Town supervisor hopes to get trails built

Town of Franklin Supervisor Art Willman holds up the map of proposed Kate Mountain trails at the town hall Monday in Vermontville. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

VERMONTVILLE — The supervisor for the Town of Franklin has some big plans, ones which he hopes will help get the sleepy town on the map, literally.

Art Willman, who has been Franklin town supervisor for eight years, was recently successful in getting a bond act approved for a community center at the town’s Kate Mountain Park, but that is just the start of his plans.

Also on Willman’s agenda is a series of trails up the currently trail-less Kate Mountain. The town owns the more than 28-acre Kate Mountain Park on state Route 3 in Vermontville, and the new community center will be located at the park, but the mountain and the bulk of the land around it is owned by the state and managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In addition to athletic fields, a basketball court and playground and pavilion, the town has also constructed two loop trails on the property for walkers, snowshoers and skiers. But those short loop trails are the limit of what the town can do on its land.

Now, after several years of fits and starts, Willman is hoping the state Department of Environmental Conservation will approve a series of trails that would connect the Sink Hole Road and Buck Pond Campground to Kate Mountain Park via the summit of Kate Mountain.

Proposed foot trails in Kate Mountain Park in Vermontville (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

“It was a thing where we bought the park land back in 1985 and even back then the guy who did the mapping for the park suggested ‘[to] contact so-and-so who’s a forester [at the DEC] about possibly making access and using the state land that borders the park.”

Willman said the plans have been in play essentially since then, but the DEC foresters who have overseen that area have changed and Willman believes the changes have stalled progress.

“I heard right around this time last year that they were starting up the UMP again,” Willman said. “So, we’re hopeful.”

Willman said the trails, as envisioned, would be done in three phases. The first would connect Tyler Road to the park and create a loop that borders a large wetland, while the second would go over the summit of Kate Mountain. There would be trailheads at the park and Tyler Road, as well as a new one on the Sink Hole Road that would all provide access to the mountain. The third phase would see a trail built to Onchiota, with the hope that it could bring hikers to Vermontville from the DEC’s popular Buck Pond Campground.

Willman said he thinks the number of trailheads would allow people to do out-and-back hikes or end-to-end hikes with two cars. He also said that opportunities for skiers could be better than most would imagine.

“Billy Demong once mentioned to me that there is some insane glade skiing on Kate [Mountain],” Willman said. Demong is a Vermontville native and five-time nordic combined Olympian who won a gold and silver medals at the 2010 Games. “I can’t ski, but I’m sure there’s a lot of other people who would love it. Somebody could get in however many runs they want to do — it wouldn’t be like going up a lift — they’d have to hoof it up, but there’s some people who are in that kind of shape.”

Most of the trails would be on land already owned by the state, although Willman said there is a parcel that belongs to Paul Smith’s College. But Willman also thinks the state and town could partner with the forestry-heavy school to get students working on the design, layout and construction of the trails.

He also said the new community center — which should see construction begin next year — would be an asset for hikers and skiers to use.

“Our community center, when we get that built, will have outdoor accessible restrooms,” he said. “So if people want to come use the park in the winter time, they can come in, they can get warm, they can use the facilities.”

Willman said the trails would be limited to non-motorized activities, including hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and possibly mountain biking.

“No snowmobiles, you can’t do that,” he said. “And certainly no ATVs, damn it.”

Kate Mountain is considered part of the Debar Mountain Wild Forest, which currently has no state unit management plan in place. Earlier this year, the DEC held two public meetings — including one in Vermontville — to gather public input on how the DEC should manage the land and recreation opportunities. Willman said DEC staff has told him the Kate Mountain trails are likely to be included in the UMP when it gets released, but the DEC did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

“There’s a lot of potential there, and it’s all what you make it,” he said. “If you want to make a nice area for snowshoeing, cross country skiing and hiking, it’s beautiful.”

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