MONTPELIER — Plans to expand Hubbard Park could now be just one more grant away from reality, though just how much bigger Montpelier’s signature recreational resource gets is still an open question.
The city has targeted two properties that, if acquired, would increase the size of the 175-acre park that sits on the hillside behind the State House by nearly 50%.
The effort, which has been the subject of months-long conversations — some public, some private — recently got a huge boost when it was awarded a $258,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service. Plans call for the money, awarded through the community forest program, to be used as a 50% match toward acquiring up to 78 privately owned acres north and west of the sprawling park that has been on the Capital City’s map since 1899.
The city has already raised $35,000 in private pledges toward the park expansion project and last month the City Council approved a $20,000 appropriation from a Conservation Fund that hadn’t been tapped since it was created nearly two decades ago.
Parks Director Alec Ellsworth said Tuesday that money can be used to match just-awarded federal forest funds and the city has a pending application before the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) that, if approved, would make up most of the difference.
Ellsworth said the city has applied for $150,000 in funding from VHCB. That board will meet June 23 and while a decision isn’t expected at that time, the city will likely be represented.
The council-approved appropriation from the city’s Conservation Fund can also be used to cover expenses, including appraisal work, that will be needed if the project moves forward.
Though no formal agreement is in place with the Heney family, which owns the larger of the two parcels in question, Ellsworth said the city has an option to purchase 28 acres owned by April Johnson.
Johnson’s property abuts the Heney’s parcel and both border the park as it is currently configured.
The Heney property was placed on the market in January, prompting Ellsworth to meet privately with the council in February. At the time, Ellsworth was working on the U.S. Forest Service grant application and sought to obtain permission to attempt to secure an option to buy the Heney property.
That hasn’t happened.
However, Ellsworth said there have been productive discussions with the Heneys, the property is no longer on the market, and the family is exploring possibly subdividing the parcel and retaining and building on the bottom portion.
Ellsworth said the potential still exists for the city to acquire some, most or even all of the property depending on what the Heney family decides.
The $35,000 in private pledges was raised reasonably quickly and quietly and Ellsworth expects to make a broader appeal for community support when the funding picture comes into sharper focus and there is more clarity with respect to the Heney property.
Even if all goes smoothly, it will likely take the better part of a year to close on the properties — one of which is still something of a moving target.
Ellsworth said the Hubbard Park project is unrelated to a grant the city received from the Trust for Public Lands to explore park access and equity and how to make outdoor recreation a tool for economic development. That work, he said, will lead to a June-ending online survey polling residents about everything from how they use the city’s existing park networks, to what improvements they’d like to see made in coming years.
A postcard with the link to the online survey will be mailed to residents later this month.