Shelburne’s primitive path explained

By Sadie Williams & Sheri Duff
A proposed path from Pierson Drive to Hawley Road in the Boulder Hill subdivision was a discussion topic at the June 10 Selectboard meeting. The proposal, presented by Shelburne Heights resident Michael Ashooh, would establish a primitive path approximately 2,400’ long and 2’ wide that would involve clearing vegetation 12” to 24” from the sides of the trail, and would conform to the standards for a class 3 path as defined by the U.S. Forest Service.
According to Ashooh, the trail will be built with the help of volunteers. Construction will be low impact. No trees greater than 4” in diameter will be cut, and volunteers will be using only hand tools and small power tools. The trail will be built on town-owned land; however, no funds for labor or materials will be requested from the town.
The path will likely increase connectivity to the Webster Road multi-use path, restaurants, shops on Route 7, and the prospective Hawley Road-Longmeadow Road trail. The project received support from the town’s Pedestrian and Bike Paths Committee at its March meeting. “We’ve been looking at that path to connect Shelburne Heights to the core network of town trails,” Pedestrian and Bike Path Committee member Doug Merrill explained. “There’s almost no down side.”
Bill Supple, whose wife, Selectboard member Toni Supple, recused herself from the June 10 discussion because of the proximity of her property to the proposed path, spoke at the Selectboard meeting and reiterated his opposition via email.
“There is considerable opposition to any type of ‘primitive path’ construction by the Boulder Hill and Pierson Drive neighborhoods. None of our neighbors, including us, were approached for input. I understand the people in Boulder Hill directly affected weren’t approached either.” That opinion was echoed by neighbors Barbara Glade and George Schiavone who learned about the project right before the meeting.
Supple also noted that a trail through those woods already exists and the project is unnecessary, adding that “There are miles of professionally-designed and safe paths that link all the neighborhoods in Shelburne for pedestrians and bicyclists to use.” In addition to security and privacy concerns, Supple felt path maintenance and the negative environmental impact to the woods were issues that needed to be addressed.
“I love to hear that my neighbors are concerned about preserving the land,” Ashooh, a former trail builder countered. “Every conservation organization recognizes that the best way to preserve wildlife is to build a path. A trail is a small zone of sacrifice established to preserve everything else.”
Neighbor Ken Alpert thought the path “was a wonderful idea, especially, if it was more accessible.” While another neighbor, Tim Rushford disagreed. “Great idea but wrong location,” he said noting, “My kids have been riding safely to school by themselves for years on Spear Street.”
The fact that there are class 2 and class 3 wetlands within the area under consideration might impede progress. Michael Regan, a resident of the Boulder Hill neighborhood and Board member of the Boulder Hill Homeowner’s association (BHHOA) recently produced information obtained from a Land Use Permit Application filed by Sterling Construction, Inc. to develop the area now known as Boulder Hill in Shelburne in or around 2002.
In a letter to the District 4 Environmental Commission, Sterling’s consulting engineers stated that there are “several isolated class 3 wetlands” in the northerly portion of the Boulder Hill parcel. That portion of the parcel also serves as a wildlife habitat corridor and buffer between residential neighborhoods. Class 2 wetlands, and a corresponding 50 foot buffer zone, also exist in the northwestern corner of the parcel.
Regan included this information, along with other discoveries, in a letter to the Selectboard and other town leadership on July 28. After stating his findings, he raised several questions, including whether or not a complete wetlands survey must be completed prior to work on the path, whether the path would infringe upon the buffer zones around the wetlands, and whether a consultant should be retained to determine whether or not the path would have significant negative impact on the wetlands and adjacent corridors.
“To bring the proposal forward, proponents will need to meet some criteria,” Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange said by phone on Tuesday. “First the path should comply with the Town Plan. Second, it should not negatively impact the natural environment, and third, the path must have community support.”
Moving forward, the fate of the primitive path is in the hands of the public.