Group spurs running on the county's trails

MIDDLEBURY — Many footpaths in the Middlebury area still lie buried under several inches of snow and ice, but a local group is making plans and eagerly awaiting spring’s thaw so they can get back to running on those trails.

Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, as the growing group of trail runners is known, is working to connect outdoor enthusiasts with similar activity levels and goals while expanding awareness and responsible use of local trail resources, said Heather Flewelling, an MTE organizer, in a post on the group’s webpage.

“MTE will strive to provide a supportive, social atmosphere where enthusiasts of all ages and abilities are encouraged to explore local trails,” she continued.

Interest in running off of paved roads has been growing nationwide, Flewelling said, and Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts hopes to be the local hub for runners of all abilities.

“There’s no disadvantage to building the community and connecting people,” said Flewelling, whose Vermont license plate reads “TRLRUNR.” “People are running new trails and becoming more confident. Everybody that’s come out on runs with us is super excited to meet other runners.”

Middlebury and the surrounding Champlain Valley is home to miles of trails, including the Trail Around Middlebury, trails in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, paths on Snake Mountain and others. The area has long had a dedicated following of trail runners. MTE member Jeff Byers is a local runner and a chemistry professor at Middlebury College. He’s been running on the trails for the past seven years and maintains a blog on his experiences running on local trails.

“Every time I go out I find something different,” he said. “That’s just what happens when you’ve got this incredible resource just in our backyard.”

This past summer, runners began informally meeting at the Waterfront Park in Middlebury’s Marble Works District for evening group runs on the Trail Around Middlebury. These “Tuesdays on the TAM,” as they were called, grew in popularity and established a small, core group of regular participants.

By the end of the summer, people were looking forward to more opportunities to run as a group in addition to their Tuesday evening jaunts. Most participants were more experienced distance runners but they wanted a way to reach newer runners who weren’t up for running for an entire hour, as well as runners who just couldn’t make the Tuesday evenings.

What started as a once-a-week meeting grew with the help of the popular socializing site Meetup.com, through which members post the time and place of a proposed run and others can indicate on the website that they will join in. As they enter spring and running season, the group lists on its Meetup site — www.meetup.com/Middlebury-Trail-Enthusiasts — 97 “enthusiasts” and eight coordinators who help organize the runs. Upcoming runs range in difficulty from a 5K “Dog Jog” in Wright Park on April 11 to benefit the Addison County Humane Society to the Middlebury Maple Run, a 13.1-mile half-marathon on May 3.

And the group is looking for new members. Earlier this month, runners gathered for an informal gathering in the tasting room at the Woodchuck cidery off Exchange Street. The event attracted some new members and the group hopes to see some new faces at their runs, including those that may not be as experienced.

“It can be intimidating to just go to an event where you might not know people and the ability of others,” said Ben Bruno, one of the group’s organizers. “We want to be as accommodating as we can and let people know that no matter their ability, we’re happy to get out and run and meet other people who love to run.”

With summer not far off, MTE is hoping to see a surge in new members of different abilities.

“It’s a good way for people that are looking to get out and get involved, meet other people and enjoy the resources we have,” Bruno said.

In addition to the regular Tuesday evening runs, Flewelling said she hopes the group can expand their reach and run in the Breadloaf Wilderness areas or even from gap to gap on the Long Trail or even on trails in the Adirondack region of New York. She hopes the group will help establish Middlebury and Addison County as a center for trail running.

“My vision is when people think of trail running in Vermont, they think of coming to Middlebury because it’s such a perfect place to start from,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll grow and expand into that.” 

MIDDLEBURY TRAIL ENTHUSIASTS organizer Heather Flewelling, center, and other MTE participants aim to encourage runners of all ages and abilities to explore the large number of local trails.

Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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Addison County Independent

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