Moosalamoo region a gateway to incredible biking, hiking, outdoor fun
GOSHEN — Ten years ago the Moosalamoo Association Inc. was named a finalist for a Conservation International/National Geographic Traveler World Legacy Award for its efforts to preserve and promote the Moosalamoo region.
Two years later the federal New England Wilderness Act designated the Moosalamoo region as a National Recreation Area.
The effect of those twin recognitions has been felt since then in the 16,000 acres of Green Mountain National Forest, mostly in southeastern Addison County, which are bordered to the north by Route 125 and the south by Route 73.
In that decade a partnership of interests has continued to work hard to upgrade trails and improve mapping and signs in Moosalamoo. That partnership includes the Moosalamoo Association; other nonprofits such as the Middlebury Bike Club, the Catamount Trail Association, Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) and the Vermont Mountain Biking Association; business interests; Camp Keewaydin; the Youth Conservation Corps; many local volunteers; and the U.S. Forest Service.
The National Recreation Area designation, in particular, for a time helped obtain federal funds to support those efforts, which have paid off in a significant increase in mountain biker visitation after some targeted trail work.
But it is also fair to say the impact hasn’t met the hopes of Moosalamoo Association board members and other lovers of those diverse acres and the hiking, biking, skiing and snowmobile trails that crisscross its rolling terrain.
Association President Bruce Acciavatti is among those who agree that although progress has been made, with the exception of an increase in mountain bikers, the Moosalamoo area has not seen a tremendous surge of interest since that burst of publicity a decade ago.
“We’re trying to get the word out about it, even though it’s been a national recreation area officially for eight years,” said Acciavatti. “It’s still relatively unknown, even among Vermonters, which is pretty amazing.”
The central problem, said those involved with the region, is the lack of consistent funding to promote Moosalamoo and further upgrade its trails and amenities.
Tony Clark, owner of Goshen’s Blueberry Hill Inn and the Moosalamoo Association founder, said pleas for money locally have sometimes fallen on deaf ears in part because many expect the U.S. Forest Service to take care of the job.
But the Forest Service, like many federal agencies, has experienced budget cuts, Clark said, and the number of local Forest Service workers can’t keep up with all the labor that requires so many area partners and volunteers to perform.
“People don’t really realize the amount of work that goes on. And when they do realize, they think it’s Forest Service work,” Clark said. “That’s been the ongoing issue over the years. ‘It’s Forest Service work. My tax money is paying for it. Why should I donate money for government work?’”
A HIKER WANDERS along one of the many miles of trails available in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. Photo by Brian Mohr
Many do agree on their appreciation of the region, which is named after the 2,643-foot Mount Moosalamoo that overlooks Lake Dunmore. Acciavatti, whose business, Wonder Walks, often leads or sends visitors throughout the Moosalamoo NRA, talked about what he believes makes the area unique.
“It’s kind of like this beautiful, mini-habitat with this great trail system. You’ve got a lot of great habitats around the state, but you don’t have as extensive a trail system with as many great viewpoints at this elevation level anywhere in Vermont,” he said. “The views of the Adirondacks from Rattlesnake Cliff are fantastic, and the Champlain Valley. There are some nice views east of the Green Mountains.”
Certainly, the region can boast of many attractions, including:
• The Robert Frost Interpretive Trail lies at its north end, off of which there are more trails for skiing and hiking.
• The Catamount Trail for Nordic skiers runs through Moosalamoo.
• The newly improved Leicester Hollow and Chandler Ridge trails to the south offer mountain biking and walking, including cleared vistas with views that stretch to the Adirondacks.
• Work this summer is upgrading the northern Oak Ridge Trail from just hiking to include mountain biking, which will connect it with the 13-mile Chandler Ridge loop (starting at the Silver Lake Trailhead on Route 53, near Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore) and with Mount Moosalamoo trails to make it one of the longest point-to-point mountain biking sections in the state.
• Silver Lake and the Sugar Hill Reservoir nestle into the hillsides, as does the Moosalamoo Campground. More camping is just to the west at Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore.
• VAST maintains snowmobile trails in the area, and hunting, fishing and bird watching are plentiful.
• Clark’s Blueberry Hill Inn offers Nordic skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer, and there is access to public blueberry picking in the summer.
Clark said the area offers almost everything to everyone of an outdoor bent.
“Every component of outdoor recreation is available to the general public,” Clark said.
Chas Lyons, vice president of the Middlebury Bike Club and someone who, like Clark and Acciavatti, has spent plenty of time working on Moosalamoo trails, said the work on the Chandler Ridge and Leicester Hollow trails has paid off for mountain bikers.
