The Town of Waitsfield has completed its long-sought purchase and permanent conservation of 110 acres of forestland at the north end of Bowen Road, adjacent to the Town’s existing 640-acre Scrag Town Forest. This culminates a two-year effort spearheaded by the Waitsfield Conservation Commission and the Vermont Land Trust with assistance from community volunteer Cindy Carr to secure a key gateway to the Scrag Town Forest and enhance public access to this great community asset.

Last Friday, the Town purchased the land from Howard and Judy Saffan, who bought what was a 158-acre parcel on Bowen Road from Mark and Pauline Kisiel in 2014. After combining two lots to build their home on 48 acres of the property, the Saffans offered the last permitted developable lot and adjoining forestland to the Town at a significant discount.

“We are thrilled to enable the community to share in the beauty of the Scrag Forest. We look forward to generations of families sharing this incredible legacy,” said Howard Saffan.

Town forests are a part of Vermont’s long and proud tradition of community ownership and management of forests for a multitude of public benefits. Today, there are more than 67,000 acres of forestland owned by 170 municipalities around the state, all open to the public to enjoy. Town forests offer watershed protection, wildlife habitat, flood reduction, timber products, public recreation, removal of carbon from the atmosphere by trees and other plants, outdoor classrooms and neighborhood gathering places.

Scrag Town Forest Gateway parcel closing

 “This project is a great success for our Town and the broader Mad River Valley. At long last, this critical parcel of land at the entrance to the Scrag Town Forest has been protected from development,” said Phil Huffman, Chair of the Waitsfield Conservation Commission. “This addition to the Town Forest protects more important forestland along the Northfield Mountains, and allows us to improve public access and invest in trails that will provide new opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy this unique community treasure.”

Before completing the sale on Friday, the Saffans, along with their neighbors, Al Rose and Amy Kyle, fulfilled an agreement with the Town to resurface, fix culverts and establish several safety pull-outs on Bowen Road. Additionally, the Saffans funded the construction of a 15-car gravel public parking area on the Town’s new parcel. The previous 6-car parking area was decommissioned. 

The Town’s purchase of the 110-acre parcel for $450,000 was funded with competitive grants from the United States Forest Service’s Community Forest Program and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, a contribution from Waitsfield’s Restroom, Recreation and Conservation Reserve Fund, and charitable donations from the community. More than 85 donors provided $145,000 in contributions to complete the purchase and endow a fund dedicated to stewardship and trail development in the Scrag Town Forest.

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous generosity from so many people who were a part of this effort and are excited about the future of the Scrag Forest,” said Liza Walker, the Mad River Valley Regional Director for the Vermont Land Trust. “This is an exceptional land conservation project that reflects many of the reasons that people live in the Valley. The Scrag Town Forest offers a place to recreate for a healthy lifestyle, keeps forestland in production, protects biological diversity, and maintains our shared sense of place.”

The Conservation Commission has developed an Interim Management Plan to guide usage of the Gateway Parcel for the next 18 months. During this time, the Commission will develop a long-range forest management plan and engage the community in further discussions about trail improvements, public use and management of the Gateway Parcel.

For project volunteer Cindy Carr, the purchase of the Gateway Parcel is the beginning of exciting opportunity to share a place that she and many others have come to love over the past decades. “There are many playgrounds in the Valley, but anyone who has hiked to the top and scrabbled through to the Lookout knows that Scrag is a different place,” said Carr. “There is an indefinable peace that comes from visiting this pristine wilderness, experiencing the utter quiet around the beaver ponds, and seeing the Valley from a new perspective at the top. The stewards of the Town Forest recognized Scrag’s unique character years ago and it is humbling and gratifying to be part of the community effort to add the Gateway parcel to their vision.”