Thursday November 10, 2016
Thanks to a partnership with the Winooski Valley Parks District (WVPD), Wheeler Park could have a new pedestrian bridge in the trail network next summer. The bridge is part of a pilot project, the first of its kind for the district, which currently only maintains land it owns outright. While there are a number of projects on the list for natural area upgrades, the bridge has been identified as a high priority.
At the October 17 South Burlington City Council meeting, Executive Director of the WVPD Nick Warner discussed the pilot program being launched in South Burlington, as part of his annual presentation. According to Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, as of late October, the initial contract has been finalized for the pedestrian bridge on the trails network of the Wheeler property. The project will be funded as part of the half-cent reallocation from the Open Space Fund that voters approved in March.
The WVPD, founded in 1972, is a conservation land acquisition organization made up of seven member municipalities. All of the lands maintained by WVPD have some form of environmental protection and are generally high value. South Burlington has four such areas, totaling 103 acres, which include Valley Ridge, Muddy Brook, Muddy Brook Wetland Reserve, and Winooski Gorge.
Given what the district accomplishes annually in terms of park upkeep and educational programming, the organization operates on a shoestring budget of $304,000 per year. This figure has remained flat for the past five years and, for the upcoming fiscal year, the district was able to offset the amount of funding they are asking from towns with increased revenue from programming such as vacation camps for children, but they are always seeking creative ways to generate more. Last year, South Burlington’s contribution was $55,114 and, for FY18, it is slated to be $57,231. Although, like all budget items, this figure will require council approval during budget time, history would indicate that WVPD is typically funded in full.
Additional sources of revenue are always on the district’s mind and the pay for service project being piloted in South Burlington could be a key component going forward. Discussions regarding the potential partnership were addressed in July 2016 at a WVPD meeting. City Manager Kevin Dorn and Hubbard met with the WVPD board to discuss their proposal, which would provide management and construction opportunities for special projects in identified natural areas to augment the efforts of the parks maintenance staff. Currently, there are only five staff members who maintain all South Burlington parks and staff members are not assigned to handle projects such as replacing washed out bridges and shoring up rock walls. According to Hubbard, “This opportunity resulted from H249 legislation, providing a framework under the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission for shared services among municipalities.”
“It is our hope that the WVPD will continue to assist with the management and construction of additional projects that have been identified by the committee,” Hubbard said. He added, “They have the knowledge and expertise to do this type of work as they embark upon expanding their mission to be of additional service to our municipality.”
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent