Tucker Mountain Town Forest
Results of the Special Town Meeting – Tuesday 11/28 at 7:00 pm.
Newbury residents voted for a second time to approve the Tucker Mountain land acquisition. It was a large turnout, with approximately 300 residents voting. Both sides were well supported, but the yes votes clearly carried it with approximately the same ratios as the original vote.
What is the Tucker Mountain-Newbury Town Forest Project? The Town of Newbury has been offered two parcels of 142 acres and 493 acres on both sides of Tucker Mountain Road, including the tops of Tucker and Woodchuck Mountains, from members of the Leach family at a steeply discounted price.
Why should the Town buy Tucker Mountain? Public ownership means the Town will take ownership of and responsibility for a wonderful, iconic asset.Town ownership will guarantee public access to the land for future generations. The town will be able to make decisions about its use and stewardship. If the Town does not acquire the properties, they will be sold on the open market and future owners may not allow, as the Leaches have, public access in the forest and to the top of Tucker Mountain.
Check back on this site often to find ways in which you can be involved in helping with this project!
Some of you may have recently read a letter to the editor in the Journal Opinion claiming that the purchase of the Tucker Mountain property would be a poor deal for Newbury. Since the closing remarks were referencing the Vermont Land Trust, the following rebuttal to the view expressed has been written by Bob Linck, Regional Director of the Vermont Land Trust.
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1) The two properties have been managed in accordance with a State-approved forest management plan for many years. Yes, there has been timber harvested in recent years on the Leach family’s 493-acre property (though no recent harvesting has been conducted on the 142-acre tract owned by Ted and Deborah Leach), but any suggestion that it has been mismanaged is just plain erroneous. Recent timber inventories for the properties conclude that the current standing timber value on the 493-acre parcel is $296,165 – and on the 142-acre parcel, standing timber value is $145,692. It is unfortunate that those who know little about forest management are denigrating the landowners, their excellent forester Jeff Smith, the County Forester, and the Vermont Land Trust.
2) It has been suggested in a recent letter to the editor of the Journal Opinion that “it will take 75 years for the trees to grow back to what they were before the logging operations”. As pointed out above, this is erroneous and suggests a misunderstanding of basic forest management principles. Forestland is not uniform in character and is therefore managed in terms of various stands with generally comparable character, in terms of soils, tree species, and growth rates (among other things). At some point, each stand is harvested. For the Leach family property, substantial harvesting has been conducted in recent years because it was time for that harvesting to occur – as required by the State Use Value Appraisal (Current Use) Program. However, more harvesting (perhaps $25,000 worth) will be due within 5-10 years on the Leach family property, while harvesting on the 142-acre parcel could also take place soon, since no harvesting has been conducted there in quite some time. Average revenue from timber sales and maple tap leasing would likely more than offset the lost tax revenue, and notion that there would be no revenue for 75 years is simply untrue.
3) Much is being made of the appraised values ascribed to the two properties. A very experienced professional appraiser completed extensive comparable sales analyses and factored in full timber inventories of both properties (post-harvest, in the case of the Leach family property), and she concluded most recently (May 2017) that the respective values were $485,000 for the 493-acre tract and $220,000 for Ted and Deborah Leach’s land. If one chooses to dispute those values, then let’s look at the 2016 Grand List values. The Leach family’s 493-acre tract is listed at $449,100. Ted and Deborah Leach’s 142-acre parcel is listed at $169,900. The total List value is therefore $612,000. The family agreed to sell the two properties for a total of $384,500 – 62.8% of Grant List value. So under any reasonable valuation, the Leach family is being generous.
4) The recent letter to the editor also suggested that, if it purchases the 635 acres, the Town “would have almost none of the rights land owners usually have”. Again, this is completely erroneous. Yes, there will be a conservation easement on the property but, as all of the thousands of landowners in Vermont who own conserved land can tell you, the Town (and in this case, the public) will retain the right to harvest timber and firewood, tap maple trees, and enjoy many forms of recreational and educational activities. A Town-prepared management plan will provide the guidance on how the property will be used, and the Vermont Land Trust will work with the Town to help ensure that the resource values are protected. It is true, of course, that the Town will not be able to subdivide or further develop the property, or mine it or destroy the forest or degrade the streams.
