A town forest is a forested area which is controlled by a town and operated as public land. Depending on how a town has been developed, a town forest may be located in the middle of a town, or it may be along its borders. In some cases, a town forest is bordered by a town and by national or privately-owned forest. Town forests are also sometimes referred to as urban forests.
Historically, the town forest played a very important role in Europe and North America. Citizens of towns with forests were permitted to use the forest as a fuel source, collecting fallen branches and processing fallen trees for their wood. Many towns also permitted citizens the right to pannage or “common mast,” in which farm animals could be turned loose in the forest to graze. Operations in the forest were usually overseen by a committee that would ensure that the forest was used in a way which benefited the common good.
Modern town forests continue to be used as sources of fuel and nutrition for animals in some areas, but they are also maintained for recreational and aesthetic reasons. A town forest may provide walking, hiking, skiing, and biking opportunities to the citizens, along with fishing and other outdoor activities, depending on the size of the forest and the way in which it is managed. Some people also enjoy the aesthetic value of having a forest around, since many people like trees.
Urban environments also benefit from having areas of dedicated greenspace. In addition to providing psychological benefits for residents, urban greenspace can also act as a climate controller, keeping temperatures moderate and preventing severe spikes and dips. A town forest can also sequester water, reducing runoff and storm damage, and the plants can scrub the air of pollutants. Furthermore, forested areas offer animal habitat, which can be a valuable contribution in areas where animals have few places to go.
Many towns with a town forest have a forest committee of elected, appointed, or volunteer officials who supervise the forest. If a town has a parks or forestry department, this department oversees day to day operations in the forest, including trail maintenance, clearance of fire hazards, and so forth. In smaller towns and villages, all of the citizens may work together to use the forest in the most effective way, discussing the forest and other town issues at periodic town hall meetings.