BENNINGTON -- Grant money to preserve the Morgan Street Wetlands has been approved, but how much will be received and how much needs to be raised is unknown.
The wetland is a 140-acre parcel off Morgan Street, behind the baseball fields. Jewett Brook runs though it. Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington said the land is part of the Greenberg Trust and has been left open to public use such as hunting, fishing, canoeing, and hiking.
To keep it preserved, the Friends of the Morgan Street Wetlands, a group consisting of the Town of Bennington, The Vermont Land Trust, One World Conservation Center, Hoosick River Watershed Association, the Bennington County Conservation District, and individuals came together in order to raise money for its purchase.
Donald Campbell, southwestern regional director for the Vermont Land Trust, said the land is mostly undevelopable, but there are portions of it that could be sold privately and used for houses. If this happened, it's conceivable the owners could post the land and make the entire area inaccessible to the public. The Morgan Street Wetlands, unlike other public property owned by the town, is somewhat wild and provides different recreation opportunities than, say, Willow Park.
Harrington said the Friends have received verbal confirmation from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board that it will provide financial assistance for the property's purchase.
How much it will provide is unknown, but it's expected to be roughly two thirds of the cost.
Harrington said the Friends of the wetland are working now to draft a management plan for the property, identifying what it will be preserved for, and to come up with a purchase and sale agreement.
The group will also have to work on raising the added funds to cover what the grant will not. Campbell said Vermont Housing and Conservation Board helps with public housing, access to public land, and farmland preservation among other things, and requires matches to its grants be raised from private funds.
Campbell said without Vermont Housing and Conservation Board's help, the Friends of the Morgan Street Wetlands would likely not being able to move forward with this project. He said raising the needed funds will be a challenge still, but doable.
"The land is currently for sale, and while this group currently has an option on the property, the only way we can be sure to preserve the recreation opportunities will be to eventually purchase the property," said Bennington Planning Director Dan Monks in a release.
The wetland is near other town-owned property, as well as land managed by the One World Conservation Center, which bought wetlands on the west side of Route 7 a number of years ago that had also been in the Greenberg Trust.