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Charity Lot to be surveyed for future planning

Just how big is Bernardston forest?

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 — Before the town can decide what to do with the Charity Lot forest, it has to answer some questions, the first being “how big is it?”

It’s anywhere from 78 to 99 acres, depending on where you get your information. The town’s tax parcel map says it’s 78, the state Office of Geographic Information’s GIS maps put it at 84, and town documents from 1955 say it’s 99 acres.

A survey approved by the Board of Selectmen Wednesday will clearly define the property’s boundaries once and for all.

Bernardston contracted landscape architect John Lepore to come up with a plan for recreational use of the property. He’s done much of the preliminary work, plotting out trails and features on his GPS, but he ran into trouble when he encountered “No trespassing” signs that appeared to be well within the property’s bounds, according to the GIS maps he uses.

Lepore said he could continue plans for the Charity Lot without the survey, though he would be hindered by the uncertain property lines. Without a survey, he said, plans would have to be confined to areas well within the property line, to prevent a dispute.

“I’d be all for it if you said you preferred to put (the plans) on hold, and used the money for a survey instead,” said Lepore.

That survey will also come in handy for loggers. The lot was given to the town in 1833, in the will of Judge Job Goodale. He stipulated that any proceeds from use of the lot, including timbering, be used for the town’s “industrious poor.”

This was a concern of resident Peter Snow, who wanted to be sure the Charity Lot account would be used for its intended purpose.

Selectman Robert Raymond said the management plan, the survey, and the plans Lepore would help put together will open the door for the town to receive grants to fund recreation and conservation projects on the lot.

The property was last logged in 1998, according to Lepore. Future logging, under a 2012 forest management plan for the property, could help refill the Charity Lot’s coffers.

The $6,000 survey, to be done with Charity Lot funds, is crucial if the property is to be logged again, selectmen agreed. Without clear boundaries, the board felt that there are too many potential liabilities to contract a logger to cull the woods.

Lepore said many of the things that could come out of the plan could be done for little cost. He suggested a trail-blazing day, a community event where volunteers could help clear paths.

Community input

Lepore held a workshop Monday, and 13 residents, seven of them Charity Lot abutters, came out to hear about the property, share their hopes for it, and have their questions answered and concerns heard.

The top concern, said Lepore, was the lot’s uncertain boundaries. Others included ongoing erosion on the property, a lack of off-street parking, and the fact that the property’s limited road frontage is within a wellhead protection zone.

Despite those difficulties, those at the workshop saw a wealth of opportunities in the property.

Right off the road, it’s easy to get to by car or bicycle. Rock outcroppings and ridges provide beautiful views within a short hike, and many existing trails are easy and well-thought, according to Lepore’s summary of the forum.

It could use more loop-style trails, so hikers don’t have to go back down the same trail to get back from the many potential destination points. Lepore said a trail could be blazed to connect the property’s ridges and viewpoints. The group also wanted to see improved parking, and picnic spots on the property. While residents wanted to see some parts of the property developed for use, they also want to determine and mark sensitive areas that should be off-limits.

Another community forum will be held once Lepore has come up with two planning options.

If you’d like to add your input, you can email Lepore at ask@future-lands.com.

See for yourself

While Lepore’s maps and photos of the property show off some of its features, pictures just don’t do them justice. So, he’ll give people an opportunity to see them up close and personal.

Lepore will lead a guided hike of the Charity Lot from 9 to 11 a.m. April 27, rain or shine. Those who would like to come should meet at the trailhead, 1.7 miles up Bald Mountain Road from Church Street.

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

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