Volunteers strike out on path to build Trail Around Bristol

BRISTOL — When Bristol resident Porter Knight put out an all-points bulletin for anyone interested in working on a Trail Around Bristol to attend an exploratory meeting, she hoped she’d get at least six people.
She was telling herself, “If I get six people, I’ll be like, ‘This is good. This is a good working group.’”
The meeting this past Wednesday drew more than 40 participants, who spent the evening brainstorming and emerged with the beginnings of an action plan to make this long-standing dream a reality.
“There’s a lot of passion for outdoor sport and activity … and just a ton of excitement,” said Knight.
A Bristol resident for 20 years, Knight knew the idea of a Trail (or likelier Trails) Around Bristol similar to the one in Middlebury had been kicking around the “Gateway to the Green Mountains” for about as long as she could remember. So at a December meeting of the Bristol Recreation Club (of which Knight is vice president), she asked why this great idea had gone so long unrealized.
“They said, ‘Oh, you know, everybody thinks it’s a good idea but nobody wants to spearhead it or coordinate it.’ And I was like: ‘I can do that.’”
The Rec Club board greenlighted the project, and Knight began engaging community members in one-on-one conversations about the trail project.
“It kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Knight. “So far, I’ve talked to over 100 people … Finally about a month ago, I said, ‘We just need to throw the gates open. There’s a lot of enthusiasm here,’” — which led to last Wednesday’s first meeting.
Partnering with the Rec Club are Bristol CORE (the downtown improvement organization) and the Bristol Conservation Commission.
Under Knight’s leadership, the project is both results-oriented and open-ended.
Knight is a business productivity consultant who’s known locally and professionally as the “Get it done gal.” She was instrumental in replacing Bristol Elementary School’s playground equipment when her two sons were in students there.
The group has already identified two trail projects it wants to work on this summer. One will be to work together with high school cross country supporters to improve and extend the cross country trail behind Mount Abraham Union High School. Another possible project — still being discussed — will be to partner with the conservation commission and Bristol Historical Society to install an interpretive trail at the bottom of South Street on the site of the old coffin factory.
Foremost in organizers’ mind is taking things one step at a time, engaging the entire community, and truly partnering with land owners.
“The Rec Club really wants to see this as community building as much as trail building,” Knight said.
“We’re not in a hurry. However long it takes is fine. We want this to be community building. And if we run into an obstacle where it’s not feasible or landowners aren’t willing, we’ll listen. And if we can’t address their concerns, we’ll go around with a smile and that’s fine.
“We want the whole community — especially landowners — to feel like this is positive and beneficial to each and every one of them individually and collectively.”
This focus on community building means that by design organizers are not approaching the overall project with a set plan for the trail. The cross country trail and coffin factory projects are in organizers’ sites for this summer, but the overall route of the trail or trails is necessarily to be determined.
One of the leading visions is a village-centric “inner trail” that could begin with the already existing cross country trails behind Mount Abe and loop from there, possibly on both sides of West Street. Wednesday’s meeting also showed strong enthusiasm for a more ambitious “outer trail” that could connect such Bristol gems as the Watershed Center, Winona Lake (aka Bristol Pond), the Ledges, Bartlett Falls and Sycamore Park.
Whichever paths the project takes, the overall goal is clear.
“Bristol is an amazing community with tremendous natural resources, super accessible. We’d like to make it possible for people who live here to be able to get in the woods without getting in their cars. We’d love to see people who are coming to Bristol, appreciate Bristol, spend more time in Bristol, spend money in Bristol,” Knight said.
Knight noted that alongside the enhanced quality of life that comes from stepping out your door and into nature, trails benefit towns in dollars and cents. Gov. Scott recently signed an executive order on trails and economic development, she said. And she recently attended a conference on trails, recreation and economic development that estimated that “every hiker brings in $112 per day” and mountain bikers even more.
“If you’re coming to the car show, come an extra half hour early, hike for 30 minutes and get your ice cream and hike back,” Knight said. “Bristol is often called the Gateway to the Green Mountains, and we don’t want people to just fly through the gate. We’d like them to stop and enjoy what we have to offer here.”
Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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