Big plans in store for Middlebury trail: MALT foresees national collaboration

MIDDLEBURY – Plans are afoot to connect the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) with other networks, and some of these plans could allow a neighborhood walk to turn into a cross-country trek.
Josh Phillips is the executive director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust, which maintains the TAM. Recently he contracted with the U.S. National Park Service to conduct a feasibility study for creating a trail through Addison Country. The trail would connect Crown Point, N.Y., with the Long Trail, linking the North Country National Scenic Trail with the Long Trail.
The North Country Trail was commissioned during the 1960s and, along with 10 others, designated a National Scenic Trail. Among the others given the title were the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
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The North Country trail is still in various stages of completion, with many areas that are still only proposed trails. Anyone trying to hike the entire trail — which, when finished, will stretch more than 4,600 miles — would have to do a significant amount of walking on the roads. But the trail already connects with the Lewis and Clark Trail in North Dakota, and from there a hiker can walk to the Pacific Ocean in Washington. From the Long Trail, a hiker can connect to the Appalachian Trail, which goes straight to Maine.
The only missing piece in the planned cross-country stretch is one area of land: the space between Crown Point and the Long Trail, all of which falls in Addison County.
An expansion like this one means negotiating 20-foot-wide trail easements with landowners to create a path through the area between Crown Point and the Long Trail. The trail would use already established systems wherever possible.
“We’re seeing this as an opportunity to connect the TAM to other trail systems, like Moosalamoo, Snake Mountain and Dead Creek,” said Phillips.
An increased trails network would not only be beneficial for outdoors enthusiasts in the area. A connection to the Park Service trail system would also be beneficial for MALT as an organization.
“I think it can only be to the good to have that connection. The Park Service expands us in a lot of ways,” he said.
And the connector trail isn’t the only one in the works. There is also talk of a Vergennes area trail, and Phillips is eager to establish a connection to that trail.
Since 2002 the TAM has been mostly complete, allowing MALT to pursue ways to expand the trail’s connections. As with most trail systems, however, the TAM is in a constant state of flux — bushes to be trimmed, downed trees to cut, paths to stabilize and new boardwalks to be built over muddy areas.
And there are still some logistical issues to be worked out.
“We’re where we should be in most places,” said Phillips. “But there are some parts of the trail that aren’t conserved, and some parts that come through town.”
Right now, the stretch of trail connecting Chipman Hill to Wright Park runs along the road from Seminary Street to Seymour Street. Ideas for alternate routes have been floating around for quite some time, but the challenge is finding another location for the trail to cross the railroad tracks.
Al Stiles, who has been building trails for the TAM since it was founded, has often thought about this problem, but admits that the solution may not come anytime soon.
“One of the things in the long, long future, is to connect Wright Park with Chipman Hill,” he said. “There’s a good possibility of going up a cliff and building a bridge across the railroad.”
This route would take the trail through an industrial park and up to Rt. 7, where it could cross onto Chipman Hill instead of running through town. In order to cross the tracks, however, the bridge would have to be a certain distance over the railway tracks — both a financial and a logistical issue.
For now, though, MALT will continue to maintain the trail as it is. Phillips himself is out on the trail several times a week and between himself, volunteer John Derick and intern Renee Igo, they see the entire trail around twice a month.
It is due to their hard work, and to other volunteers who help out on the trail, that it remains a great place to hike, run, bike, snowshoe and cross country ski.
To learn about volunteering opportunities with the TAM, call the Middlebury Area Land Trust at (802) 388-1007.

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