A New Bridge Marks a Milestone for the Cross Vermont Path | Outdoor & Recreation | Seven Days


click to enlarge

  • Jeb Wallace Brodeur

  • Rose-Paul

We rolled and rode our bikes east on the Stone Cutter’s Way from downtown Montpelier on a beautiful spring day. Railroad tracks were on our left as we passed the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center, then turned right onto an old track bed that led to the hydroelectric dam. The Winooski River tumbled away from us downstream as we pushed uphill. We spotted a bobcat—the machine kind—sliding back and forth, filling in low spots.

A final climb up a rutted incline brought us to a terrific sight for sore thighs: the 200-foot-long steel and wood edifice of the new bridge over the river, a $2 million diamond in the chain of interconnected back roads that forge the bridge Cross the Vermont Trail.

Is this what Rose Paul envisioned in the fall of 1990 when she moved to Plainfield Village? Trained in botany and environmental studies, she discovered an old railway line that ran through the city and was freely used for cycling and hiking despite being privately owned. Paul followed the trail many miles east into the Groton State Forest and her own wheels began to spin: What if?

“I just thought it might be very exciting to work on formalizing this as a path,” recalled Paul, who recently retired from full-time duties after a long stint at the Nature Conservancy. “I knew we had to work with a lot of private landowners,” she continued. “I also thought if you want to make it big then go really big because that’s the way to get exposure and funding.”

Big, she went. On Saturday June 4th, Montpelier’s Mayor Anne Watson; State Commissioner for Forests, Parks and Recreation, Michael Snyder; and various other Pooh-Bahs will gather to dedicate the bridge, a powerful symbol of Paul’s grand idea of ​​a multi-use trail stretching from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River. Imagine a linear puzzle that requires a lot of assembly. But the route makes it accessible to thousands of Vermonters.

“One beauty of the Cross Vermont Trail is that we pass through many villages, schools and state parks,” noted Paul. “So it goes through places where people live and they can get on the trail and out into nature.”

click to enlarge

  • Jeb Wallace Brodeur

  • Greg Western smooths out fresh tow material

Greg Western will cut the ceremonial ribbon at the bridge. Rose Paul came up with the idea; Western did it. A biblically bearded trail management veteran, Western began work on the Cross Vermont Trail in 2006. In 2013, he was named executive director of the Cross Vermont Trail Association, the organization tasked with overseeing the project’s many moving parts.

“Ultimately, the work of the Cross Vermont Trail Association is to promote and improve local trails and figure out how to connect them into larger networks with the dream of forming a full off-road trail from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River. ‘ Westerns explained. “Much of the old railroad is currently private and not a trail, and some of it has physically disappeared for various reasons,” he continued. “But by working with landowners incrementally over time, our goal is to recreate a path on the roadbed in some places and build a new path that closely resembles the old roadbed in other places.”

The Cross Vermont Trail — proponents call it a “community-building project” — is being brought together through donations of private land and disused railroad tracks, federal grants to the state, and purchases. In late March, Gov. Phil Scott awarded multimillion-dollar trail projects in Groton, Cabot and the city of Montpelier. The grants were awarded by the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, a consortium of companies and nonprofit organizations that promote outdoor recreation.

The progress so far is thanks to Paul’s determination not to let her vision fade.

click to enlarge

Cyclists on the Bridge Cross Vermont Trail in Montpelier - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

  • Jeb Wallace Brodeur

  • Cyclists on the Bridge Cross Vermont Trail in Montpelier

“In 1992,” she told Seven Days, “I was working as a natural resource planner for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. I started talking to people there about it and actually got permission to spend a little time on it. And really, that’s where the initial capacity came from.”

By 1996, “We had gained a little momentum and a following, but we weren’t official,” Paul added. Some lobbyists and friends at the Statehouse funded the hiring of a part-time coordinator who was housed at the Vermont Agency of Transportation. On May 21, 1996, Governor Howard Dean designated the Cross Vermont Trail as part of the Vermont Trails System. The CVTA was registered as a private non-profit corporation in 1999.

Because the statewide route is a patchwork of many different parts, Western explained, the CVTA works with a variety of partners — including private landowners who choose to allow a trail on their land, as well as many local cities and state and federal agencies .

As described on the CVTA website, the 90-mile multi-use trail runs from Oakledge Park in Burlington and “generally parallels the Winooski River through Waterbury and Montpelier to the town of Marshfield where it crosses the Winooski Divide in the Groton State Forest.” In the forest, the trail meets the headwaters of the Wells River and continues along the river “through the villages of Groton, South Ryegate and Wells River to its eastern end on the Connecticut River.”

Another way to visualize the route, according to Western, is to trace a line on a Vermont highway map that generally parallels Routes 2, 232, and 302.

Paul saw an opportunity and wanted to make it big – but big takes time.

“Maybe we were lucky that the pace of development isn’t fast here in central and eastern Vermont,” she said. “Things are slowly changing. So we were very lucky that most of the track bed was not used as a private driveway.”

Back on the trail we spent some time marveling at the bridge and how well it blended into the landscape. The path beyond was marked but not yet finished. Still, the promise of the Cross Vermont Trail was tangible, a 30-year dream much closer to reality.