The Thursday, Sept. 16 Bove Property public work session generated several ideas for recreational uses on the property but not without some controversy over motorized vehicles.
Gail Henderson-King, a consultant with Lamoureux & Dickinson, opened the meeting with a presentation of the inventory, assessment and recommendations study performed this summer.
The study showed several wetlands, the largest piece being in the Westford section of the property. The property also contains beaver dams and some Class 2, state-protected wetlands, Henderson-King said.
The Bove Property also has various native plants, like pink lady slipper orchids and trillium, and more than 49 animals, including moose, deer, muskrats, snapping turtles and eastern newts.
The meeting then shifted to an hour’s worth of public commentary on what recreational uses should be permitted, a discussion that largely centered on ATV use and drew comments from both sides of the fence.
Steve Carlin, president of the North Country ATV Association, Inc., said ATVs can co-exist with horseback riders and dog-walkers that also want to use the trails.
Residents Dan Garrity, Mark Hitchcox and others preferred non-motorized uses and suggested using the Town Forest’s management plan as a guide to form Bove Property uses.
Meghan Grant, who works for the town’s Planning and Economic Development office and sits on the Conservation Commission, suggested appeasing all parties, including ATV riders.
She said that when forming the Town Forest management plan, the Conservation Commission discussed that if the former didn’t allow motorized vehicles, the Bove Property could possibly have a connecting trail for them.
“It’s going to make a lot of people unhappy if we don’t at least work with the ATV Association,” she said.
Resident Matt Musgrave, whose property line abuts the Bove Property, wanted the pro-ATV residents to be more specific about their plan, because he does not approve of “carte blanche” usage and had safety concerns for his horses.
“I’ll sue everybody involved if one of my horses dies here because there’s no rules out there,” he said. “Believe me, I love my horses, and I have a lot of money put into them. I don’t want a big circle track going around my backyard because there are no rules.”
In a follow-up interview, planning director Regina Mahony said that although the ATV-proponents did not submit a formal plan, they did not voice the desire for an ATV track – just a connecting trail.
Randy Barrows echoed this viewpoint, saying he’d like to see multiple uses on the property, but “as far as opening it up to an ATV mud run, absolutely not.”
“All the taxpayers’ money went into this, and I felt that everybody should have their own little area up there to do what they want,” he said.
Barrows also agreed with Selectboard chairman Lou Mossey’s suggestion that motorized vehicles be allowed for handicapped individuals.
There was also some discussion about wetlands, state-imposed restrictions and permitting. Henderson-King reminded the audience that she was only there to gather input on recreational uses.
Melissa Manka, planning coordinator for the Town of Westford, reminded attendees that Westford has more stringent permitting than the state and requires a 100-foot no-cut, no-build zone around wetlands.
“Because of the natural resources and the wildlife habitat, on the Westford side we’d like to see passive recreation and possibly no ATV use,” she said.
Instead, Manka suggested activities like cross-country skiing, hiking and other non-motorized recreation in the Westford portion.
Other residents discussed the possibilities of camping, dog-walking trails, volleyball or badminton courts and snowshoeing.
The camping idea was countered by concerns about parties, law enforcement and facilities for campers. One resident suggested having dawn-’til-dusk hours.
Another work session is scheduled for November 9 at 7 p.m. in the town offices’ community room. The consultant will provide a matrix of the suggested uses to see if they can work concurrently, Henderson-King said.
The next meeting won’t have “yes” or “no” answers for any particular suggestion; those decisions are up to the Selectboard, Mahony said.
“This consultant is not hired to do a management plan,” she said. “They’re hired to do the inventory and give us some recommendations on what they think is appropriate up there and what is not.”
Overall, Mahony thought last week’s meeting was useful, she said.
“Some people were probably hoping for more of a conclusion or end result, but this is just the first meeting and just the first step of the process,” she said.