Parks agency repairs Chester state forest accessibility, drainage problems


By Cynthia Prairie

Chester’s only state-owned forest, the 108-acre Williams River State Forest in the Popple Dungeon area west of Nudist Camp Road, has gotten some much-needed work that will make it much more accessible to the public.

Click map to enlarge

Click map to enlarge

Tim Morton, a Saxtons River resident who is the state District 1 stewardship forester for the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, said Monday that Tropical Storm Irene, which occurred in August 2011, had rendered the forest, which was already difficult to access by forest managers, impossible to gain entry to.

Morton described the Williams River State Forest as “pretty swampy … probably great for wildlife viewing. It’s very wet on the east side and very hilly on the west side.”

Drainage ditches and berms were dug along the embankment of the Williams River State Forest. Below and to the right is the south branch of the Williams River. Click photo to enlarge. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

ON THE COVER: A new parking area at the entrance to the Williams River State Forest. Pictured above: Drainage ditches and berms were dug along the embankment. Below and to the right is the south branch of the Williams River. Click photos to enlarge.
Photos by Cynthia Prairie

And, Morton said, Irene added to the problem, creating two “slumps,” one of them in the access road. Irene also forced the landing site to slide into the Williams River, he said, and destabilized the embankment. Consequently, one goal was to dry out the hillside. “We added a number of drainage ditches – although there is natural drainage as well.”

“We’ve made it a real goal to upgrade the public access to the forests,” Morton said of his agency.

The state had expected the Williams River State Forest work to be done in two phases, but found that the money was available to finish the entire project before winter. The project included building a couple of hundred feet of access road to the lower section, installing drainage ditches and shoring up the slump. Also added was a new culvert.

Poor quality ground materials were replaced with those of better quality, and a solid parking area was built for up to three cars. Morton said that the state would have added more spaces but remnants of an old farm structure prevented that.

Total cost of the work, Morton said, was $17,000 paid to a private contractor who won the bidding process. Thanks to Irene, he added, the Federal Emergency Management Agency picked up 75 percent to 90 percent of that cost.

The access road leading into the forest.

The access trail leading farther into the forest.

Morton said state forests serve a variety of uses for the public including hunting, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and wildlife viewing – any activity that can be done on foot and without a vehicle or pack animal. The state has specified certain roads and trails for animal use. And, Morton said, his department is actively working with the Vermont Mountain Bike Association “to create more designated trails on state land, including several large loops at Mt. Ascutney State Park.”

As state stewardship forester for District 1, Morton manages roughly 39 parcels — including wildlife management areas and parks — totaling 41,184 acres.  Those parcels range in size from 13 acres (Dutton Pines in Dummerston) to 12,800 (Okemo and Coolidge combined).

The state of Vermont has 38 forests, 59 parks and 94 wildlife management areas. Chester does manage a town forest, off of Reservoir Road northwest of the Green.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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