By Mike Polhamus
The state’s department of forests is asking Vermonters to weigh in on the first new plan in a quarter-century for the 26,000-acre management area that includes Camel’s Hump State Park.
The plan as currently written would create new multi-use trails and backcountry skiing glades. The plan also includes 34 timber harvests over 3,800 acres of forested land within the next 15 years.
The land the plan describes covers Camel’s Hump State Park, Camel’s Hump State Forest, Robbins Mountain Wildlife Management Area and Huntington Gap Wildlife Management Area.
The areas span a number of towns in Chittenden, Washington, and Addison counties: Bolton, Richmond, Huntington, Buel’s Gore, Duxbury, Fayston, Waitsfield, and Starksboro.
The new ski glades are in part a response to public demand, and in part an acknowledgment that people are already cutting ski glades — thinning trees to enable passage on skis — on public land, said Michael Snyder, commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
“It’s something I’m passionate about as a backcountry skier,” Snyder said, but the move to create state-sanctioned ski glades is also an attempt to put the brakes on private individuals who have been creating glades on public land without permission.
It’s illegal for skiers to cut glades on the public land surrounding Camels Hump without state authorization, said Jason Nerenberg, a stewardship forester with the department. Unauthorized glades established in the past near Jay Peak — poorly engineered, destructive and unattractive — illustrate in part why the department discourages this type of illegal activity, he said.
In contrast, the glades the Camel’s Hump management plan would authorize in the Bald Hill area near Huntington and the old Callahan Trail near Duxbury are designed with an eye toward preserving the forest canopy and discouraging erosion, Nerenberg said.
“We’re envisioning a light touch,” he said.
The department is still looking for groups to partner with in this glade-creating effort, Nerenberg said, such as the various backcountry skiing organizations.
The plan also sanctions dozens of timber harvests over coming years designed to give a shot in the arm to the state’s ailing forestry industry and support the forest uses the public likes.
During the 25 years prior to 2015, the department raised $2 million from the harvest of 4.5 million board feet of timber and 7,700 cords of pulp and firewood. That was accomplished through 18 separate commercial timber harvests covering approximately 1,745 acres around Camel’s Hump, the report describes.
The income supported a variety of things like trail work, signs, and other modern forest features. “We don’t need to manage the forests for the forests’ sake,” Snyder said. “We ask a lot from our forests, and timber is one way to pay for it.”
Most of the public timber stands in the Camel’s Hump management unit’s suitable acres are logged in accordance with a principle called “uneven-aged management,” Nerenberg said. This approach prohibits clearcuts larger than two acres, he said.
The Camel’s Hump Management Unit contains one of the largest contiguous pieces of public land in Vermont, officially held by the state’s Agency of Natural Resources, Nerenberg said.
In the past, the management unit’s four smaller tracts were managed separately but the current draft puts their management in a single plan.
“It’s a recognition that landscape connectivity is an important principle when managing these large units,” Nerenberg said.
The expanse is also a significant habitat for wildlife and other forest organisms.
The department is soliciting public comments on the plan through Dec. 29. The draft plan is available online at fpr.vermont.gov under state lands management planning documents.