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Bernardston approves survey to map boundaries of town’s ‘Charity Lot’

Recorder/David Rainville
John Lepore takes in the view from the top of the 84-acre Charity Lot off Bald Mountain Road in Bernardston Tuesday.

Recorder/David Rainville John Lepore takes in the view from the top of the 84-acre Charity Lot off Bald Mountain Road in Bernardston Tuesday.

BERNARDSTON — Is the town’s “Charity Lot” forest 99 acres, 78, or somewhere in between?

A recently approved survey of the property will answer that question once and for all.

This spring, the town began to explore recreational possibilities for the Bald Mountain Road woodlot it’s owned since 1833. Selectmen enlisted the help of sustainable landscape designer John Lepore, a local resident, but plans hit a snag when the lot’s boundaries became unclear.

While hiking the property, plotting existing trails and taking note of its natural features, Lepore found “no trespassing” signs that, according to his handheld GPS, were well within the lot’s bounds.

State geographic information systems maps put the lot at 84 acres, municipal tax maps say it’s 78, and town documents from 1955 give the lot a more generous 99-acre spread.

Though selectmen approved a $6,000 survey of the property in April, objections from resident Peter Snow put the project on hold.

When the Charity Lot was deeded to the town by the estate of local lawyer Joel Goodale in 1833, his will stipulated that it be used for the benefit of the town’s “industrious poor,” with proceeds from logging or leasing the land to go to those residents who had fallen on hard times.

Snow said that turning the property into a recreational area, or using money from the Charity Lot account to fund a survey or other projects, flew in the face of Goodale’s intent. So, the town investigated the matter, and in the end, determined that it was in the interest of the town, and the intent of the will, to conduct a survey.

Without a survey, the board said, the town wouldn’t be able to come up with a forest management plan or tell loggers where they could or couldn’t cut.

Having loggers cull the woods would provide profits to refill the Charity Lot account. The lot was last logged in 1998, and selectmen thought it unwise to contract another cutting until it was clear just where the land begins and ends.

Wednesday, the board unanimously approved the survey.

In April, Selectman Robert Raymond said the survey and management plan would make the property eligible for grant monies that would aid the town in using the lot for recreation or conservation purposes.

Lepore said many improvements to the property could be done at little cost to the town. He suggested holding a “trail-blazing day,” where volunteers could help cut trails through the property.

Parking may prove to be an issue though, said Lepore. The odd-shaped lot has minimal road frontage, and that frontage is in a wellhead protection zone.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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