"A town is saved...by the woods and swamps that surround it." (Henry David Thoreau)
Do you think of woods when you want to get away? If your community had a town forest, you would be only minutes from quiet woodland paths. Connecticut forest landscape is increasingly fragmented, but we still need woodlands for rest, recreation and wood products. Our town forests can meet all of these needs, and, when well managed, they are a tremendous resource.
Located within the limits of a town, suburb or city, a town forest is distinct from a "park." A town forest is generally (but not necessarily) a contiguous tract of municipally owned land (it may be connected to other forest "islands" by conservation "corridors") that is dominated by trees, often of various ages and species. It usually contains a diverse wildlife population with woody and herbaceous vegetation forming the understory. It is a "multiple use" forest; that is, it is managed to provide people with recreational opportunities such as hiking, birding, photography and cross-country skiing, to protect watersheds and wildlife; to educate users about nature and the forest environment; and it may be selectively harvested for timber and fuelwood. A town forest is part of the larger urban and community forest ecosystem.
As everyone knows, there is often far more profit in developing a piece of land than in keeping it in forest, but more forested land in, for example, Switzerland and Germany is kept forested. Why? Because they recognize that there are very real benefits. In the U.S. the first town forest was established in New Hampshire in 1711, but Europeans have been managing and protecting their town forests since the Middle Ages. For example, intensively managed European town woodlands are:
We have! Since 1984, an increasing number of Connecticut towns have used professional consultants to establish sound forest management practices on both private and town-owned land. Until recently, however, Connecticut's town forests have been overlooked and underappreciated. Connecticut towns own more than 29,000 acres of forest land that is contained within 95 towns (based on a 1984 survey in which 137 out of 169 towns responded). The size of Connecticut's town forests ranges from the five-acre "vest-pocket" forest in Scotland and the 55-acre educational forest in Westbrook, to the 2,400-acre forest in Meriden.
Municipalities may have been slow to develop town forests because officials and citizens don't know how to:
In addition municipal officials and citizens may:
In contrast to Europeans who have a tradition of town forests, in the U.S. we have a history of developing the forested lands into commercial, industrial and residential sites. Given the long-term economic and social benefits of town forests (particularly the opportunities for recreation vital to the well-being of core city residents), there is clearly a need to plan for areas where a managing a town forest for profit is a viable alternative.
According to Connecticut General Statutes Chapter 97, Sec. 7-131(a), "the legislative body of any town, city or borough may vote to establish a municipal forest for the purpose of raising timber, protecting water supplies, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation or employment of relief labor. For such forest such town, city or borough may appropriate money and purchase land, accept land or money by gift or bequest and allocate any land to which it holds title and which is suitable for the production of timber."
Now that you understand the benefits of a town forest, with the help of officials (e.g. forest commission, conservation commission), you can identify and set aside woodlands for a town forest. To do so you will need to:
If you want your town forest to provide a full range of ecological, social and economic benefits, you need to create and implement a forest management plan. To do this, professional assistance will be required. You will need to:
Robert M. Ricard
Extension Educator, Urban and Community Forestry
West Hartford Extension Center
1800 Asylum Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06117