Trying to balance the varying interests for more than 26,000 acres of land is a big task, but the state of Vermont has created a new draft management plan for Camel's Hump — and they want to know what the public thinks.
The last management plan for Camel’s Hump State Park was written in 1991. The new 114-page draft plan takes a more holistic approach, addressing not just the state park but also a state forest and two wildlife management areas. All together they cover more than 40 square miles of publicly owned land, overseen by the Agency of Natural Resources.
"Lately the agency has been combining properties into management units, which makes a lot of sense, especially when they’re adjacent to each other," explains Jason Nerenberg, a state stewardship forester. "And we’re always trying to think about landscape scale, conservation and management. So, in this case it includes Camel’s Hump State Park, Camel’s Hump State Forest, Robbins Mountain and Huntington Gap’s WMA [Wildlife Management Areas]."
Nerenberg is the forester in charge of the new Camel’s Hump Management Unit for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. He says the state is ready for feedback on the draft plan.
"What we’re really going for here is a balance between different user groups’ needs and resource concerns," Nerenberg says. "So, we like to think we’ve hit that balance but we really need to know if the public feels that we hit that balance."
Nerenberg says the plan addresses four broad goals:
"And they’re not all that different from the goals that we’d have on ... any other large property that the agency manages," he says. "And those are cultural and natural resource protection and conservation, recreation, timber management for forest products and wildlife management."
On the recreation side, several groups have requested trails be added or moved. The draft plan considers new mountain bike trails in Phen Basin, near the Mad River Valley. It also discusses relocating part of the Long Trail off of Bamforth Ridge and River Road, in Duxbury.
There’s a proposal for additional cross-country ski trails on the Huntington side, adjacent to Camel’s Hump Nordic Ski Area. The Catamount Trail traverses Camel’s Hump, and there’s a proposal to relocate about 5 miles of that Nordic trail, which stretches the length of Vermont.
"The change for us is to put the trail at higher elevation, primarily, so there’s more snow, and to put it onto conserved land," explains Amy Kelsey, Catamount Trail Association executive director.
With growing interest in backcountry skiing over the past few years, the state is also proposing designating and managing glades. Kelsey says skiers have been illegally cutting their own glades on public land, so the state plans to step in.
Nerenberg says one proposed glade is off the old Callahan Trail, which has been closed since the 1970s.
“And then the even more popular spot is on the other side of the mountain in Huntington, in the vicinity of Bald Hill where there’s a lot of existing glades that have been put in somewhat in a renegade fashion," he adds. "And we’re hoping to work with a group over there and manage them in a more sustainable way. So that’s kind of a new direction for us."
The land includes softwood and hardwood forests, and the plan also calls for 34 timber harvests — totaling roughly 3,800 acres — over the next 15 years. Vermont Traditions Coalition Executive Director Ed Larson says, to him, that’s one of the most important pieces of the plan.
"We worry about what happens when you don’t manage for timber," says Larson. "We get, you know, a stagnant forest where wildlife begin to disappear, where you don’t get new growth started to start a new forest for the next generation, things like that."
The Vermont Traditions Coalition represents several interests, from loggers to snowmobilers, to hunters and anglers. Larson says the group pays close attention to all of the state’s management plans and practices.
"We find that there’s a lot of benefit to public ownership in some areas, but we think it should be limited," he says. "We think it should be really well thought out and, you know, you just don’t take more than you can chew. … If you can’t take care of what you’ve got, then you shouldn’t have it. So that’s why we pay a lot of attention to these things."
In an effort to get feedback from all those paying attention to the draft Camel’s Hump management plan, the state is holding a series of public meetings this month. Written comments are being accepted through Dec. 29.