Jason Rasmussen

Jason Rasmussen, director of planning at the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, discusses the 60-year plan affecting the towns of Windsor, West Windsor and Weathersfield at the Windsor Town Welcome Center on Thursday.

WINDSOR, Vt. — Developers of a multi-community recreation plan for the southern Windsor County region recommended the construction of a multiuse trail that encircles Mt. Ascutney as the top priority project.

Residents of Windsor, West Windsor and Weathersfield gathered at the Windsor Town Welcome Center on Thursday for a presentation of a 60-year plan by the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission (SWCRPC) and the SE Group to strengthen recreational and economic opportunities in the Mt. Ascutney area. The plan culminated from a two-year study funded by the three towns of Windsor, West Windsor and Weathersfield in 2018.

Jason Rasmussen of SWCRPC and Drew Pollack-Bruce of the SE Group presented their findings and recommendations to residents, followed by a discussion outlining next steps for the participating communities.

The plan entails several projects and recommendations, but Rasmussen and Pollack-Bruce said that developing an “around-the-mountain” trail surrounding Mt. Ascutney should be the first priority project.

Mt. Ascutney State Park remains the region’s largest recreational draw, according to the study.

The park attracts an average of 14,000 users per year and drew 14,999 users in 2017. On average, about 30% of the park’s visitors are from out-of-state, 31% from in-state and 39% camp overnight stays.

The plan recommends building a roughly 14 to 18-mile, multipurpose trail around the base of Mt. Ascutney “for hiking, biking, equestrian, cross-country skiing and other compatible uses.” This trail would aim to use as many existing trails, logging roads and corridors as possible. Once completed, this loop could connect to access trails between the surrounding communities.

Rasmussen told the Eagle Times yesterday that the plan remains mostly conceptual in terms of design and cost. While there are already many miles of existing trails to build from, many sections do not connect and, in many cases, the land separating them are privately or state owned. Project details like construction timeline, trail design and total cost hinge on the ability to acquire easements, permissions and other variables.

This project would be completed incrementally in phases over the span of multiple years, according to Rasmussen. The next phase will be to form a multi-community implementation committee comprised of officials, residents and stakeholders to oversee project needs like volunteers and grant programs.

Pollack-Bruce told attendees that having all three municipalities working together gives the project a better chance for funding and support.

“Granters love to see towns getting together,” he said. “Three selectboards in one region makes them much more competitive than one town.”

The two planners project that an around-the-mountain trail has the potential to generate anywhere from $730,000 to $1.9 million in total sales activity — including consumer spending in local restaurants and retail stores) — generate between $101,000 to $269,000 in tax revenues and create the equivalent of 11 to 29 full-time jobs, depending on the volume of visitors.

According to survey data collected by the National Association of Realtors, 80% of Americans consider trails, sidewalks and places to walk a top priority when looking at homes in a community, even higher than the percentage prioritizing high quality public schools (74%).

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