MALT returns to roots of trail development, maintenance

MIDDLEBURY — It wasn’t too long ago that the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) had temporarily strayed into a wilderness of financial challenges and a fractured vision.
But the organization has now found a solid trail back to what had been its primary focus: Maintaining and strengthening its crown jewel, the Trail Around Middlebury, which is known locally as the TAM.
MALT’s return to its roots was set into motion by the hiring one year ago of Carl Robinson as the organization’s new executive director. Robinson is a trails specialist, and his expertise has come in very handy on several fronts — including  as part of a federal plan to expand the North Country National Scenic Trail through Addison County.
The public is being invited to submit comments through Nov. 25 on a plan that analyzes the “feasibility, desirability and various alternatives” for extending the trail from where it currently ends in Crown Point, N.Y., to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The preferred alternative at this point is to extend the trail roughly 40 miles from Crown Point through Addison County to the beginning of the Long Trail, at a point above Moosalamoo. Congress will ultimately need to approve the trail extension.
“MALT is the main agency working with the (National Country) Trail Alliance as a partner-affiliate,” Robinson said. “We would be in charge of this (Addison County) section. We will be working with landowners. It will use a portion of the TAM.”
The TAM is an 18-mile path that encircles the village of Middlebury and links several hundred acres of town land and conserved properties, as well as schools and other landmarks. It is signed and open year-round. The trail is made possible through the generosity of TAM landowners who allow public access to their land, as well as a legion of volunteers — including local students — who tirelessly tend to the well-used recreational asset.
“It takes a tremendous amount of work,” noted Robinson, who credited resident John Derick for coordinating many of the TAM volunteer projects.
The land trust recently landed grants to buy additional trail blazing tools and to rebuild three boardwalks along wet sections of the trail, according to Robinson. Volunteers also spread gravel and weed cloths on several stretches of TAM to combat water erosion and bury tree roots.
“Graveling lines the trails, keeps the weeds out and requires less maintenance in the long run,” Robinson said.
He added MALT came out with its third, and most complete, TAM map. It includes an explanation of the trail and sponsorships.
While trails have been MALT’s primary focus, the organization has not abandoned its land conservation work.
MALT recently collaborated with the Vermont Land Trust to conserve a 98-acre parcel of land off Route 125 in Cornwall. The land, adjacent to the Foote Farm subdivision, is dominated by a limestone cliff, known as the “the ledges,” which happen to be home to some important species of flora and is part of a local wildlife corridor.
In all, MALT has helped conserve more than 2,600 acres of land in Middlebury and in surrounding communities.
Looking to the near future, MALT officials are exploring additional opportunities to conserve land and perhaps expand the TAM. The organization is also looking to maintain, gravel and improve public access to a network of trails within Middlebury’s Wright Park.
“It’s a big education center for the Audubon Society,” Robinson said.
And environmental education is another area in which MALT would like to boost its presence. Robinson said MALT would like to join forces with the town of Middlebury and other nonprofits to offer walks and nature programs.
Story Jenks, president of the MALT board, is pleased with the organization’s health and performance. He said MALT is now financially solvent, and its memberships and donations are on the rise.
“(MALT’s mission) has resonated with board members and volunteers,” Jenks said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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