POWNAL — City officials are keeping their fingers crossed in the hope that legal access to the more than 700 acres Pownal owns along the Taconic Range will be secured in the near future.
Access to the Strobridge Recreation Area along the New York border in North Pownal has been closed since a forest road near the Hoosic River leading to the site was eroded during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
Attempts to acquire or develop a new access route via public property have since met with frustration, but that may soon change.
After meeting Thursday’s executive session with Donald Campbell, Southwest Region project manager at the Vermont Land Trust, the Select Board announced that Pownal has received grants for the purchase and maintenance of 301 acres near the town forest, as well as a land corridor on Dean Road intends to create an access road.
Chief Executive Michael Gardner said Pownal is applying for a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to purchase land at the southern end of the current urban forest.
At the same time, further government funds are being sought to create a right-of-way near a gravel pad at the south end of Dean Road.
The proposal’s goals are part of a “long-term vision” for the more than 700 acres of woodland on the mountainside, Gardner said, which would grow to more than 1,000 acres with the purchase.
Gardner thanked a number of city officials who worked with the Vermont Land Trust to bring the proposal to this point.
Campbell said the city should know before the end of January if it will receive the VHCB grant. In its application, the city is asking for $255,000 for the purchase.
The property is described as “a rugged donut hole consisting of 301 acres of holdings within the preserved former Pownal tannery areas. The purchase provides legal access where none currently exists, and the city is negotiating a parking lot and diversion of right-of-way.”
In addition, the city has requested a reuse of recreation grants awarded to the city last spring to build a footbridge across the Hoosic River to the wooded area from the north end of Dean Road.
The city received $375,000 through the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Communities grant program to provide access via a footbridge and to add trails and other improvements to the recreation area.
Rebecca Dragon, the board liaison who worked with the City Parks and Recreation Committee and others to secure the footbridge grant, said Monday: “As of this writing, I can say I am confident that we are utilizing the VOREC can funds for [the new proposal]and also the development of the property for outdoor recreation.”
She added: “In our original VOREC filing, we presented the purchase of this property as Plan B. The purpose and intent of asking for grant funding was to provide access to the Strobridge landlocked recreation property. At the time of the application, we thought the footbridge would be the most viable solution.”
COUNTRY TRUST HELP
“This is an amazing opportunity for Pownal to finally develop good access to an expansive 1,077-acre urban forest,” Campbell said Friday. “Thanks to the city’s hard work and long-term vision, with luck and funding commitments from VHCB and VOREC, this Pownal dream could become a reality by summer.”
In a letter of support, Jennifer Boucher, Chair of the City Parks and Recreation Committee, said in part: “The acquisition of the 300 acres of privately held land in North Pownal has the potential to unlock access to the Strobridge property and with it, access to numerous outstanding outdoor Recreational activities for the community as well as potential economic development in the area.”
She noted that the land is also close to the Taconic Crest Trail, which winds along the top of the ridge. It’s a 37-mile trail that stretches from neighboring Petersburgh, NY south into South Berkshire County, Mass.
In addition, the former tannery land borders 3,329 acres of the Taconic Ridge State Forest in New York and Massachusetts and 5,501 acres of private conservation area along the Taconic Range.
Environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited have also noted the importance of the mountain country to fish life, identifying tributaries of the Hoosic River as significant sources of clean, cold water necessary for healthy habitat.
The city acquired the 700+ acres it now owns in 2002 with the help of a $295,000 conservation grant from the VHCB. The mostly wooded land was once owned by the former Pownal Tanning Co., which went out of business in the late 1980s.
The factory building dates back to the 19th century and served as a textile factory, but became a leather tanning business towards the end of the Great Depression. The mill and its dam were located near the North Pownal Bridge – the bridge that connects Dean Road and Route 346 in the village.
The sprawling brick factory was destroyed during a $7 million federal Superfund cleanup project to mitigate or eliminate pollution from the tanneries. Today there is a historic marker and park on the former factory site which is considered the entrance to the Strobridge recreation area.
The mill owners acquired the woodland over the years primarily to protect a mountain reservoir owned and maintained by the company, which fed a now-defunct water system connected to the factory and houses in the village.