The popular ski resort of Killington wanted to expand, but environmentalists feared the move would endanger a nearby bear habitat. The solution was a land swap, worked out to meet the goals of both business and the environmentalists.
In exchange for state-owned property near the base of the mountain, Killington's parent, American Ski Company, recently gave up land known as Parkers Gore, prime habitat for Vermont's black bears.
From concerns about water withdrawal from a pond in Parkers Gore to a proposal to merge with another ski area, Killington's expansion plans have chafed locals and environmentalists for 15 years. But the settlement is being seen here as a model for similar disputes in the future.
"To come such full circle from conflict to cooperation is certainly precedent-setting, as is the scope and scale of the agreement," says Nancy Bell, a local resident also with the nonprofit Conservation Fund.
Indeed, as New England ski areas grow, so do concerns about the use of land. "Recreation is a double-edged sword for environmentalists," says Matt Jacobson, executive director of Green Mountain Forest Watch. Skiers who come to enjoy the natural resources of ski areas help to focus attention on protecting those resources, while the sheer concentration of their numbers can have a damaging impact.
While some locals are still dissatisfied with the agreement and are expected to appeal a part of the plan, those involved with the negotiation say it was a successful learning process. "The parties had to go through the conflict and turmoil.... It was an evolutionary process," says Karl Spangler of the American Ski Company. "I learned a lot about patience."