Stories

A Forest For All

As momentum for land conservation grows, a 17th-century model for protecting forests is inspiring a modern-day movement. In rural New England, community forests are experiencing a revival with the help of OSI, whose Community Forest Fund has partnered to protect more than 30,000 acres including these recently completed projects.

Grand Lake Stream, Maine

Louis Cataldo is one of 88 year-round residents of the town of Grand Lake Stream, where livelihoods hinge on seasonal infusions of hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. So when a massive sell-off of the area’s precious woods and streams was announced 15 years ago, Cataldo and other locals were stunned.

“We knew access to the land was critical to keeping businesses going,” he said. “We were worried an outside buyer might turn it into a kingdom for themselves.”

The town rallied around a years-long fundraising campaign and even founded its own nonprofit. This July, with financial support from OSI and other partners, the Downeast Lakes Land Trust announced creation of the West Grand Lake Community Forest, permanently protecting more than 17 miles of lakeshore and 90 miles of stream shore.

“It was a breakthrough for us, getting the funds from OSI,” Cataldo said. “It breathed new life into our work, and now the land has been saved forever.”

Milan, New Hampshire

After the decline of local paper mills and the sale of forests that had supported Milan for decades, the small town in northern New Hampshire wanted more say in its own future, explained resident George Pozzuto.

That’s how the idea for a community forest took root. In 2012, Milan received a small grant from OSI. “With that seed money in hand, we brought the OSI brochure on community forests to town meetings to sell the idea, and people loved it,” he said.

Four years later, with a second grant from OSI, Milan purchased its first parcel for the community forest, which it plans to expand. “We have joined together to save a tradition. People here, they grew up in the woods, and their parents, grandparents all worked in the woods,” Pozzuto said. “It feels like coming home.”

Community volunteers help rebuild trails within the Ascutney Mountain Community Forest, site of a former ski resort.
Community volunteers help rebuild trails within the Ascutney Mountain Community Forest, site of a former ski resort.

West Windsor, Vermont

West Windsor had fallen on hard times since the Ascutney Mountain ski resort closed for good. Since establishing its own community forest in late 2015 with help from the Trust for Public Land, OSI, and other partners. However this southern Vermont town has reclaimed some of its history, economy, and pride.

“Our way of life was in jeopardy," said Jim Lyall, a 40-year resident of the area. “Losing the ski area directly affected property values and caused local businesses to close.”

As the resort diminished, Lyall and his organization, Sport Trails of Ascutney Basin, steadily built a 30-mile trail network in and around the old ski tracks. These trails are now a centerpiece of the new West Windsor Community Forest, whose nearly 1,600 acres knit together one of the largest conserved forest blocks in the region.

“OSI’s grant was a real milestone,” Lyall said. “The positive momentum continues to build since this project came through.”

Next Story From the Field

Progress on the Paulinskill

Dyaami D'Orazio, OSI's 2017 Conservation Fellow, traveled to Sussex County, NJ, to learn more about on-the-ground initiatives around forest and drinking water protection.