WILMINGTON — A group of residents and officials recently came together to discuss the future of recreation and tourism in the town of Wilmington.
During a public meeting on Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Wilmington Fire Station, it was widely agreed among the two dozen who attended that the town would benefit from developing a more defined recreational plan.
Kathy Dagget, a Wilmington resident who is also the director of preventative services for the Essex County Public Health office, organized the meeting. She said the issue first came to her attention when she discovered a new network of trails intended for mountain biking and cross-country skiing off Hardy Road near her home.
“I found out about these wonderful trails and I asked myself: ‘what else don’t I know about this town,’” Daggett said at the beginning of the meeting. “So I started to ask questions and thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a full picture of (recreation) in Wilmington.”
During the meeting, presentations were made by Rob Daley, Department of Environmental Conservation senior forester, Matt McNamara, director of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, Meg Parker of the Wilmington Youth Commission, Carol Treadwell, executive director of the AuSable River Association, and Josh Wilson, program manager of the North Country Healthy Heart Network, who outlined various projects they’ve been involved with throughout the town.
Town Supervisor Randy Preston said there are already a number of studies, such as the High Peaks-AuSable River Waterfront Revitalization Strategy that involve recreational opportunities in Wilmington, “but we’ve studied much more than we’ve accomplished.”
A goal of the meeting, Daggett said, was to come up with achievable goals that can be put into action.
“We have so many active and willing people in this community,” she said. “And that’s a great thing. Now we just need to all get on the same page.”
The word of the night was connectivity. Whether it’s mountain biking, snowmobile or ski trails in Wilmington, it was generally agreed they need to be linked to each other and surrounding areas.
“The way to keep a trail system going is connectivity with other areas,” McNamara said. “You can’t underestimate how important that is.”
As an example, McNamara pointed to the recently completed Hardy Road trails in Wilmington, which were designed and cut by the Barkeater Trails Alliance. He said he hopes to link the new trails with the Wilmington Flume Trails that were completed in 2009, possibly through making agreements with private landowners.
“It’s a really common thing,“ he said. “A good example would be the Jackrabbit Trail (from Paul Smiths to Keene — it crosses over a lot of private land. We just need to start having these conversations.”
An issue that came up several times was having a universal map of all trails in Wilmington.
“If you have trails but no one knows about them, obviously no one is going to use them,” said Josh Wilson, of the Healthy Heart Network. Jerry Bottcher, owner of the Hungry Trout, said this isn’t the first time issues dealing with recreation have come up.
“This meeting has happened several times in the past three decades,” Bottcher said. “And twenty years ago we said, ‘we need a good map.’”
Several options were discussed such as hiring a professional map maker to layout every trail in the area, or providing more information through the town or visitor bureaus’ website.”
Town Highway Superintendent Bill Skufca said one of the biggest issues in terms of recreation was the lack of awareness about road biking routes in the area.
“There’s some really nice rides leaving from Wilmington,” he said. “You can leave and go out 30, 40 miles, whatever you want. There’s some great loops, we just need better mapping, or signage.”
Other projects discussed included: A paddling nature trail on the Everest Lake section of the AuSable River, a community paddling program, maintaining the town’s new dirt jump and skills park, developing a better snowmobiling network, and marketing the area more as a mountain biking destination.
A second Recreation Plan meeting will be held at the Wilmington Fire Station meeting room at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 14.
During the public meeting, participants will work in groups to develop descriptions of recreation activities including “assets, needs, resource options and potential volunteer activities,” Daggett said.
“We’re ... going to break up into separate groups and talk about different aspects of recreation in the town,” she added.
Groups will include non-motorized trails, water access (for fishing, paddling, swimming, etc), road biking routes, pedestrian/walking facilities, parks, playgrounds and sports fields and snowmobile trails.