NORTH POWNAL — The first major funding piece toward Pownal’s goal of acquiring an access road to the Strobridge Recreation Area has fallen into place.
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board on Thursday awarded the town a $265,000 grant to purchase and conserve 301 acres just south of the town’s 700-plus acres of forestland.
“The Taconic mountain range is an ecologically diverse, well-documented wildlife route, stretching from the Hudson Highlands to Lake Champlain,” said Donald Campbell, Southwest region project director for the Vermont Land Trust, which assisted the town in the purchase. “This project not only benefits the people of Pownal, it also helps out the deer, bears, bobcats, and many other species getting squeezed by development and climate change.”
Town officials hope to create a right-of-way corridor off Dean Road into the recreation area, which runs along the base of the Taconic Range and near the 37-mile Taconic Crest hiking trail.
The board is awaiting word on a request to transfer funds awarded last year through the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Communities grant program toward the new proposal. That $375,000 grant was awarded to create a footbridge access the Hoosic River at the north end of Dean Road.
Creating an accessway near a gravel yard at the south end of Dean Road is considered a less complicated project from an engineering perspective, especially since a span over the Hoosic River would have to involve environmental protection measures and considerations.
Since a section of a woods road along the west bank of the Hoosic washed out around the time of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the town has lacked a legal access route to the Strobridge area, despite several attempts to secure one.
Meeting on Thursday, the Select Board lauded the VHCB grant award but noted it was only a first step in the process of acquiring an access route.
At the suggestion of board liaison Rebecca Dragon, the board also approved an effort to update the town’s recreation and land management plan for the Strobridge land, which dates to shortly after the site was acquired in 2002.
With the help of a $295,000 conservation grant from the VHCB, the town acquired in 2002 the mostly wooded land that was once owned by the former Pownal Tanning Co., which went out of business in the 1980s.
The owners of the since-razed 19th century era mill acquired the forest land over the years to protect a reservoir site the company owned, which fed a now-defunct water system serving the factory and homes in the village.
“VHCB was there for Pownal in 2002 and they are here again in 2022,” Campbell said. “Along with farmland conservation and affordable housing, among other things, VHCB’s impact on communities continues to be transformative.”
Dragon said she would look into the process and steps required to update a recreation plan for the Strobridge area and report back to the board in the near future. She said an updated plan is likely to be something granting agencies will look for in considering future requests from the town for funding.
Dragon, board Chairman Michael Gardner and others said they expect the process of developing a new plan will be a collaborative effort that includes seeking input from the public.
“The Select board really took the bit in its teeth on this project,” Campbell said Friday of the effort. “Without their active participation and unanimous support, these funds would not have found their way to Pownal.”
He said the purchase of the 301 additional acres would provide a total of 1,077 acres for the recreation area.
The Strobridge area lands also are adjacent to 3,329 acres of Taconic Ridge State Forest land in New York and Massachusetts and 5,501 acres of privately owned conservation land along the Taconic Range, he said.