Over 250 acres protected for first-of-its-kind, two-town forest in Sharon and Strafford

SHARON & STRAFFORD, VT — The Alliance for Vermont Communities closed on the gift of 256 acres to the towns of Sharon and Strafford for the creation a forest that spans these two towns. The Ashley Community Forest will be managed by representatives of both towns and serve as a resource for educational and recreational activities.

The Alliance for Vermont Communities (AVC), a non-profit organization, purchased the Ashley property in June of 2018 as a response to a proposed development in the area and a desire to create a community forest.

“It has been four years almost to the day that a fledgling AVC board decided to purchase the land in an effort to block the out-of-scale New Vistas development plans,” said AVC President, Michael Sacca. “We are delighted that our plan to acquire and give the land back to the residents of Sharon and Strafford has become a reality. Thanks to everyone who believed in the vision of forest connectivity and the value of open space for recreation, wildlife, and water quality. The future of the place and how it will evolve is now in the hands of the people.”

AVC collaborated with the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) to secure a grant from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) and launched a successful private fundraising campaign, in order to purchase and protect the forestland. AVC is donating the land to the towns of Sharon and Strafford for the creation of the Ashley Community Forest.

“This new community forest provides great opportunities for walking, hunting, snowmobiling, studying nature, and forest management—it’s a terrific asset for the towns of Sharon and Strafford and VHCB is proud to support its conservation,” said Gus Seelig, Executive Director of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

A conservation easement on the property is held by VLT and VHCB in order to conserve productive forestland and wildlife habitats, and to provide the communities with educational and recreational opportunities.

“It is exciting to see this collaborative project come to fruition,” said VLT’s Tracy Zschau, Vice President for Land Protection. “The Ashley Community Forest is a beautiful property and we look forward to watching these two communities use it for generations to come. The property is already being used for educational activities by several local schools and there are trails for public use at the Ashley Forest, as well as on other nearby conserved land.”

AVC led a multi-year community engagement process with Sharon and Strafford that garnered widespread community support for the creation of the town forest. An overwhelming majority of residents from both towns voted in favor of the community forest during their 2021 Town Meetings. Subsequently, the Sharon and Strafford Selectboards voted to accept the gift of the property with the conservation easement in place and to co-manage the property.

The property had been at the center of Utah resident David Hall’s vision for a 5,000-acre development named New Vistas. That vision was shelved after vehement community opposition.

“Wonderful news!” said Kevin Gish, Sharon Selectboard member. “This has been a long road, but we made it happen. There has been a lot of work between the multiple organizations involved and the two towns of Sharon and Strafford. The Ashley Forest will remain as a large forested parcel and will provide many opportunities, including recreation, education and forestry, for residents of both towns for many years to come. Thank you for this gift!”

“The creation of the Ashley Community Forest represents an enormous amount of effort by countless stakeholders, and the hope and expectation of collaborative land stewardship for the benefit of all of us,” said Patrik Kelly of the Strafford Selectboard. “We anticipate this project to be a self-sustaining community asset that will provide ecological, recreational, and educational opportunities for years to come.”

 

Photo: Michael Sacca