Author: Jessica Frost, Program Manager, Franklin & Grand Isle Counties
The St. Albans Town Forest was one of Franklin Grand Isle RiseVT’s first projects. Back in 2015, a group of avid mountain bikers approached RiseVT Program Manager, Jessica Frost, about working on the trails in the Town Forest. At that time, the Forest was relatively unknown by the community. There was a history of logging and it was currently maintained as a breeding habitat for birds, through partnership with the Audubon Society and the Franklin County Forester, Nancy Patch.
The Town Forest appeared to be a perfect fit for RiseVT. There are several factors that make a project more suitable because of the higher potential impact on overall community health. Duration takes into account how long a project will last in a community. Reach is percentage of the population who can access a project. Behavior change strategy takes into account how often a program or project can be utilized and accessed. A low level behavior change strategy would be a one time educational event, whereas a high level would be trail signage or ongoing fruit and vegetable access at school. The Town Forest scored high in all areas, hence having a high dose impact on community health.
To move an initiative forward, there are 5 steps in the RiseVT Roadmap.
Step 1: Meet and Listen to Communities. RiseVT seeks out community champions who are passionate about a project. After hearing from the Franklin County Mountain Bike Club, Frost met with Carrie Johnson, the Town Manager. As a result, a Town Parks Committee was formed to advocate for and organize the project.
Step 2: Amplify Local Assets. This allows communities to celebrate their resources by promoting them and organizing local events. This resulted in a Town Forest community clean up that drew over 40 people, allowing the project to gain more momentum and support. At this point, a RiseVT Amplify grant allowed the Town to hire Sinuosity, a VT trail design and build company, to complete a multi-use trail design for the Forest.
Step 3: Spark Wellness Initiatives. To draw attention to this incredible resource and gain momentum for fundraising, several more events were held at the Forest. Local naturalists led nature walks and RiseVT had a trail Scavenger Hunt.
Step 4: Mobilize and Advocate. The next 4 years were spent completing trail work with local partners and fundraising to hire a professional trail builder for the more technical portions. Ultimately, between the Town funds, RiseVT, the local Rotary Club, the District Rotary, Vermont Mountain Bike Association and a grant from the State of VT, sufficient funds were raised by 2019. Sinuosity completed the build in July 2020.
Step 5: Monitor, Evaluate, Replicate. We gathered trail user data before trail construction and had a consultant extrapolate the resulting positive economic impact on the Town. We will do this count again next year to make the comparison. Not only are trails good for our health, but good for the economic development of our region.
Time, relationships, and multiple partners were key for this project to move forward. The response to the new trail system has been overwhelmingly positive.