By RUSSELL JONES
Over 40 community members came to the Town Hall this Monday evening to discuss the Town of Brandon possibly discontinuing Town Highway 57, know as Creek Road. Almost all were against the idea of the town giving up the road.
“It boggles my mind that the Town of Brandon would give up rights to a road that could be used for who knows what in the future,” Brandon resident Bruce Roby said. “For recreation, for access, for whatever may happen… in the future, we can’t predict. We can predict if it is worth something, why would we give it away?”
The discussion arose when landowner Paul Stone began a process to sell an easement to the Natural Resources Conservation Services. If the town were to “discontinue” the road (meaning the town gives up their right of way on the road and the road is split down the centerline, giving ownership to the abutting landowners), it would make the process easier for the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the NRCS. The road runs off Pearl Street.
Jim Eikenberry from the USDA said they could acquire the land as is, but it would be about seven or eight acres less land than if the road were discontinued.
Stone said he eventually plans to donate the land to the state Fish and Wildlife Department so that it may be used for fishing and hunting, and he said he has no intention of stopping landowners, who are landlocked to the south of him, from accessing the road by filing the petition.
“I’ve owned land in Brandon and Sudbury and I’ve never posted my land,” Stone said. “I’m not trying to deny anyone access.”
Selectboard chairman Seth Hopkins said the town originally started the process of discontinuing the road back in 1990, but never followed through. Stone bought the land in 1997, thinking that the town had already discontinued the road.
Hopkins said the process for determining the fate of the road was to gather information from landowners and residents who use the road via public hearing. The board will then deliberate on what is best for the town regarding the future of the road and make a decision within 30 days.
The guests at the public hearing all commented on how they use the road for hiking, biking and horseback riding and didn’t want the town to discontinue the road.
“We don’t want to lose our public lands that we all pay for as taxpayers,” Sharon Stearns said. Stearns started an online petition with Change.org that received 422 signatures, not all residents of Brandon. “I have a horse farm near that road and every weekend I have people come from all over the state to ride horses with me and we often use that trail,” she said.
Many of the attendees wanted the road to be changed to a public trail, something Stone said he thought would suit his purposes, but, he said, he would like to check with his lawyers to be certain.
Posted lands vs. public access
The topic of posted lands and public access is a sensitive subject to many area residents and Town Clerk Sue Gage said there have been many acres of land that have been posted in the past five years, quickly reducing the access local hunters have to the land.
“That’s three or four miles of good hunting land,” added Brandon resident Karl Fjeld. “It’s not just recreational trail users who go out there, but sportsmen too, and some of them getting up there in years. If we had a roomful of hunters in here, they’d be saying the same thing, too, only louder.”
Selectboard Chairman Seth Hopkins said he believed the process for reviewing the status of the road was working as it was designed to — allowing for ample discussion to gauge public opinion and allow the board to come up with an informed decision.
“In my five years on the selectboard,” added selectboard member Doug Bailey, “I’ve received more phone calls and more emails on this than anything else; even more than the street lights going up in Brandon.”
The board will take all the comments they received into consideration and Hopkins said a decision would be announced either at the next board meeting, or the one after.
Town leases forest for sugaring
The selectboard voted to approve a lease of the town forest to selectboard member Tracy Wyman. Wyman recused himself from the discussion beforehand for obvious reasons.
The town will lease 387 acres to Wyman for sugaring. The agreement also stipulates that Wyman will upgrade and repair roads and bridges through the forest. The forest has been logged before, 15 years ago, but no one has ever proposed to sugar it before.
Hopkins said he does not believe anyone has ever proposed sugaring the town forest before and there was not a bid put out for others because access to the forest is only available through private roads, so others would not necessarily have been able to access the forest.
“It seems to be appropriate because the Wyman’s own the surrounding land,” Bailey said. “If someone is going to be working up there, he seems to be the right one to be doing it.”
The town forest was originally owned by Shirley Farr, and upon her death was willed to the Brandon Fire District. Part of the land, however, was in Goshen, and part in Chittenden, along with the 387 acres in Brandon. The fire district did not want to pay taxes on the land and gave it to the respective towns.
“There are some current use issues up there,” Wyman said. “Roads washing out, bridges needing repair, and we would take care of that.”
The lease is a 20-year lease with the option of five extensions of five years each. The town would receive stumpage fees for any timber that would need to be removed during the sugaring process. “To have someone maintaining the roads there, that would be great,” said Bailey.