5) The letter to the editor also implies that the Vermont Land Trust will be charging the Town regularly for “extraordinary” expenses. Again, this is untrue, and if the author wishes to check with other towns in Vermont that own town forests with VLT-held conservation easements, he would find no evidence for his statement. In fact, the Vermont Land Trust would be helping the Town find grant funding and develop partnerships that will save money; we are in the business of supporting communities, not finding ways to extract money from them.
6) Like all municipalities, the Town of Newbury has a blanket liability insurance policy to protect it from lawsuits.
7) There is no indication of significant issues associated with the property boundaries. The Vermont Land Trust will work with the landowners and the Town as we approach closing on the sale to ensure we all know the property’s boundaries, and our staff will do field work with accurate GPS units to accomplish that. We do not require that conserved land be surveyed.
8) The letter to the editor closes with more vitriol against the Vermont Land Trust (and by extension, the landowners, their forester, and the County Forester) with comments about the “so-called forest”, “the destruction that took place there” and our “nerve to push it onto Newbury as a town forest”. Well, it is a beautiful and productive forest managed under a State-approved forest management plan. In Tucker Mountain, it possesses perhaps the most-beloved attraction in Newbury. Ecologically, it has virtues that are too numerous to quickly summarize, but they include deer habitat (ask those who hunt), brook trout habitat in the West Branch of Halls Brook, vernal pools that produce frogs and salamanders, and varied wetlands that help moderate flooding and maintain clean water. As for “pushing it on Newbury”, it is worth noting that 62% of those who voted September 26th supported the proposal. We have worked for several years to reach this point, and it all started through contact with the Selectboard, which agreed it was worth exploring and signed a letter of support for our original application for a $140,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Since then, lots of people in Newbury have dedicated countless hours to secure Tucker Mountain and the surrounding forest for the public.
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Tucker Mountain and the forestland around it has been a popular place for residents of Newbury for a long time. The open meadow top of Tucker Mountain provides long distance views in almost all directions and has been the destination for an annual visit by Newbury Elementary School students and teachers for many years. The two properties’ 635 acres offer recreational opportunities such as hunting, picnicking, hiking, bird-watching, snowshoeing, and back country skiing. Several schools attended by Newbury boys and girls would have an outstanding natural laboratory for learning about plants, wildlife, water resources, and forest management. The land is threaded by headwaters streams and the West Branch of the Halls Brook, with its excellent brook trout habitat. Wetlands, vernal pools with frogs and salamanders, many types of plants and wildlife – all help make the proposed Tucker Mountain-Newbury Town Forest one of Newbury’s most important tracts of land.
- Tucker Mountain has long been a popular recreational destination for residents of and visitors to Newbury. All students from Newbury Elementary School make an annual trip to the top of Tucker Mountain.
- Town ownership, with a supportive Conservation Commission and “Friends” group to help manage the property, would provide permanent public access for diverse recreational and educational activities, and present an opportunity for improved access, management, and stewardship of the properties’ natural resources – while also generating revenue from timber harvesting, firewood, and sugaring.
- Public recreation and scenic views
- Productive timber land and sugar bush
- Water resources and aquatic habitat: West Branch of Halls Brook and tributaries, two vernal pools, and Meadow Brook
- Wetlands and natural communities: beaver pond wetland complex, Red Spruce-Cinnamon Fern Swamp, and Red Maple –Black Ash Seepage Swamp, among others
- Newbury Elementary School trips and special projects?
- Oxbow High School/River Bend Career & Technical Center trips & projects?
There will be a re-vote of the Tucker Mountain acquisition on November 28th at 7:00 pm at the Newbury Village Hall.
Q&As to help answer questions you may have are located here – Tucker-Mt.-TF-Q&A-PR-Release
The Interim Management Plan (unsigned and not yet approved) as presented to the Selectboard is located here and can help with more questions – Tucker Interim Mgmt Plan 11212017
Reports & Documents: