Trail Access & You

There is a lot flying around about Kingdom Trail’s private land access this week. Rest assured, KT is alive and thriving with 75+ miles of trail and 97 landowners. The winter calendar is loaded with events and everything will be hosted in grand fashion as usual. It’s great to know that if the VMBA office rings the rally bell, folks are going to answer!

Roughly 80% of your trails are on private land. As you know, losing access to private land is a big deal. There is a long list of reasons that we lose access ranging from a land sale, parking area problems, unanticipated undue regulation, expensive permitting, revenue sharing issues, or someone simply changing their mind. In Vermont, our private landowners rule the day when it comes to our access to amazing trails.

There are five basic layers to gaining, maintaining or losing access to trails.

  1. Landowner prerogative – cannot be predicted, only supported and appreciated
  2. Chapter operations – parking, maintenance, public outreach, closures, signage, etc.
  3. Land use planning operations of the State of VT and USFS
  4. Ourselves. Our behaviors while enjoying someone else’s land is meaningful and is the largest predictor of continued access
  5. State level advocacy – this is where the work of your VMBA Office comes into play by representing your voice in Montpelier

The VMBA office has invested a great deal of resources into protecting private landowners from undue regulation and the trails that you love. For example, VMBA was the first trail organization to advocate for using public funding on a private landowner’s land with a landowner agreement in place as opposed to an easement. This step has made it easier for your chapter to approach private landowners seeking more access for trail expansion. One of your favorite trails was likely made possible because of one of these landowner agreements.

Our advocacy has been particularly intense over the past 18-months as the future of Act 250 and its jurisdiction over trails on private land plays out. VMBA, along with multiple other trail-based nonprofits and conservation groups, is working with state land management agencies to develop the best way to oversee trail work. This isn’t easy (or cheap). This effort involves bringing a lot of people to the table with divergent views about wildlife, forest management, the economy, community health, water quality, and on and on. Each of these topics deserves equal treatment and care – they’re all important.

This is all coming to a head these days because Act 250, after being in existence for 50 years, is being reviewed at the state level. In many cases the two are not linked. The concern is that more and more they will be, which may have negative impacts on your access. For example, VMBA chapters’ relationships with private landowners have been altered or ended due to Act 250 concerns. It should be noted that Act 250 is one of the primary reasons Vermont is so beautiful and is a good thing for Vermont when it comes to large-scale development. VMBA appreciates the value of Act 250, but is eager to establish reasonable trail oversight.

What’s next? First, VMBA will continue to work with the other trail-based nonprofits and conservation groups to align on a reasonable system for trail oversight in a manner that encourages private landowners to partner with your chapter(s). Secondly, this system needs to be supported by state land management and regulatory agencies. Candidly, there is a lot of work to do on this step and will be the bulk of VMBA’s advocacy work during the next legislative session. Thirdly, a trail oversight process will need to be presented to your legislators in a fashion that gains their support.

You can help. There may be a time in the next few months when the VMBA office asks you to call your legislator in support of proposals being submitted on behalf of private landowners and your trails.  To maintain strong relationships with private landowners, there is a list of simple things we can be adding to our weekly routines:

  1. Respect trail closures—stay in tune with your chapter and trail conditions
  2. Parking area awareness—clean it up, keep it down, be discrete and low key
  3. Anytime you approach anyone on the trail, assume it’s the landowner and express gratitude
  4. Share care and respect for each other out there—be inclusive
  5. Encourage other people to do all of these things as well

Lastly, VMBA is grateful for our relationship with the other organizations of the Vermont Trails & Greenways Council. Collectively, this group has invested a great deal on your behalf and is committed to continuing to pursue private landowner protections from undue regulation in 2020.

VMBA will be updating everyone as the process plays out.

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