Williston's Mud Pond Country Park just gained 39 acres and about a mile of new trails open to hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. The park expansion was a collaborative effort between the town, conservationists and recreational users of the land.
Mud Pond Country Park is a popular spot for mountain bikers and others who like to get out on wooded trails. It’s close to Route 89 and some of the state’s most populated communities. And now the park is 50 percent bigger, with established trials for beginner and intermediate mountain bikers.
Bob Heiser is the Champlain Valley Regional Director for Vermont Land Trust. As he walks the trails on the land, Heiser says there are many reasons why the new portion of the park is a good parcel to conserve.
"The land itself has over a mile of trails that have been used by the public for mountain bilking, cross-country skiing, walking and protecting that into the future is a huge part of why we are interested," he says. Heiser also notes the land is an important wildlife corridor.
"The land is situated in between Mud Pond itself, which is a diverse ecological area, and then a long ridge that is part of a big contiguous forestland that connects down to Lake Iroquois," says Heiser. "So the land really provides connection for both people and wildlife."
Melinda Scott is Conservation Planner for the Town of Williston, which owns the park. She says a private landowner approached the town with a pitch to sell the parcel, which he otherwise planned to subdivide and develop.
"It was an opportunity for us to link up the trails in Mud Pond Country Park to this trail system, as well as an opportunity to conserve a really valuable piece of land from a natural resources perspective," says Scott.
The town worked with the Vermont Land Trust, the Vermont Housing Conservation Board and a local cycling group called Fellowship of the Wheel to raise the $350,000 needed to purchase and conserve the property. Fellowship of the Wheel president Steve Fischer says his group built the existing trail system on this land, and will continue to maintain the trails under the town’s ownership. He says the trail network is a popular one for several reasons, including the fact that there are family-friendly trails for beginner riders.
"And it’s convenient, close to good population and we ride it in the winter as well as in the summer," Fischer adds.
In addition to maintaining the trails, Fischer says Fellowship of the Wheel also drummed up some financial support for the project.
"If you don’t ask people to support you, they’ll never support you. And if you have a relationship with people, and if you have a good cause like this, and you ask people, it’s amazing how people step up to preserve these kinds of opportunities that we have," says Fischer.
Bob Heiser, of the Vermont Land Trust, says a conservation easement ensures there will be recreational opportunities and preserved wildlife habitat at the Mud Pond Country Park for generations to come.
"The land will be conserved, in perpetuity, with a conservation easement held by Vermont Land Trust and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which provided a lot of the funding to help make this project possible," Heiser explains.
For people interested in helping to maintain the park’s trails, there are volunteer opportunities through both the town of Williston and Fellowship of the Wheel.