North Country Trail may reach into Vermont

WEYBRIDGE — Vermont Congressman Peter Welch took a walk Monday with members of the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) and the James family, who own Monument Farms Dairy, to discuss an effort under way to add to Vermont’s network of hiking trails.
Welch and Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., have introduced legislation to extend the North Country Trail, or NCT, into Vermont. This trail currently runs 4,600 miles from central North Dakota to Crown Point, N.Y. The bill proposed by Welch and Nolan would create a 40-mile extension of the NCT through Addison County, connecting it to the Long Trail and, ultimately, to the Appalachian Trail.
Details of the exact route from Crown Point to the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Goshen remain to be determined, but the trail would be located in a 25-mile wide corridor, explained MALT Executive Director Carl Robinson.
A key part of the extension would cut through Monument Farms Dairy’s property in Weybridge and connect to the Jackson Trail (a component of MALT’s Trail Around Middlebury, or TAM) parallel to Sheep Farm Road.
Standing at the trailhead across from Monument Farms’ headquarters on James Road, Welch stressed how the new trail would bring hikers to the area and boost the tourist industry in Vermont.
“We want people to hike and spend tourist dollars,” Welch said, “and for that, we rely on the generosity of landowners keeping the land open.”
Peter James of Monument Farms agreed.
“If the land isn’t open to hunting, hiking and biking, people aren’t going to stay here, they’re not going to contribute to the local economy,” James said.
Ethan Ready, a public affairs officer of the U.S. Forest Service, also noted the importance of private landowners in supporting outdoor recreation opportunities.
“The tourist economy thrives by creating access to public land through public and private cooperation,” Ready said.
Vermonters haven’t always been as enthusiastic as they are now about connecting the NCT to the Appalachian Trail.
When the NCT was first proposed in the 1960s, the Green Mountain Club board of trustees voted to keep it out of Vermont, citing concern that increased hiking traffic would destroy the pristine environments of the Long and Appalachian trails in Vermont.
However, since the NCT was constructed, experience has shown that it hasn’t had the detrimental environmental impact initially feared, explained John Derick of MALT.
In 2009, MALT and the National Park Service began a feasibility study, concluded in 2012, to determine the 25-mile wide corridor through which the trail extension would run.
“Eventually the plan is for the trail to find its way to Moosalamoo,” explained Ready on Monday.
The exact route hasn’t been determined, but would largely follow existing trails, including the TAM and Moosalamoo’s Oak Ridge Trail.
The last step in the process of making this trail extension a reality is getting a bill, H.R.4736, through Congress.
Reps. Welch and Nolan, recognizing the importance of efforts like this in contributing to their states’ tourist industries, proposed this bill, officially known as the North Country National Scenic Trail Route Adjustment Act. The bill not only proposes the extension of the trail into Addison County, but would also incorporate more than 400 miles of existing trail in Minnesota into the NCT.
“This will require legislation at the federal level,” Welch explained Monday, “and there’s been so much local work that’s gone into getting us to this point.”

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