Living in Switzerland after college, I was amazed by the way communities both revered and used the landscape. Every facet of efficiency was enthusiastically explored, small farms abounded (growing grains on plots as small as an acre or less), and mountain trails were thick with orchids, green woodpeckers, and bell-toting cows. But my favorite thing was the town forest. Everyone had a right to enjoy and use these forests, and anyone who wanted firewood from it merely had to help in gathering it. Threaded with inviting access roads, there were long stacks of wood that had been cut and split. And they didn’t look over-managed: the one closest to me looked to be on its way to becoming old-growth.

Something similar is sprouting in the northeastern U.S. right now, especially in Vermont and New Hampshire, where citizens are getting together to cooperatively buy/own wooded acreage for mutual enjoyment and use. The Vermont Town Forest Project is a fine example.

It’s helping communities remember their deep tie to the land while building a stewardship ethic and giving folks who live in town with no land of their own a chance to explore a new sense of tenure.

There’s a great article on it in Northern Woodlands magazine here.

As the author says, town forest benefits include:

… Everything from watershed protection, forest products, and wildlife habitat to public recreation and community rallying points. They function in the same way town commons have for centuries in New England and New York. Every community member is responsible for their stewardship, and every member also benefits from their presence.

It makes me wish we had something like this in my little Massachusetts town, but following these folks’ example, it wouldn’t be too tough to get going.