe was largely unaffected, Waterbury lost a complex of State offices that housed over 1500 workers and countless businesses and residents were damaged. Many residents saw the value in investing in recreational resources and the Vermont Ride Center fit the bill. The land trust worked with community representatives and their partners to take the message of economic recovery all the way to State government - and in December, 2011 the first financial investments in Cady Hill Forest were made. With a Vermont Housing and Conservation Board grant for $350,000 the land trust had the makings of a real project as well as leverage for bringing other supporters on board. But with a total price tag of $1.56M and a scheduled closing date of May 30, 2012, it would take many more donations before the project was complete.
As the project gained momentum, several foundations including the Open Space Institute of New York and other major contributors laid the groundwork for a financial investment to come from the Town. On Town Meeting Day in March, Stowe voters approved a $288,000 request paid for by a local option tax on rooms, meals and alcohol. Many voters appreciated the fact that supporting the vote would not affect their property taxes while others felt that permanent protection of the land was worth any cost. "Protecting the backdrop of the heart of Stowe Village is a pretty compelling reason to vote yes" said Barbara Baraw, a local historian who cares deeply about the Village's scenic qualities. By the time Town Meeting Day had passed the land trust had raised over $1.1M.
Overwhelming Response Rebecca Washburn is busy sorting stacks of files that represent over a year of hard work. "We raised the final $450,000 in less than 12 weeks" she says, now reflecting on the public phase of the campaign. Washburn, SLT's Assistant Director who coordinated the PR during the final months of the campaign is proud of the way the community came together. "Area businesses were so quick to jump on board and see the value in protecting the land for recreation. Inns, lodges, campgrounds, bars, restaurants, retail and outdoor stores all saw the benefit of the conservation project and many conducted their own fundraisers to support the effort," she said. Phone calls from board members, press releases, Facebook updates, presentations, property walks, appearances on radio talk shows, donor lunches, and mailing after mailing became routine during the campaign. With the help of a brilliant marketing volunteer, the land trust's campaign reached far beyond Stowe engaging over 650 individuals from 26 different states and 3 countries. The last dollars came in the door only hours before the closing.
Cady Hill Forest Hardy Avery can see things the rest of us can't as he walks through the newly conserved, town-owned Cady Hill Forest. Avery has been planning and building trails in the Stowe area since he was a teenager and is largely responsible for the fun, flowy single track that has put Stowe mountain biking on the map. On this day, Avery is flagging a new trail that will lead from the soon-to-be-constructed 20 car parking area. The new trailhead will provide permanent public access to the forest and anchor the Vermont Ride Center in Stowe Village. "Now that Cady Hill Forest is protected, our vision for the Vermont Ride Center is much closer to becoming reality", Avery said as he places another pin-flag in the ground. "Conserving land is something everyone can get behind and its amazing what can happen when we all work together."
Heather Furman is the executive director of Stowe Land Trust