By Brett Yates
As of Nov. 22, Wolcott Meadow Road in Chittenden no longer exists. Or, at least, it’ll no longer appear on future town road maps.
The Chittenden Select Board voted on Monday to decommission the Class 4 town highway, a dirt path used for snowmobiling and hiking. The surrounding privately owned land will absorb the forgone public right-of-way.
The board’s split decision — three in favor, two opposed — ends a process that the town began in 1972, when it issued a quitclaim deed for the northern portion of the road to Chittenden resident James Langan, whose property extends eastward from nearby Middle Road. The Select Board at the time, however, failed to file the appropriate paperwork with the state to discontinue the road properly, and it reappeared on the town map in 2006.
Langan raised the issue at a meeting in 2019. The Select Board subsequently consulted the town attorney and commissioned a compass and tape survey before officially turning over the section of Wolcott Meadow Road long owed to Langan in March this year. This week’s decision discontinued the remainder of the road, its southern portion, which leads down to Baker Brook Trail, with the support of the affected landowners — one of whom, Patrick Mahar, testified that he hadn’t known that a public road crossed his land when he bought it in 2013.
Chair Kathie Pratt, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the discontinuation, argued that Mahar and his neighbors, the Mandirola family, deserved the same treatment from the board that Langan had received.
“I would hate to set the kind of precedent where we say to one person, ‘Sure we’ll do that for you,’ but then we don’t do it for the next person,” she said. “That just doesn’t seem right to me. We shouldn’t be picking and choosing who we say yes to and who we don’t. If we already started to discontinue that road, I just think we should do it all the way.”
Select Board member Andrew Quint added that, as far as he knew, the town hadn’t done much to maintain the road under public ownership. “I’m assuming that the reason the road is in decent shape is because of owner improvements,” he noted, referring to the private property owners who use the road.
Select Board members Bob Baird and Julie Fredette expressed a preference for downgrading Wolcott Meadow Road to a “legal trail” instead of relinquishing it altogether. While Vermont’s Class 4 town highways typically become impassable by car in winter, legal trails frequently remain impassable by car year-round and carry no public obligation of upkeep or repair whatsoever. For recreation, however, they’re generally open to all.
“We’re seeing more and more land being posted and more pressure on unposted land,” Baird observed. “If it is a proper legal right-of-way, it is a place where people can go for a walk.”
Fredette stressed the permanence of the proposed action. “I’m in a bit of a fix in terms of letting go of something, because when we let it go, it is gone, and we’re not just saving it for us right now; we’re saving it for always. We’re saving it for everybody and for always.”