2017-06-17 / Front Page

Advisory committee formed to examine trails, rural economic development


Bikers make their way down the Toonerville Trail. The Springfield Selectboard voted Monday to create an advisory committee to examine how resources like the Toonerville Trail can be better utilized for the town. — EAGLE FILEBikers make their way down the Toonerville Trail. The Springfield Selectboard voted Monday to create an advisory committee to examine how resources like the Toonerville Trail can be better utilized for the town. — EAGLE FILESPRINGFIELD, Vt. — The Springfield Selectboard voted 4-1 to create the Springfield Greenways, Trails, Byways and Rural Economy Advisory Committee on Monday, with Kristi Morris, Walter Martone, Peter McGillivray and Michael Martin voting for and Stephanie Thompson voting against.


This comes after the selectboard had put the approval of the committee on hold, last month, asking the group to bring forth a new proposal.


George McNaughton helms the committee. Previously, STAG (Springfield Trails and Greenways), formed in 1990, had worked to improve or develop area nature trails. However, McNaughton notes that they have faded in and out depending upon whether they have a specific project--like the Toonerville trail--in the works.


Chartering a formal committee, McNaughton feels, would bring more consistency to the efforts of a trails committee than a “rag tag group of people.”


Selectman Stephanie Thompson noted that she’d want to see “connectivity from them,” rather than “duplication,” to move forward.


However, the Springfield Greenways, Trails, Byways and Rural Economy Advisory Committee’s vision isn’t merely relegated to the formation of trails. In addition to enhancing the advertisement of byways and preserving greenways, the burgeoning committee also hopes to foster rural economy.


“We need to get middle class people to live here, to eat here, to start businesses here,” McNaughton said. “That has to do with the ambience of an accessible countryside. That mystique is what this committee is about.”


McNaughton sees the development of trails and byways--and increasing connectivity between the nature trails and the rest of the town--as an opportunity to attract people to the community.


“Our economic development has been focused getting businessman to come in and open a factory and employ everyone,” he said. “And we need to keep doing that. However, another way of looking at that is getting the middle class and artisans to the community, and then businesses and amenities will come in.”


McNaughton says attracting these people could even improve local schools. McNaughton noted that young people are attracted to starting farms and that could be fostered in the area. He feels that the soil in the region would be perfect for a cider apple orchard, or for the cultivation of the herbs for absinthe distillation. “We could be the Napa valley of cider orchards,” he said. “An absinthe would have a tie-in with the Steampunk community.”


McNaughton also thinks that amenities like nature trails attract young people to the area. “We need to get back young blood and excitement,” he said.


McNaughton notes that while Vermont features scenic destinations like the cheese trail or the wine trail, but Springfield is currently only represented on the Beer Trail, thanks to Trout River Brewing, Co. located at 100 River Street. “We need destinations,” he said.  


The committee also hopes to bring greater connectivity of trails, hoping to solidify a network of continuous trails separate from the town. The objectives may be prescient ones, with the presentation of a Streetscape Master Plan in Springfield also highlighting greater connectivity with the river, and greater incorporation of green spaces and nature walks, like the proposed river walk in the downtown.


The Springfield Greenways, Trails, and Byways and Rural Economy Advisory Committee was first presented as merely a committee. The addition of the advisory qualification is one of several amendments to the proposal levied by the board.


The board also moved to amend language regarding public hearings to public input sessions, in response to concerns the board raised about what impact public hearings have on expectations of the community. “There’s a perception that following a hearing it’s [the topic of a hearing] gonna get done,” said MacGillivray. “It may commit the board to expenses it can’t afford.”


“There’s a risk that the public may get unrealistic expectations about what can be implemented,” added town manager Tom Yennerell.


In response to concerns about the operation of the new committee, McNaughton encouraged the board not to downplay the intelligence of the community, and expressed indifference to whether verbiage was amended. “We’re a promotion committee,” said McNaughton. “Not a restriction committee.”


Elizabeth Muse, a member of the trails committee in its current version, indicated that the creation of a committee devoted specifically to this issue is necessary because active community members that wish to advocate for the creation and development of trails and byways may not always feel comfortable going before a more powerful board, like the board of selectmen.


“I don’t think anyone is saying that what is proposed [by the committee] is a done deal,” Muse said. “There are people that don’t want to share ideas with upper levels in the community.”


Selectman Martin, for his part, offered full support of the creation of the committee. “This is a homegrown effort to identify areas, by volunteers, that are in need,” he said. “It’s a wonderful initiative to have people come to us with constructive ideas.”


The board removed phrases to reflect the committee's role as an advisory board rather than a policy board. Following the amendments, the motion to create the committee carried. The board will be valid for three years, when the selectboard will reevaluate. Currently, the town of Springfield is looking for interested community members to join the committee.

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