The proposed Bluffside Farm trail connector will result in a seven-mile, car-free, recreational trail connecting downtown Newport with trails in Canada. The Vermont Land Trust and contractors presented project updates before the Newport Recreation Committee meeting on October 17. Here’s what you need to know:
Video: Tracy Zschau, VLT Vice President of Conservation; Ben Heath, Vice President of Hamlin Consulting Engineers; and Brian Lane-Karnas, Senior Engineer at DeWolfe Engineering Associates present updated conceptual plans for the connector trail at Bluffside Farm.
What is the proposed car-free recreational trail?
There are two existing recreation trails in Newport. The Beebe Spur Rail Trail is a four-mile rail trail that spans the eastern shore of Lake Memphremagog toward Canada. The second trail starts at the Gateway Center (84 Fyfe Drive) in downtown Newport and goes generally toward the North Country Union High School (209 Veterans Ave.) and Prouty Beach Recreation Area (386 Prouty Beach Rd.). Currently, trail users must travel vehicular roads to get from one of these trails to the other.
“There’s really no good connection point between these two systems other than just using the main roadway system,” said Ben Heath, vice president of Hamlin Consulting Engineers during the meeting. View the team’s full slideshow presentation.
VLT’s project would connect Bluffside Farm and Prouty Beach with a boardwalk across the mouth of Scott’s Cove. The City of Newport is currently rerouting and improving a trail through Prouty Beach to bring it closer to Prouty Beach amenities, including restrooms, the beach, and lakeshore. VLT and the city are communicating and planning extensively so that the trails connect seamlessly, explained Heath.
The result will be a seven-mile, car-free trail network from the Gateway Center in downtown Newport all the way to the Canadian border, said Heath.
What work has been done toward creating the connector?
In 2018, VLT raised the $1.2 million to build the Bluffside Farm section of the trail. Funders include the Northern Border Regional Commission; Vermont Housing & Conservation Board; Vermont Forests, Parks, & Recreation; The Vermont Community Foundation; the Freeman Foundation; and USDA Rural Development, alongside more than 125 local businesses and individuals.
In early 2019, Vermont Land Trust contracted Donald Hamlin Consulting Engineers, Inc. for project management, following a competitive Request for Qualifications process that included a local selection team. Vice President Benjamin Heath, a graduate of North Country Union High School, is the lead from Hamlin and will take VLT through the final engineering, permitting, and construction phases to completion.
In July 2019, VLT contracted with DeWolfe Engineering Associates to develop the engineering plans for the proposed boardwalk and pathway. In August, geoengineers from S.W. Cole Engineering, Inc., took soil samples from around Scott’s Cove. The results showed that it is safe to build across the waterway. With updated conceptual design plans in hand, the team is currently meeting with state and local permitting and environmental agencies for feedback.
The project is on track, and construction is scheduled to start in Spring 2020.
What will the recreation trail look like?
There are two parts, said Brian Lane-Karnas, senior engineer at DeWolfe Engineering Associates. One part is a 10-foot-wide, gravel, multi-use path. Fabric beneath the crushed stone will prevent vines, while sand underlay will prevent mud.
The second piece will be a 10-foot-wide wooden boardwalk across Scott’s Cove. The boardwalk supports work great for wet soils and places that have sensitive environmental impacts, Lane-Karnas added. The wood planking will either be pressure-treated wood or black locust lumber, both of which have long design life and are low-maintenance, he said. Heath added that the boardwalk will not be accessible to motorized vehicles.
Additionally, the entire path will be accessible to people with disabilities, said Lane-Karnas. “There are specific things in terms of trail width, pause places, gradients going up and down the trail that we’re going to be meeting in order to make this whole section of the path across Bluffside Farm is ADA accessible,” he said.
Who will maintain the trails?
VLT owns this property, and has done all the fundraising for this project. “Some of the grant funding depends on the long-term accessibility of that trail… so that’s something the land trust is committed to,” said Tracy Zschau, VLT vice president of conservation. Heath added, “This project will be constructed with an operations and maintenance plan.” Project leaders noted that while VLT assumes responsibility for the property’s upkeep, they are open to other options — including easements with the city and partnerships with local groups — to ensure that commitment in the future. That discussion is ongoing.
