County path from Moosalamoo to Champlain could link two major national trails
ADDISON COUNTY — A bill passed by the U.S. Senate last week provides a major boost to a proposed federal hiking trail that would run across most of Addison County, connect two major national trails, and become part of a network that would allow hikers to walk almost from sea to shining sea.
The Natural Resources Management Act, backed by a 92-8 vote, is a comprehensive public lands bill that permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as includes a provision to link the North Country National Scenic and Appalachian trails by way of Addison County.
According to staffers in Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office, the bill was expected to clear the House of Representatives and be signed by the President.
The North Country Trail, first authorized in 1980, heads eastward from North Dakota. That trail also connects with the Lewis and Clark Trail, which heads west from that junction to Seaside, Ore.
The North Country Trail — projected to be 3,200 miles long and about two-thirds built up to the standards of its overseer, the National Park Service — currently has as its east end the Champlain Bridge in Crown Point, N.Y.
The 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail intersects with the Long Trail at Willard Gap just north of Route 4, and heads east from there to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The missing link is a path between the Long Trail on the east side of Addison County and the Champlain Bridge on the west side.
That 40-mile stretch of trail was first contemplated as part of the North Country Trail. But back in the 1970s the Green Mountain Club objected to the plan, fearing the link would lead to overuse of the Long Trail, which the club manages. Thus the linking stretch was not included in the 1980 authorization.
According to Vermont’s U.S. senators and their staffs, the new bill changes that. Leahy aide Lincoln Peek said much remains to be done, including finding funding, acquiring land rights and developing local partners who could perform trail construction. It could be a decade before a trail is a reality.
But Peek also said the bill is a vital “first step.”
“The passage of this authorization in the Senate is a real victory for the North Country National Scenic Trail and Addison County. The Vermont connection is literally the missing link,” Peek said.
“Sen. Leahy, through his work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is already working to secure funding for this important project. Equally important, he and his staff will work to see that the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service are full partners with the local organizations and property owners who will be critical to building this trail.”
Leahy said the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which taps fossil fuel company funding to provide grants and other help for natural resource projects, was a vital component of the bill. Press releases from Sen. Bernie Sanders and Leahy’s offices noted Vermont has received more than $140 million from the fund since 1966.
“I’m proud that this bill will make that vital program permanent,” Leahy said.
The North Country Trail winds its way from North Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania before heading through New York and the Adirondacks to Crown Point.
The preferred route for the extension was chosen with input from Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT), Addison County Regional Planning Commission, Middlebury College, Green Mountain Club, Moosalamoo Association, the Forest Service, and the towns of Middlebury, Ripton and Weybridge.
The exact route is yet to be determined, but what a National Park Service document provided by Leahy’s office calls the “preferred corridor” runs from the Lake Champlain Bridge through West Addison farmland, the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, Addison village, up and down (or possibly around) Snake Mountain, across the Lemon Fair River lowlands to Weybridge village, and on to the Trail Around Middlebury, known as the TAM.
According to MALT Executive Director and TAM overseer Jamie Montague, the trail will make use of “MALT’s already constructed connector between Snake Mountain and the TAM,” a relatively recent addition completed with the cooperation of Monument Farms and other landowners.
From the east end of the TAM, Montague said the route would travel southeast toward the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area and join the Long Trail in the Green Mountain National Forest. A more northerly route through Ripton had been considered.
“The North Country Trail will then continue to East Middlebury on a route for which MALT has begun mapping and securing trail easements,” Montague said in an email. “The route reflected in the legislation will connect to the Long Trail through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area.”
A 2013 National Park Service summary of the missing link’s history and current options estimates that about 13 to 19 miles of new trail would need to be build, with the rest on existing trails.
The document said route choices depend in part “on which landowners are willing to cooperate in establishing the trail,” and the Park Service cannot obtain land by eminent domain for trail projects, but can purchase land or easements.
Cost estimates are not precise. The Park Service foresaw the 13 to 19 miles of new trail “potentially requiring an estimated $450,000 — $6 million in land acquisition costs.”
The Park Service claims benefits for property owners, neighbors and businesses: “Landowners may also see increased (or more stable) property resale values due to proximity to permanently protected open space,” while there will also be “increased visitation and associated economic activity.”
The document describes a low-impact trail intended primarily for hiking that would allow other “compatible recreational activities such as snowshoeing, bird watching and nature study,” while noting, “The trail’s authorizing legislation prohibits motorized use.”
Montague thanked cooperating landowners and the many local people and entities who have worked hard over the years on the proposed trail, something she said is now much closer to becoming a reality.
“This is an important step forward for the North Country Trail, MALT and Addison County,” she said. “We look forward to the day when a National Scenic Trail shares a path with our local Emerald Necklace, the TAM.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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