“The Moosalamoo improvements were vast. The improvements were largely to the Leicester Hollow Trail, which was literally washed away, so they had to recreate a lot of that,” Lyons said. “They brought some of the steeper sections (of the Chandler Ridge Trail) to more current standards. In some respects, I like the way the old trail rode, but as far as longevity and access for more abilities, the improvements were great, the switchbacks and stuff like that.”
Acciavatti, a Bristol resident, said he has come to appreciate Moosalamoo for the diversity of its wildlife and plant life. He said his clients report everything from families of owls to bears, and he has seen plenty on his own, including fisher cats, loons, hooded mergansers and rare flowers.
“Every time you go out you see something different. I was just doing the Moosalamoo Trail the other day and I was coming down and I saw the most incredible purple-fringed orchid, about that high,” he said. “I’d only seen three of them in my life, and there were two of them growing next to each other.”
The questions, Moosalamoo lovers say, are how to publicize these positives, how to maintain and upgrade trails and bridges, and, of course, how to fund those efforts.
At first, the designation as a National Recreation Area helped with funding. Vermont’s Congressional delegation, notably Sen. Patrick Leahy, was able to attach “earmarks” to larger finance bills.
Those earmarks created pools of grant funds to which the Moosalamoo Association was well placed to apply. At one point the association had a paid part-time executive director and the funding to design, print and distribute thousands of maps a year.
But several years ago, Congress banned earmarks. Clark believes the association still must lobby harder for federal support, but acknowledged the setback.
“The earmark program went down the pike four or five years ago,” he said. “But we haven’t really been proactive about it.”
Without the earmarks, the part-time executive director position was cut and the volunteer board members are putting in their own time promoting the region and working with partners like the National Forest Service. Acciavatti joked that he is a volunteer president trying to do the work of an executive director, but said at the same time the association has gotten creative.
Although it can no longer afford to distribute printed maps, the association gave its website (moosalamoo.org) a major facelift in 2013 that included maps that can be downloaded.
And this year the association is working with the Forest Service and a Middlebury College summer intern to make the maps more readable and to make them downloadable for smartphones and tablets as well as computers.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can with very little,” Acciavatti said.
Next on the wish list might be signs. Acciavatti said the only signs announcing the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area are posted within its limits, whereas signs further out on state and local roadways are also needed. The association would also like to work with the Forest Service to place more interpretive signs within Moosalamoo.
“We have to publicize what the areas are a little bit better. We’re doing that with the mapping. We’re trying to provide that with the website. We want to provide more signage on the roads and trails,” he said.
Acciavatti agreed with Clark that the Forest Service is stretched too thin to fund more signs. Even the existing signs were largely privately funded, he said.
“They don’t have a lot to spend, so they love having partners come up with the funding,” Acciavatti said.
Lyons said he sees the need for “a little bit more promotion” from the association and its partners.
“I don’t seek it out, but you also don’t see a lot of literature from them on that. They rely on their website and people seeking information from them,” Lyons said.
As far as the trail network, Clark said the Forest Service cannot be expected to perform all the maintenance without local support.
“These trails should be protected for future generations,” Clark said, “but the Forest Service is not in a position to do it on its own.”
THE MOOSALAMOO REGION offers many recreational opportunities and a variety of wildlife, including these nesting herons. Photos by Barb Fogal
Ultimately, Clark and Acciavatti said, if the Moosalamoo NRA is to reach its potential as a destination area, it comes down to consistent funding.
Clark hopes that eventually area businesses and towns will come around to realizing the potential benefits of trying to lure more of the 50 million people that are within a day’s drive.
“It’s a recreational jewel that attracts people to the area. That helps the lodging industry, the gas stations, the restaurants,” Clark said. “It helps the local economy.”
At the same time, Clark has not given up hope on state and federal government funding. He noted Rep. Peter Welch’s recent visit to Middlebury to support a Michigan-to-Maine hiking trail, and the fact there are funds for the Middlebury Area Land Trust’s Trail Around Middlebury.
“We need to be much more pro-active with our delegation in Washington, just to get something stirred up a little bit, maybe,” he said.
Acciavatti said the increase of mountain biking could help, and he believes the word has gotten out more in recent years.
“I think more people are discovering the area,” he said.
And he explained how funding could help.
“If you want to give us a donation, it’s always welcome,” Acciavatti said. “That goes toward developing the website, developing more information, helping to maintain the trails, helping to improve the signage on the trails. I’m really working hard on that, improving publicity and helping the local economy. If we can really get more people to come and support the tourism-based economy, that would be great.”
That support would be a means to the greater end for Moosalamoo, he said.
“You can go out there and hike all day long and never see a soul,” he said. “That’s a great experience, but we want more people to learn about the area and discover its beauty and attributes. There’s a lot out there.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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