Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Why some TAM sections are closed to the public

We are following public comments regarding closure of the Trail Around Middlebury, or TAM, and feel it’s helpful to offer perspective and information. First, we do receive a mixture of support, understanding, and some concerns. I hope this letter offers concrete information about the TAM, how it’s protected and managed, and makes MALT’s support of closing the Middlebury College sections of the TAM understood.
There are two common forms of trail protection for groups like MALT, the Green Mountain Club, etc. The first is a permanent trail easement, which gives the easement holder rights to the trail corridor in perpetuity. It gives the easement holder the ability to manage, maintain, and uphold public access permanently. The second is a license agreement. These are for a fixed term, such as 10 years, and permit many of the same actions as a trail easement. The difference is that a license agreement may be revoked by either party at any time, for any reason, and may include some restrictions that a permanent easement may not.
Thanks to decades of hard work by MALT staff, volunteers and board members as well as the long-time support of MALT members, MALT holds permanent trail easements for many sections of the TAM. On the Middlebury College lands, we hold a license agreement. Since Middlebury College allows the TAM on its property by a license agreement, as opposed to a permanent easement, they have the right to restrict access at any time and for any reason. For the record, they have never done this before now. I’d like to remind our community of how these are unprecedented times and they call for each of us to consider perspective and strive for understanding. MALT and the College are working together to make the most educated and thoughtful actions we can.
I understand the concern of those who cherish their access to the affected sections of the TAM. I am bummed too! I ask those who are also saddened by temporarily losing access to join MALT in supporting the college in erring on the side of caution. When it comes to the TAM and limiting interactions between students and our community of faculty, staff, and residents, we can’t go wrong with putting safety first. The past six months have been a journey of doing the best we can, with what we have, in each challenging moment that presents itself.
MALT is proud and grateful to provide Middlebury College students with a healthy opportunity for access to nature during their first phase of quarantine. We are equally proud to offer nearly 30 miles of recreation trails in the greater Middlebury area. We encourage you to explore some of these other trails while the four miles of Middlebury College trail are temporarily closed.
For those who are concerned about access during our annual fundraiser, the TAM Trek, no worries! We have exclusive permission to access the entire TAM on race day. Gratitude to Middlebury College for compromising on this important detail for MALT’s mission and the TAM’s well-being. We hope to see many friends at the TAM Trek on September 20th (maltvt.org/tam-trek).
Jamie Montague
Executive Director
Middlebury Area Land Trust

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