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Hubbard Park Inches Closer to 80-Acre Expansion

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Parks Director Alec Ellsworth points out an invasive species on a trail walk of property the City may soon purchase. Photo by Cassandra Hemenway.

Hubbard Park is on the brink of expanding by 80 acres if all goes well with fundraising efforts.

Alec Ellsworth, Montpelier Parks Director, reported at a public hearing on Oct. 21 that the parks staff has already raised almost $450,000 in donations and grants over the past year, since two parcels that border the park became available for sale. 

In a news release, Ellsworth wrote, “The total project cost is around $550,000, with only $100,000 remaining to fund-raise. $258,000 was awarded through the United States Forest Service Community Forest Program. $20,000 was awarded through the Montpelier Conservation Fund, and another $50,000 has been raised from private donors. The city has also applied for $150,000 through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.”

When Ellsworth and park staff learned that two parcels came up for sale last year, they began the long purchase process with community meetings for abutting neighbors. At that time, residents pledged $38,000 to move the project along, he said. Since then, 220 households have donated to the land purchase so far, said Janna Clar, communications and development coordinator for the Montpelier Community Services Department. Pledges and donations have ranged from $25 to a recent contribution of $5,000, plus an additional $535 in miscellaneous amounts that came from 2021 Enchanted Forest ticket sale “add ons.” 

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“We’re in the homestretch,” Ellsworth said. 

The two parcels are owned, respectively, by Mary Heney and April Johnson. The Heney parcel borders the park near the “7 Fireplaces” turnaround and abuts both Clarendon Street and Dairy Lane to the south. The nearby Johnson parcel abuts the park at the top of a hill in the northern section of Hubbard Park, landing at Essex Way at its southern tip.

A network of existing trails connects the two parcels to the park and already sees regular use from neighboring residents and park visitors alike.

“This is a huge win for us to solidify this connection to the neighborhood,” Ellsworth said. “Even though people have been using this for years, for decades, it’s private land. The land could change hands and someone could have a different perspective and literally overnight you could have this … access cut off.”

Ellsworth referred to a “Greenprint” map of Montpelier that he called a “vision for a future of Montpelier that would look like a city where people can move about easily in open, conserved space.” Purchasing the two parcels and expanding Hubbard Park fits into the Greenprint by expanding trail access, he said.

During a walk of the property later that week, Ellsworth pointed out honeysuckle and barberry, both invasive species, creeping into the two parcels. He said a post-sale priority for park staff is to remove the small growths of invasives before they spread further. 

Two state-recognized “communities” of hemlock/hardwood swamps sit on the Johnson property,” Ellsworth said at the meeting. “Only two of these communities were identified on a statewide level, and they (both) are right here…They are considered rare in the entire state of Vermont and are important for biodiversity; they offer a unique environment that certain animals need for sustenance.”

According to information posted on the City of Montpelier website, acquiring the Heney and Johnson properties will allow the city to “protect the headwaters of two high-priority rivers and over 12 acres of wetlands, helping improve drinking water for Vermonters and providing quality habitat for frogs and salamanders, black bears, and moose.”

The wetlands, which sit in a saddle between two ridges on the Heney property, absorb storm runoff, protecting nearby homes from flooding, one resident pointed out at the on-line meeting about the project. 

Ellsworth and Clar showed a visitor the Heney property sledding hill, backyard to homes on both Clarendon Street and Dairy Lane and well-used in winter. Foot trails criss-crossed the wetland behind the hill, at the center of the Heney property, surrounded by two steep ledges. Evidence of home-grown trail improvement showed up in a row of field stones placed across a marshy section of the trail, confirming that the land already gets park-like use. 

Ellsworth talked about “formalizing” existing trails by adding signage and directing users out of the sensitive sections of the land, away from wet areas. The city will add a park access on Dairy Lane, he said. 

To learn more about the project or  find out how to donate, go to montpelier-vt.org/1222/Expand-Hubbard-Park or attend a walk-through the property with Ellsworth on the following dates (walks begin at the new shelter in Hubbard Park near the end of the road):

  • Wednesday, Nov. 10, 8–9:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 20, 9–10:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 2, noon–1:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, a park expansion fundraiser is happening at the Three Penny Taproom in which 5 percent of sales will go to the project.