On Thursday, Sept. 9, Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office and officials from the Green Mountain National Forest announced plans to build a new $6-million facility for the GMNF on Route 4 in Mendon. Construction will begin next spring, and it is expected to be completed by fall 2021.
“It will be a gateway to greeting visitors” on a highly traveled state corridor, Leahy said of the new building in a phone call from Washington, D.C. He added that he hoped the public feedback which visitors provide through this center will help the Forest Service respond to suggestions and ways to meet users’ needs for years to come.
“It’s wonderful to be able to help provide funding for this building today, after working on this idea since the early 2000s,” Leahy said, but added that he was most “excited about how it will help boost the state’s outdoor recreation economy.”
Leahy noted that the state’s outdoor recreation economy has been booming for the past couple of decades and should continue to be a bright spot in the state’s economy. Efforts like this new building with high visibility to visitors add to that ability for decades, he said. The 11,550-square-foot building will be a new, public-facing, federal building on Forest Service land, according to USFS memos. The site is less than three miles from the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail crossing (top of Sherburne Pass) and will enable the U.S. Forest Service to greet visitors with outdoor exhibits and trail maps “with a greatly improved visitor experience.”
The site is along the north side of Route 4, across from Woodward Road, approximately five miles east of the intersection of Routes 4 and 7. The site work contract has been awarded to VMS Construction of Rutland.
The Green Mountain National Forest encompasses more than 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont, forming the largest contiguous public land area in the State. Primitive camping is allowed in many sections of the Forest and some of the first sanctioned ski glades on National Forest land were cut in Vermont’s Brandon Gap area of the Forest. The multi-use land is characterized by striking scenery that combines rugged mountain peaks with quintessential Vermont villages, backcountry trails and camping and multiple uses for forest stewardship.
The GMNF has maintained a headquarters in the Rutland area for the past 70 years and identified the need to construct a new supervisor’s office as part of its Facilities Master Plan in 2000. The current facility off Route 7 in Rutland is not owned by the agency, nor does it reside on National Forest System lands. It also serves as headquarters for New York’s Finger Lakes National Forest.
We see this as a wonderful opportunity to use existing U.S. Forest Service land and resources to provide additional access to the Green Mountain National Forest while enhancing the quality of our work environment and visitor’s experiences,” said John Sinclair, forest supervisor for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests.
“While we will miss many aspects of being in the city of Rutland, we are happy to have a space that we can call our own and tailor to the needs of our employees and the public,” said Sinclair, adding that avoiding the costs of leasing in future years will greatly benefit the GMNF’s annual budget.
David Carle, director of press relations for Sen. Leahy, explained that the Vermont Democrat’s work on the FY20 Interior Appropriations budget helped include the $6 million in funding for the new GMNF facility. Carle noted the senator worked with the Forest Service in planning for the new headquarters building in the early 2000s, when the site on Route 4 in Mendon was identified as ideal, and preliminary work was done to secure state review for traffic and develop initial site plans.
As demands related to the national backlog of facilities and maintenance work continued to grow for the National Forest System, Carle said, the project was not advanced for a number of years. Then, “as vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee beginning with fiscal year 2018, Sen. Leahy was able to add increasingly directive language that results now in the construction of the facility.”
Besides his long-time support for this facility, Leahy has been a life-long champion of the expansion of recreational land. Since Sen. Leahy took office 1975, the GMNF has expanded from about 300,000 acres to more than 400,000 acres, much of it with Leahy’s active support.
That foresight has served Vermont well as the recreation economy has grown rapidly with greatly expanded hiking, biking, skiing, equestrian, hunting and other opportunities in the forest. The expanded forestlands also support Vermont’s timber economy, Carle said, adding that timber harvest has increased substantially in recent years to 3 million to 5 million board feet annually.
eahy also was a sponsor and strong backer of the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed Congress this summer and was signed by the President. That legislation not only included the language to fund the proposed GMNF building in Mendon, but also addressed the maintenance backlog of forest service infrastructure and trails throughout the country.
Of his role in promoting the national forests, Leahy said the goal isn’t just to provide short-term improvements, but to create access to the outdoors for “our grandchildren and theirs.”
“You don’t just do this for today, but the next generation and the generation after it,” Leahy said. “You sort of take these lands for granted, but we shouldn’t…I see this new building and the National Forests as a living thing… I hope we can continue to get public feedback and keep making improvements (to the forests) as needed.”