Tuesday July 9, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Select Board gave its blessing Monday for a community group to move forward with exploring the purchase of a large wetlands area to be conserved as a recreation space.

The Friends of the Morgan Street Wetlands are hoping to purchase a 140-acre parcel of land owned by the Greenberg family. The land is bounded by Beech Street on the east and Morgan Street to the west.

The Friends group launched the effort to expand public access and conserve the property for future outdoor recreational activities.

Bruce Evey, director of the One World Conservation Center, touted the land as a gem in the community with existing hiking and walking trails, as well as narrow waterways that are navigable by canoe and kayak.

"We’re here to ask the town to help us conserve a property that is really fairly remarkable," he said. "It’s a very extensive wetlands, and it’s also interesting because it’s where the South Stream and the Jewett Brook join to begin the Walloomsac."

Evey said the land, a "remarkable area of beauty," is easily accessible from Bennington’s downtown. It could also connect with existing conserved wetlands already maintained by the One World Conservation Center.

"It’s actually possible to connect them," he said. "It could be almost the beginnings of a greenway, if you will, around the town of Bennington."

Much of the property is not conducive to development because it is a wetland, according to Evey. A fair sale price is possible from the Greenberg family, he said, and grant money is available for such a project.

Daniel Monks, the town’s planning director, said the group need has developed a plan to purchase and conserve the land for the community. Select Board support is needed, though, he said.

"What we’re asking for this evening is basically consensus from you folks to move forward with our plan," Monks said.

The plan involves gaining control of the property through an option by its owners and fundraising. The land would eventually be owned by the town.

Donald Campbell, the regional director for the Vermont Land Trust serving as a consultant to the group, said funding through the Vermont Conservation and Housing Board is likely available. He said he would help the Friends with an application.

However, one-third of the cost of the property would have to come from a local match.

"The thought was that the friends group would carry most of the water in trying to raise the funds for this," he said.

Campbell said VHCB has indicated it would be open to funding the project if the town approves. "The most important thing for me to know Š is, is this something the community thinks is a good idea?" he said.

The land would be preserved in perpetuity if it enters the land conservation program and would never be available for development in the future.

"It’s not something to be toyed with," he said. "This is really about keeping it accessible for people."

Some local residents said they support conserving the land, including Ronald Van Orden, who lives nearby and said he canoes there.

"It’s a fantastic area. It’s a real treasure," he said. "If this went through it’s a real treasure."

Board members said they also supported the idea.

"I think this is probably the most exciting activity I’ve seen since I’ve come on the board," said Thomas Jacobs, who was elected in March.

Monks said he anticipates completing a grant application with VCHB in February and completing the purchase of the land later in 2014.

"Given the time that it takes to put these things together we would hope to have a closing on the property by the end of November 2014," he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami