DUMMERSTON—The dead pine lists toward an electrical box on the edge of Dutton Pines State Park. With each swing, Sam Schneski drives an arrangement of orange wedges deeper into the tree’s base, causing the trunk to shift away from the electrical box.
Schneski, a Windham/Windsor County forester, slices into the pine with a chainsaw. It falls slowly along the lower trail of the Dutton Pines loop. A burst of golden leaves flutter down like confetti.
Work crews marked this pine, and 19 other dead trees, for felling during a morning work day on Oct. 10.
“[Dead] pines are easier because the resin holds the [wood] together,” said Timothy Morton, stewardship forester with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, who stands farther down the trail. Other trees become crumbly as they die, he adds.
Morton and six members of Forests and Parks descended on Dutton Pines to clear undergrowth and hazard trees in the 13-acre park located on Route 5.
Two Dummerston residents, Charlie Richardson and Merill Barton, helped haul branches. Morton noted the volunteers were briefed on safety and were covered by the state’s workers’ compensation insurance.
The work day grew out of a July meeting hosted by Transition Dummerston and the Dummerston Conservation Commission to revitalize the state’s smallest park.
At that meeting, the public asked the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to clean up the park and open its trails for recreation. People also wanted the park to strike them as safer, and not to attract vagrants, Morton said against a din of brush cutters and a wood chipper.
New life for Dutton Pines
The state effectively mothballed Dutton Pines for about 20 years, said Morton: “We didn’t know anyone cared about this place. We hadn’t asked, but now we know.”
Morton said that in recent years, the Legislature and the Shumlin administration have allocated additional funds to the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, making possible the roughly $2,000 this day’s work would cost.
Morton explained that it takes very little to get this land into shape. Now that the department knows the public wants to revitalize Dutton Pines, it will slot the park into its regular maintenance routine.
In its heyday, the park served as a popular picnic site and stop on U.S. Route 5 — once the main north-south route between New Haven, Conn., and the U.S.-Canada border — before Interstate 91 siphoned away the day-trippers.
As the smallest of Vermont’s 52 state parks, Dutton Pines poses management issues, Morton said. From the state’s perspective, the park does not warrant charging user fees or providing other resources, such as timber, to help with trail clearing or building maintenance.
Acquired by the state in 1937 from Edith Dutton in memory of her father, Myron Dutton, the park opened in 1940. A park ranger lived at the park until late 1979. As use fizzled, the state in 1983 decommissioned Dutton Pines as an active park.
During the work day, the crew cleared underbrush in sight of the road so the park’s public face will receive more light and strike passersby as safer and more inviting, said Morton.
According to Morton, the foresters left most of the back forest untouched for animal habitat and to support healthy new growth. Foresters felled some 20 dead “hazard” trees close to the trails. Workers cleared brush and stumps from The Loop — the trail circling the park.
The first part of The Loop, from the main entrance to where the parcel meets Dummerston Station Road, was part of the original Route 5.
The state is waiting for the results of a historical preservation report on the park’s four Civilian Conservation Corps structures. Morton said he anticipates the bathroom building and dilapidated well pump house are beyond repair.
The main picnic building, visible from Route 5, and the ranger cabin likely will require repairs but are worth the effort to preserve, he said.
This winter, the state will restore and rehang the park’s original sign. According to Morton, the sign — long thought lost — was discovered in the basement of the CCC-constructed ranger cabin.
Morton said he hopes funds are appropriated for snowplowing Dutton Pines’ parking lot.
Eventually, the department will construct a kiosk with trail map and park rules at the park’s entrance. There will also be a way for dog walkers to conveniently dispose of dog waste. One of the biggest nuisances state parks face is owners who don’t pick up after their dogs, Morton said.
Morton added that the state hopes more organizations such as the Friends of Dutton Pines step up to collaborate in caring for and maintaining other small parks.
Morton, who grew up in Dummerston, says he remembers when locals and visitors made a point of enjoying the park. As a boy, he accompanied his father on plumbing jobs, and the two looked forward to starting their day with breakfast at the nearby former Bob’s Ponderosa, which was popular with local tradespeople.
That eatery is gone now, replaced eventually by a screen-printing and embroidery business.
“It’s a very different place [now],” Morton said.