Story of the Week 7/21/15

Nature Park(ing): A Neighbor’s Generosity

by Lyndon DeSalvo, serving with The Nature ConservancyLDeSalvo_TNC5

Back in late March, my site supervisor asked me if I’d like to join her and a couple other staff members on a trip to a nearby preserve to assess the possibility for a new parking area. I wasn’t exactly sure what this would entail, but figured it would be an interesting trip nonetheless and a good opportunity to get out of the office after a long winter with limited field days. We grabbed a lengthy tape measure and a survey map and hopped into the trusty Subaru Baja, the Nature Conservancy’s vehicle of choice for stewardship activities.

On the way, we discussed the possibilities. The preserve is somewhat popular as it has a mile or so walking trail leading to a rich fen with pitcher plants, grass pink, sundew, blue flag iris, and a variety of other impressive plants. However, the biggest challenge in putting in a parking area was that the Nature Conservancy doesn’t own any road frontage at this natural area. Instead, we (and visitors) access the property via a 50 foot right-of-way (ROW) before reaching the boundary of the preserve. Once we arrived at the site and measured out 50 feet, it was clear that the ROW could not accommodate a parking area given the limited space and rocky terrain.

We quickly began to look around and determined that the best option might be to have a roadside pull-off. The current issue is that people pull off to the side of the road opposite the trailhead and cut a busy road down to one-way, increasing the risk of accidents. The road itself has little to no shoulder, so we determined that we would have to speak with the roads commissioner about building up a pull-off for 4-6 cars. We would also have to do our neighborly duties and call the surrounding homeowners to ask what they would think of a parking area next door. I volunteered to follow-up on these tasks as this seemed like a great experience in the art of regulations and diplomacy.

The next week, I called the town clerk to obtain the telephone number of the closest neighbor. I was a little nervous before I called her up. I had heard my fair share of horror stories about disgruntled neighbors whose properties abut our natural areas and I wasn’t sure what she would think of our proposed project. A woman picked up and I explained who I was and why I was calling.

“You know, I’ve been meaning to call you guys for some time now,” she said. “I was actually thinking that you could put a parking area across the road in my field.”

My nerves immediately subsided. Far from disgruntled, this woman was actually offering up her own land for our parking area, and only after a couple minutes of speaking to me on the phone! I realized that this was far from the usual way these conversations unfolded with neighbors and counted myself very lucky. I thanked her very much for her proposed generosity and set up a follow-up meeting. With the same contingency of staff as before, we met with this kind neighbor and discussed specifics.

“I’m rich in land,” she offered, “but not necessarily in money.” She explained how the current parking situation was dangerous and she was eager to offer what she could to help, which in this case was the space. The funds for the parking area had already been pledged by a donor and so the land was really the key piece for the project to go forward.

In the following months, I took it upon myself to follow-up with the town’s roads commissioner and zoning administrator, complete the required curb cut and zoning permits, attend the town’s Select board meetings, and maintain contact with the incredibly generous neighbor. At this time, near the end of my service term, I have seen the project through its infancy. The only steps left are for us to enter a legal agreement with the neighbor (likely a lease or easement – this is above me!) and to have contractors bid on the construction. The hope is that the parking area will be completed at some point this fall and able to safely accommodate visitors to the preserve.

The project was not only great practice in zoning regulations and patience, but also a true testament to the generosity of Vermonters. In my role, I had seen this generosity in the form of people volunteering their time to assist our stewardship of Vermont’s natural areas and had heard of donors pledging ample sums to the conservation cause. However, this act—offering up a small plot of land—to improve a community resource for no individual gain really just astounded and encouraged me. I’m looking forward to visiting the preserve in a few months and seeing this woman’s generosity and my work come to fruition.

VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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