Will there be room to fish off the boardwalk?
Project designers said there’s opportunity for fishing at the bottom of the boardwalk, on the farm side of Scott’s Cove. “This whole area is flat and sandy. I already put a bit of human activity there. …You’ll have direct access to [the water] at that location,” said Heath.
Heath added that project leaders are considering ways to provide space to sit, bird watch, fish, and supply informational panels along the boardwalk and path.
Could I still boat into Scott’s Cove?
At the mouth of Scott’s Cove is a small shallow connection to Lake Memphremagog that allows some boat passage. Project leaders aim to maintain that access with a minimum six-foot clearance between the highest average water level and bottom of the boardwalk. The passage will be 18-feet wide, said Lane-Karnas.
“You can get in-and-out with kayaks and things like that, and probably any kind of boat that’s shallow enough to get through it now will be able to get under [the boardwalk],” he said.
Is there enough parking?
The trail proposal includes a four-space parking lot abutting Bluff Road, where the road and Beebe Spur Rail Trail connect to Bluffside Farm. That parking lot does not currently interfere with farming or the sugarbush, said Zschau. However, additional parking options are available at Prouty Beach — the spacious lot will allow easy access to the farm — and at the nearby North Country Hospital.
The parking options will allow more school use of the property when the boardwalk is in place, and will balance future farming and public use of the property, Zschau said.
How will the new trails impact bow hunting season?
For the past three years, VLT has held a lottery for bow hunting. We’ve used signage and education to help people understand the different things that are happening and be safe, said Zschau. “I think the trail will require some enhanced education and signage, but I think it’s something we see as being able to be compatible. The past couple of years have shown that the property can handle it,” she said.
How will the trails affect natural and cultural resources at Bluffside Farm?
During prior public sessions, community members said they wanted protection for natural and cultural resources on the farm. On the property, there is a natural sand beach, wetlands, an active bald eagle nest, and Abenaki significance, said Zschau.
Heath explained that VLT went through rigorous review criteria that included researching wetland delineations, natural resource concerns and natural community sensitivities, potential issues with the lakeshore and with Scott’s Cove, and archaeological reviews.
Lane-Karnas added that the team is conversing with permitting and environmental officials for more feedback.
How will the trail affect neighboring properties?
Project leaders said the trail won’t interfere with nearby properties. The trail connects to Bluff Road; from there, you can turn right onto the sidewalk and follow it to the existing crosswalk where streets lead toward the high school, or you can go left onto the Beebe Spur Rail Trail.
Bluffside Farm is located on Scott Farm Road and borders Bluff Road.
What is VLT’s involvement in this project?
In December 2015, VLT bought Bluffside Farm. Formerly the Scott Farm, the 129-acre property has farmland, woodland, and a natural sand beach. With community input, it was realized that VLT could shape the farm’s future uses in ways that would benefit Newport, explained Zschau.
Three priorities for the farm’s use arose from public meetings held in 2016: 1) connecting the farmland to products or programs that support the community; protecting the natural and cultural resources located there; and 3) expanding recreational opportunities both on and through the farm.
Since those meetings, VLT has built up other desired recreational opportunities. It opened the entire farm to pedestrian public access, created a hunting lottery, collaborated on new ski trails, and continues to create pedestrian trails around the farm. Additionally, local schools use the property as an outdoor classroom — including North Country High School’s new Kingdom Course, and VLT is working with Memphremagog Watershed Association and others to expand educational programming. The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps also uses the property to grow vegetables for North Country Hospital and Northern Vermont Regional Hospital. VLT will also host an AmeriCorps Volunteer this winter; this volunteer will provide educational programming around the farm.
Who should I contact for more information?
Please send all your any questions, concerns, and ideas to Tracy Zschau, VLT vice president for conservation. Email her at email@example.com, or call (802) 745-6301.