A map of the Buck’s Ledge property. Woodstock Conservation Commission

WOODSTOCK—Woodstock residents will be asked at their town meeting next month if they wish to explore the possibility of purchasing the popular Buck’s Ledge land parcel in cooperation with several nonprofit organizations, and making it a community forest.

At their Feb. 18 meeting selectmen heard a presentation from Julie Renaud Evans, program director for the Northern Forest Center, which was involved in Bethel’s recent purchase of nearly 1,000 acres of land there as a community forest. Also attending the board meeting were members of the Woodstock Conservation Commission.

Buck’s Ledge, a popular hiking spot, is owned by the Bayroot LLC land management company. It has 644 acres of land overlooking North, South and Round ponds. The Mahoosuc Land Trust looked into purchasing it some years ago, but could not come to an agreement on price with Bayroot, according to BCC officials.

Evans said Woodstock could pursue a purchase process similar to the one used by Bethel. She said there are other organizations which can serve as a go-between purchasing agent. Funding for such projects could be sought through federal grants of up to $600,000, through the Land for Maine’s Future program, from private donations and from the town. A town match is typically required, Evans said, which could come in many potential forms such as an appropriation or a bond or bank loan with collateral on future timber harvesting, though this parcel recently experienced significant logging activity, according to town officials.

Woodstock selectmen noted that the town has a Conservation Fund to which the Patriot Renewable wind company contributes annually, which might be used as a local match.

Evans said the community forest concept features stable ownership by a town or a nonprofit on behalf of the town (in Bethel, it is Mahoosuc Pathways) with local participation in the management of the land, recreational usage, possible revenue in the form of timber sales or the sale of a portion of the parcel for development, and habitat preservation. In the case of Woodstock, a plan would likely also include the preservation of existing snowmobile trails on the land, BCC officials said.

An attempt to purchase Buck’s Ledge would take place on two parallel tracks, Evans said, with the Northern Forest Center working with the other organizations on the town’s behalf. A planning phase would include a feasibility assessment for the project, community engagement to get input from citizens, negotiation of any easements, an overall project plan and a land stewardship plan (inventories and the establishment of a team and/or forester for management).

The second track would be the real estate process, to attempt to arrange a purchase.  Acquisition of the property would have to be at a price set out according to federal standards, Evans said. She said the processes typically take between 18 and 24 months to complete. The cost would include the acquisition price as well as project costs. Fees for the NFC would be included in the funding plan, and would not be paid until the completion of the process, said Evans.

The selectmen said they would prepare wording for an article for the town meeting warrant asking voters if they wish to explore the possibility of pursuing the purchase process.

In other business at last week’s meeting, selectmen decided to ask the Planning Board to seek an ordinance proposal governing solar projects for the future. While a project currently in the planning stages was well-received by citizens attending a presentation last month, some at last week’s meeting expressed concern that the town should have the means to regulate future projects that might raise issues with residents. The board will decided whether to have an ad hoc committee craft an ordinance, and whether to seek a moratorium on other projects while the ordinance is in the works. Any ordinance would be subject to town vote.


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