In March of 2000 voters approved the creation of a Conservation Fund; establishing a permanent tax in the amount of one cent on the annual city tax rate. The purpose ofthese funds is to purchase land and rights in land to preserve open land and natural areas in the city. In 2008 the voters approved to modify the Conservation Fund to authorize its original use and in addition allow the fund to purchase land devoted to recreation use in the city.
With an ever-growing inventory of land and no mechanism to pay for the much needed maintenance, in 2016, voters approved a $1.3 million bond (to be financed for a term of ten years) for the purpose of completing projects in the Open Space and Natural Area Plan.
To date, several projects have been completed. Most notably a master plan for Underwood Park and wayfinding installation at Red Rocks Park. In addition, the City has contracted with the Winooski Valley Park District and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps to assist in trails maintenance and invasive plant management. Major overhauls
in both Red Rocks and Wheeler Nature Park have drawn attention, as land has now opened up to allow for new native growth. What might look naked now, will quickly fill in as the understory grows.
The management of these projects has transitioned through several hands and the City has been looking for ways to streamline projects to ensure their swift completion. We are thrilled that Ashley Parker, City Project Manager, will now be taking over the open space project list and is actively working with several contractors to line up work completion.
On the immediate to do list is invasive species removal at all three of our natural areas. Along with this ongoing need, Ashley will be focusing on several erosion projects at Red Rocks, trails network and connectivity at Underwood, and development of pathways and the pollinator garden at Wheeler. Ashley’s dedicated time, project management
experience and natural landscape expertise will speed significant progress. She will grow the Weed Warrior Program and implement other citizen-based work groups. She is also taking the staff leadership role with the Natural Resources Committee and will work to update the necessary management plans for all our open spaces.
If you haven’t visited one of the natural areas, we encourage you to do so. Walking into Red Rocks Park, you feel as if you are entering a National Park. The wide carriage trails provide a network of nearly 3 miles of walking trails, sprinkled with breathtaking views of Shelburne Bay. The panorama of the Green Mountains from Wheeler Nature Park is equally impressive, as are the meticulously maintained gardens at the abutting homestead. For those who want to take in the westerly Adirondack and Lake Champlain
scene, the knoll at Underwood won’t disappoint.
Whichever vantage point you choose, the majesty of these lands are sure to inspire. As Albert Einstein suggests “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”