DUMMERSTON—The scent of ferns mingled with the odor of insect repellant as a group of visitors to the state’s smallest state park, Dutton Pines, gathered around a red pine tree.
Timothy Morton, stewardship forester with the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, tapped the tree, which is traditionally harvested for telephone poles.
Morton explained that edible worm lives in red pines, and that he often tells schoolchildren with whom he works that if they can find a worm in a red pine, he’ll eat it.
They never do, he said. But it gets them into the forest.
The visitors laugh and follow Morton to the next site during a July 25 park tour.
Composed mostly of members of the Dummerston Conservation Commission and Transition Dummerston, the members also hope to entice people back to Dutton Pines State Park to walk the trails, care for the woods, and enjoy a picnic.
According to Morton, the FPR’s goal for the park is passive management.
The smallest of the state’s 52 parks, Dutton Pines has posed management issues. The park does not pay for itself through fees, and lacks the amenities to even attract fee-paying visitors. It does not provide other resources, such as timber, to help fund trail clearing or building upkeep.
Morton said the state has hoped to find an organization to take over the park’s regular maintenance.
Acquired by the state from Edith Dutton in 1937 in memory of her father, Myron Dutton, the 13-acre park on Route 5 in Dummerston was once a popular picnic area for day-trippers before the construction of Interstate 91.
The park opened in 1940 and was staffed by a park ranger until the late 1970s. In 1983, with use trickled away, the state decommissioned Dutton Pines as an active park.
Populated with structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, the park hosts a walking loop, large picnic shelter with a stone fireplace, a ranger’s cabin, a defunct bathroom building, stone fire pits, and a stone water fountain.
Morton said white pine, red oak, and black oak trees — all rare for the region — grow in the park, as does buckthorn, an invasive plant species.
Housing Foundation, Inc. has an easement for four water wells that provide water to mobile homes across Route 5.
According to Morton, the FPR will maintain the place periodically, but won't invest heavily in the parcel.
“It was never our intent” to sell the park, said Morton.
The department has worked with Lisa Papazian to develop a conservation plan for the CCC-era buildings.
Most of the structures stand strong after more than seven decades, said Morton. A few, however, are beyond repair — and the state won’t pay to fix them.
“We can’t afford to be impractical [with money] the way our system is, nor should we be,” he said.
According to the FPR’s long-term management plan, the town of Dummerston approached the department with a plan to acquire the park in 2008. The town withdrew its proposal over constraints on the land related to the Housing Foundation water wells.
In a post-tour meeting at the Southeast Vermont Learning Collaborative on Route 5, about 16 people discussed the future of Dutton Pines.
Ruth Barton, who grew up in Dummerston and now lives in her family home, first raised the issue of revitalizing Dutton Pines with Transition Dummerston.
Barton said she attended a public meeting hosted by FPR where she learned that the state hoped to find an organization to take over Dutton Pines.
“The state fellas scared the pants off of me,” she said.
The state “ruined” Sweet Pond in Guilford when it drained the pond two years ago, she said. “And I was afraid they’d ruin [Dutton Pines].”
Barton remembers that, in her youth, Dutton Pines “was in use almost every weekend in the summertime.”
“Personally, I’d like to see weddings there,” she said.
The FPR drained Sweet Pond, part of the Sweet Pond State Park, after state Dam Safety Section engineers deemed unsafe a 1928 dam that had held back the equivalent of 18 acres of water. The FPR is working with Guilford residents to find funding to replace the dam and restore Sweet Pond, which is the town’s sole public swimming area.
Bill Johnson of Transition Dummerston, chair of the Windham County Democrats, asked, “Who is going to take responsibility for looking after [Dutton Pines]?”
Many audience members said they drove past the park never knowing the walking trail or picnic shelter existed.
Beverly Kenney, who owns the nearby KOA Campground with husband, Ernest, mentioned funding the park, and the unwanted potential of raising property taxes.
“I don’t want to see the town pay for it,” she said.
Audience members said Dutton Pines has had a history of “unwanted behavior” and “homeless people camping in the main shelter.”
They said the front of the park felt overgrown and dark; a few said thy felt unsafe entering the place alone. Others suggested culling underbrush to open the space and allow more natural light through.
Audience members also suggested starting a “Friends of Dutton Pines” group, reasoning that the more people use the park, the more inviting, and safer, it would become.
Casey Murrow, director of the Southeast Vermont Learning Collaborative, ventured that local teachers could use the park for science activities.
“You know what I see when I walk down there?” said Johnson. “I see [installing] a zip line.”
At the end of the meeting, Johnson asked who would volunteer to meet again about the next steps to revitalize Dutton Pines. Multiple hands went up.
“We will commit to doing more,” said Morton, adding the FPR could commit work days that included brush cutting.