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Riverwalk, Merck Forest, and Smokey House awarded VOREC grants

Press Manchester Journal

Author Chris Mays and Cherise Forbes

Published May 30, 2024

Young Currier students harvest potatoes at the Smokey House Center.

MANCHESTER – Soon, there will be even more trails to explore in the Northshire.

Three local organizations – the Manchester Riverwalk Association, Merck Forest and Farmland Center, and Smokey House Center – will be undertaking major recreation projects thanks to a regional infusion of more than $850,000 in funds from the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) community grant program.

This is part of more than $6 million in funds that will be distributed to 51 organizations statewide, as announced by Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore on Tuesday. Awarded projects will support communities in 13 of Vermont’s counties, along with eight statewide projects. The latest round of grants marks the program’s fourth and "most significant investment in communities across the state," according to the announcement.

The Manchester Riverwalk Association has been granted $400,000 to construct a long-awaited, ADA-compliant pedestrian and bike bridge over the Battenkill River. The goal is to connect the Town Green with Old Main Street.

The Association believes there's "more opportunity to educate, inform, and impress people with an amazing view from the bridge," the association's website states. Working together with the Manchester Historical Society, the association plans to add information panels with historical photos and information about the views from the bridge.

“On behalf of the Manchester Riverwalk, we are so very excited and pleased to have been awarded this VOREC Grant from the State of Vermont,” said Margaret Donovan, Board President.

The association, founded in 2013, consists of a “small but dedicated” group of volunteers who have worked to create “safe access for all” to the West Branch of the Battenkill, as well as to plant native species and create a healthier riparian buffer. Volunteers have fundraised “for years” to see the bridge brought to life, Donovan said.

“This grant opportunity means MRW can start building this bridge that we have been dreaming of for years,” she continued, adding that the planned structure will also allow pedestrians to walk more easily between Routes 11/30 and Main Street.

Merck Forest and Farmland Center, located in Rupert, will use their $365,680 grant to install a universal access trail and boardwalk that connects Mettawee Community School in Pawlet to Merck Forest’s 150 acre satellite campus and trail network, which is adjacent to the school.

“We are profoundly grateful to VOREC for this generous grant, which empowers Merck Forest and Farmland Center to enhance opportunities for children to explore and experience the outdoors,” Said Rob Terry, Executive Director. “These new boardwalks will provide educators and elementary school children with greater access to outdoor classrooms, expanding educational offerings and fostering a deeper connection with nature."

At Smokey House Center in Danby, $92,298.50 in funds will help develop a community-informed plan to revitalize Smokey House’s degraded trail system, while supporting the design of a trail-based community science program.The project will bring in community members to actively participate in the land-based research of the Living Lab, Smokey House’s new keystone program. The grant will also include planning with a local architect to add a visitors center to their current Farm Stand building.

“We see this project as an exciting initial step for increasing access to a spectrum of meaningful recreation opportunities for people from all walks of life here at Smokey House,” said Walker Cammack, Program Director. “In turn, outdoor recreation will be a key mechanism for accomplishing the research goals of Smokey House’s Living Lab program while building a sense of shared community stewardship and connection to this wonderful landscape.”

“We will be working with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and folks at UVM Extension to develop a program that will allow visitors to help collect important ecology data while out on our trails,” he continued. “The hope is this project will act as a land-based case study in exploring how recreation opportunities can be designed to support community-based participatory research and stewardship of place.”

Smokey House is also collaborating with the Danby Planning Commission, Sinuosity, a Vermont trail building group, and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) on the project. Strength Perspectives, a diversity and equity consulting group already working with Smokey House, will also be helping to increase accessibility and make recreational opportunities feel open to more diverse audiences. The group of partners plan to hold a series of public community engagement events to solicit feedback on desired forms of recreation, how to increase accessibility, and how people would like to engage in community science across the property.

Statewide, the Catamount Trail Association received $21,504 to purchase new ski equipment to sustain and expand the Catamount Trail Association's youth learn to ski programs.

Nearly $200,000 will be spent by the state to CRO Planning & Design to a recreator survey and economic impact analysis for adaptive recreation in Vermont. About $27,500 will go to the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals to design and deliver an Inclusive Spaces Audit Workshop for outdoor recreation providers who manage trails, campgrounds, marinas and visitor centers.

Unlikely Riders is getting $226,885 to secure a temporary gear closet for BIPOC skiers and riders, and to conduct a strategic planning process for a permanent base lodge facility and expand the capacity of Unlikely Riders.

In response to flooding last summer, three organizations are getting grants to repair trails and make them more resistant. About $317,400 is going to the Vermont ATV Sportsman's Association for seven sections of trail. Vermont Association of Snow Travelers is getting nearly $91,000 for six sections, and Vermont Mountain Bike Association secured nearly $60,000 for nine sections of trail.

Vermont Trails and Greenways Council received about $644,400 to develop a statewide trail accessibility hub and complete detailed trail assessments in order to promote and share high-quality information about trail access across the state. Partners include Vermont Adaptive, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Vermont Mountain Bike Association, Upper Valley Trails Alliance and Community Geo.

In 2017, Gov. Phil Scott established the VOREC Steering Committee by executive order to "bring together a broad set of outdoor recreation stakeholders to promote stewardship of state recreation assets and market Vermont’s outdoor recreation values and attributes to effectively foster responsible and sustainable economic growth," according to the announcement. The VOREC Community Grant Program became one of the first and highest priorities of the committee.

“We are pleased to support so many amazing projects across Vermont,” stated Becca Washburn, chairperson of the VOREC Steering Committee and director of lands administration and recreation for the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. “The interest in the program, as well as the strength of the applications demonstrates the opportunity communities from Grand Isle to Brattleboro see in investing in the connection between outdoor recreation and economic benefits.”

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