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OSI Support Helps Establish Community Forest at Beloved Vermont Recreation Destination

Photo Credit: Catamount Outdoor Family Center

WILLISTON, VT (March 26, 2019) – Land that hosts a beloved recreational destination is now New England’s newest community forest, thanks to grant support from the Open Space Institute (OSI) through its Community Forest Fund. The project, which was led by The Trust for Public Land (TPL) in partnership with the Town of Williston, protects the forest that is a major economic driver in this fast-growing Vermont community. 

In addition to the protection of critical wetlands and forests, the land lies at the center of a 660-acre corridor of public and private conservation land — the largest core forest block in the Town of Williston, the fastest-growing town in Chittenden County. Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board now jointly hold a conservation easement that permanently protects the 392-acre property.   

OSI’s Community Forest Fund, which enables the creation and expansion of community forests in Northern New England, provided support and capital funding to the project. In the Community Forest model, local citizens participate in the planning and management of forests, ensuring that everyone benefits from the land’s many economic, social, and ecological values. 

Young cyclists enjoy the Catamount Community Forest.
Young cyclists enjoy the Catamount Community Forest.
Photo Credit: Raj Chawla

“OSI is proud to have played a part in preserving a vital and vibrant asset for a community that is so dedicated to its forests,” said Jennifer Melville, vice president for conservation grants at OSI, which granted $105,000 towards the project. “Across New England, citizens are creating Community Forests as an invaluable public legacy, and we congratulate The Trust for Public Land and the Town of Williston on this newest Community Forest.” 

“This marks a milestone for the Town of Williston,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire. “Our community has preserved this land as a public asset for the future, continuing Williston’s vision of a town that balances growth with the preservation of open space. This is an exciting day for Williston.” 

Over the last year, the OSI Community Forest has provided critical capital funding to enable two other Vermont towns – Richmond and Newbury – to conserve Community Forests. In addition, the Fund has recently provided start-up grants to efforts in Sebago, ME, Lancaster, NH, and Chester, VT, to help these developing citizen-driven projects get off the ground.

The nonprofit Catamount Outdoor Family Center (COFC), a recreation destination located on the property, will manage the Community Forest for mountain biking, Nordic skiing, and other year-round public access. TPL commissioned an economic study that found that 20 miles of COFC trails secures over $875,000 in visitor spending and creates 14 jobs. 

Visited by over 20,000 neighbors and visitors every year, COFC was founded as a cross country ski center in 1978 and has grown to include summer activities such as mountain biking and hiking. It also hosts numerous events, such as weekly races, an extensive summer camp program that annually serves over 400 campers, and Special Olympics practice. 

In addition to OSI, the $1.9M project was funded by the federal Community Forest Program, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Town of Williston, The Nature Conservancy, and more than 200 private individuals, foundations and corporations. The project also received funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

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