Overuse and lack of attention are stressing Woodstock’s Comeau fields and woods

Trail at the Comeau (photo by Dion Ogust)

The Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee implored the Woodstock Town Board to devote more money and resources to the trails as they have succumbed to the wear and tear of increased use. CSAC Chair Jeff Viglielmo said an estimated 40,000 people visit the Comeau property per year. “That’s just over 100 people a day. And I can see that. I’ve been up there enough times to see the people coming out of their cars with their dogs,” Viglielmo said. “Certainly when soccer was going on, we had a program that over 200 kids.”He said the property’s popularity has “grown immensely” and both loops appear online at alltrails.com.

One of the big problems is the large field has become overgrown on the edges, making it difficult for the Longyear family to harvest hay. “The problem is it’s getting farther and farther and lower and lower every year, and for me, when I cut it for hay, it’s getting hard for me to fit the tractor underneath,” Matt Longyear, who keeps the field in exchange for hay he uses on his farm, told the Town Board. “So wherever I’m not cutting, you’re talking feet every year that you’re losing…Well, then, you figure in a couple years, the little scrub pines and the cedars are going to start to grow up or the invasives are gonna take over more and more and you’re going to lose that field.”

Longyear said he has permission to clear any low-hanging branches that are in the way, but there are too many for him to handle alone. He said dead trees are increasingly problematic. “God forbid I hit one of those with my mower. It’s going to be a problem,” he said.

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Viglielmo said the town’s job is to keep the property as close to what it was when the conservation easement was signed. “So what Matt’s describing is basically normal forest succession into a meadow, and although we’ve been attempting to mow and cut things back, we are losing ground,” he said. Viglielmo said he appreciated Supervisor Bill McKenna’s and Councilman Lorin Rose’s offer to cut some branches, but he believes it is a much bigger job. “This is on a property that’s being frequented by people, and I think you all know that there was a young boy in our area that just died in a tree accident,” Viglielmo said.

In a slideshow, Viglielmo pointed out trees that are dead but still standing and are inviting for children to climb. “This birch tree is open to the soccer fields. It’s been laying there for at least a year,” he said. “When the soccer kids get in there, I know they’re gonna climb on it. And guess what’s going to happen. It’s probably going to snap at some point and maybe land on some kid’s head.”

He noted drainage pipes on the trail that have been uprooted. Some have been tossed to the side, but others have become a tripping hazard. Other parts of the trail are wet and muddy and need gravel and wood chips. “This is something that a volunteer crew could do, given a pile of wood chips I know the town is willing to offer us,” Viglielmo said. “These are something that many of us just walk right over and have no problems with. But there are others that are going to have problems with them.”

Viglielmo pointed out parts where trees have fallen because of erosion on the slope caused by people going off the trail. In other sections, boardwalks are sinking into the mud and it needs to be addressed, he noted. “If they’re sitting in the water, they will deteriorate as this one has,’ he said, as he showed a photo of a sunken boardwalk section.

“This fence at the side of the Great Lawn and the parking lot looks like it’s going to be down by the winter,’ Viglielmo said. “There have been repairs by shoving two-by-fours next to them. In comparison to what was built in a parking lot just a few years ago, this fence, I wouldn’t have it on my property,” he said. “And this isn’t rocket science. This is something that a town maintenance department I think could handle.”

More attention to maintenance, professional help urged

“I know COVID put a big hurdle in front of all of us, but we certainly have the ability to find some volunteers to help with some of these projects,” Viglielmo said. “But I think some of these projects are well beyond what a volunteer corps can do, and likely well beyond the liability the town wants to incur…I certainly feel comfortable with a chainsaw. I know Bill, you can wield a machete like the best of them. I’ve seen it done. But is this really what we should be doing? It’s sort of like me mowing the lawn at the office when I’m a better dentist. Why should I be mowing the lawn?”

Perhaps a fundraiser to pay for maintenance

“We have a lot of people that work up at Comeau. We appreciate the beauty up there,” Town Clerk Jackie Earley said. “I’m almost thinking and I wouldn’t mind trying to spearhead a possibility of this. But we have so many days…where people are raising funds for certain things, I wouldn’t doubt that we could probably do a good project of raising funds for Comeau,” she said. “I would love to do a fundraiser. Very simple. It doesn’t have to be major…If you could get a little bit of music, a little bit of food, not a lot, and have people come up and stand down at the bottom of the hill and just collect money for people to come up and see what we do.” 

“If it’s two years and it’s a bust, let it go,” said Earley. “But if it’s not, I think probably early spring where things are beautiful up there, I wouldn’t mind trying to spearhead something up there to try to raise some money rather than to put it on the taxpayers.”

McKenna suggested Earley and Viglielmo get together and share ideas. In the meantime, McKenna and Rose will discuss helping clear some of the field for Longyear’s tractor.

There are 2 comments

  1. andrew cowan

    Huh. I was just there last weekend and walked the trails; I ran into about 8-10 people in the hour and a half I was there, none were on or near the fields and the trails were clean, safe and it felt very quiet and serene. Anytime I’ve visited its been the same. The article though certainly suggests its overrun with people, crowded and dangerous etc. The parking lot rarely has more than 6-8 cars in it on any occasion I visit there.

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