2017-10-11 / Front Page / Chester

N.E. Forestry Foundation begins work to conserve 1,800-acre community forest


The proposed Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including this Red-spotted Newt. 
The proposed Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including this Red-spotted Newt. - COURTESY NEW ENGLAND FORESTRY FOUNDATION CHESTER — The New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) has announced plans to help the town of Chester create more sustainable greenspace for recreational use, by establishing the Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest on 1,800 acres of land belonging to the Tomasso family.

The town of Chester has less protected greenspace than most towns in its parks-rich state. NEFF has just entered into an agreement with the Tomasso family to purchase the property’s 1,800 acres of rich woodlands, dramatic ridgelines and rushing streams, according to a press release.

Chester community members are invited to explore the proposed Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest on Saturday, Oct. 14 during an afternoon of tours, hikes, meadow walks and mountain biking, beginning at noon.

“We have just launched our Tomasso fundraising campaign — this weekend’s event is part of how we’re kicking it off — and it’s a $3.5 million campaign,” said Tinsley Hunsdorfer, communications manager for NEFF, in an email on Wednesday, Oct. 11. “We’re currently working out the purchasing timeline with the Tomasso family.”

NEFF Executive Director Bob Perschel will be at the site to discuss the organization’s plans to establish the community forest.

“This beautiful forest is one of the larger unprotected landscapes in central Vermont,” said Perschel, in a press release. “Under our ownership, the property will remain undeveloped and will be managed to the highest standards of exemplary forestry while providing recreational access to the public.”

The Tomasso family, who would often visit from their Connecticut home, has asked that the proposed community forest be named in honor of Paul Tomasso, an experienced and skilled outdoorsmen who cared deeply about his family’s forestlands.

Tomasso spent many hours hiking and enjoying the wildlife. In March 2014, he disappeared while on a hike in the rugged, remote Tonto National Forest in Arizona, according to a presentation by NEFF at a Sept. 6 Chester Selectboard meeting.

At that meeting, Perschel presented NEFF’s land purchase proposal to Chester Select Board members and Town Manager David Pisha. The select board did not take any action through a vote, but gave a consensus of approval for the community forest proposal.

“This is about the most excited I’ve ever been about a project,” said Select Board Chair Arunas “Arne” Jonynas, at that meeting, adding that the proposed preservation would be a “huge asset” for the town and for future generations.

The Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest would be NEFF’s second-largest community forest. The total cost of the acquisition will be $3.8 million, or less than $2,000 per acre, with a financial challenge of raising $3.5 million, hopefully by May 2018, according to information presented on Sept. 6.

The acquisition of the land would not have any effect on the town’s tax base, he said. NEFF also allows hunting and fishing on their properties.  

NEFF is hoping to raise the $3.5 million through investors, program funding, and other organizations, for a conservation easement on the property.

“Our job is to protect the forest,” Perschel said.

The foundation’s expert foresters would manage the property to maintain and improve the forest, offer recreational opportunities, and protect the water quality of the Whitmore Brook and the Williams River. If there is enough interest, NEFF would hold meetings with the community to talk about recreational uses, he said.

The property features hardwood and softwood forests, large meadows, orchards, vernal pools and waterfalls. The diverse habitat is home to bear, deer, fox and a variety of migratory birds. The forest isn’t just ideal for wildlife; the property also has an extensive and well-maintained trail system for walking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A local snowmobile club also maintains a trail on the property.

“This forest has the potential to be a true recreational oasis,” said Perschel. “We’re grateful to have received so much support from the Tomasso family and town officials as we work to make this community forest a reality for the people of Chester.”

Founded in 1944, NEFF tries to be “creative and innovative” to pass on forests to future generations, with foresters and climate change specialists on staff. The organization aims for sustainable ways to use the forest to provide jobs and ecological habitats, according to the September presentation. It also works to preserve the beauty, prosperity, wildlife habitats, and unique character of the region by conserving forestland and practicing sustainable forestry. NEFF has almost 1.2 million acres of land under conservation easement.

For more information, call (978) 952-6856 or visit www.newenglandforestry.org.

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