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On a trip to Burke, Vermont,


Seward checked out a network of mountain bike trails that was luring visitors from as far away as Quebec, New York, and Boston. Officials there estimated that 40,000 people a year came to ride singletrack in Burke—a town of fewer than 2,000 people—and that each contributed about $100 to the local economy. Seward left wondering whether West Windsor could have the same success.


He and the rest of the selectboard approached The Trust for Public Land for help. “The town had a vision for Ascutney as a four-season recreation destination,” says Kate Wanner, one of the organization’s project managers. “They wanted public ownership of the mountain, so that the whole region could benefit from the open space and economic benefit that more visitors would bring. They knew that was the key to reviving their community.” Wanner and her team got to work. They met (and skied, and biked, and hiked) with hundreds of people, gathering in- put and support from state and local officials, retirees, parents, small-businesses owners, and more. Working together, a coali- tion of Ascutney loyalists drummed up support for their plan among West Windsor’s thousand-or-so residents. In October 2014, hundreds gathered in the West Windsor


Town Hall for the crucial vote: should the town put up money to purchase the ski area, add it to the town forest, and then place the entire 1,112 acres under a conservation easement to protect its streams and forests from development forever? By


56 · LAND&PEOPLE · SPRING/SUMMER 2017


a three-to-one margin, West Windsor voted yes. “It was by far the largest turnout for any public vote I’ve ever seen,” says Seward. “It was incredible.”


Though the state and town had approved almost half a mil- lion dollars toward the purchase of Ascutney, Wanner and her team needed a grant from the U.S. Forest Service to finish the job. But that funding fell through, leaving a six-figure short- fall—just months before the deadline to purchase the land. Undeterred, West Windsor and The Trust for Public Land launched a feverish fundraising campaign to close the gap. “Many locals gave generously to make this happen,” Wanner says. “And once the story got out nationally, we started get- ting donations from everywhere—Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio, Florida—people who had no connection to Ascutney, but were moved by the story of a little town that wanted to save their ski area.” With help from neighbors, private foundations, and the local businesses, Wanner’s team sealed the deal in the nick of time. Seward’s crazy idea was at last on the map. Even then, questions remained. What would the new Ascut- ney look like? Could it attract people and investment to the area? And who would manage it? After all, town officials had no interest or expertise in operating a ski area. “You know, we’ve already shown how many people can go bankrupt try- ing to run a resort up there,” says Lyall, the trail builder. “Last thing we wanted was to bankrupt the town, too.”


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