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Work is underway on a mountain bike trail traversing Vermont, 'a new concept for the Northeast'

Several people wearing helmets sit in a grove of trees overlooking a mountain vista.
Angus McCusker
Mountain bikers take a break from riding the Velomont Trail to appreciate a vista at the summit of Sugar Tree Knob.

It might be a little early to pull the mountain bike out of your garage.

But after mud season ends, crews will be grabbing their shovels to build a new stretch of bike trail in Green Mountain National Forest.

It’s part of the Velomont Trail, a goal to connect 485 miles of new and existing trail networks from Vermont’s southern border up to Canada, with a series of backcountry huts along the way.

It’s sort of like the Long Trail, but for mountain bikers.

This week, the state announced that the town of Randolph and the Vermont Huts Association are receiving a $141,488 dollar grant to fund master planning for the Velomont Trail.

To learn more about the trail and get a progress update since construction began last year, VPR's Grace Benninghoff spoke with Angus McCusker, the project’s interim executive director. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A man sits at a picnic table smiling.
Marius Becker
Leave Nice Tracks
Angus McCusker

Grace Benninghoff: Massive end-to-end trails, like the Appalachian Trail, have existed in the hiking world for quite a while. But they're less common in mountain biking. Where did the idea to create the Velomont Trail come from?

Angus McCusker: The idea for the Velomont Trail really started locally, within a lot of different communities across Vermont. And the idea was that, instead of expanding our trail networks in our own communities, let's talk to our neighbors. So it kind of snowballed from a couple communities and villages here in Randolph and Pittsfield, Killington and Stowe.

The concept of long mountain bike trails would be a new concept for the Northeast, but it's not uncommon out West, or even in Europe. So, it's pretty exciting to bring this opportunity to the Northeast.

Existing long distance trails, like the Long Trail or the Catamount Nordic ski trail, wind through pretty remote parts of the state, but the Velomont Trail is being designed to dip into towns and villages across Vermont. Why is that a priority for you, to stop in smaller towns that might not otherwise get much traffic?

A mountain bike trail is pictured.
Angus McCusker
A new section of the Velomont Trail built near Hancock.

The Long Trail, as you know, more or less just stays along the spine of the Green Mountains, which is a fantastic trail, great resource. But the Velomont Trail is a little bit different in the way that priority one really was to connect existing trail trail networks across the state. And a lot of trail networks happened to be close to village centers, communities. So you know, that's one of the reasons.

But at the same time, it's a great opportunity to provide places where people can stop at a café, grab a bite to eat and then head on out back into the backcountry, so to speak — on to the next community or town.

Because of how Vermont is laid out, you and other Velomont organizers have to work with state, federal and private landowners to build new stretches of trail. What kind of role will collaboration play in seeing this project through?

It's pretty extensive, the amount of partners that we have involved. But it's been really unique in a way, that the beauty of Vermont is the complex land ownerships and how we all try to work, interface with each other. So I don't think you could find this possible in a lot of other places, but Vermont had the rich history with long distance trails. The Long Trail, for example — that was one of the first, if not the first, long trail in the country. And the idea was to take that connectivity, and then add huts in there as well, which, is a pretty neat addition to have.

As I mentioned before, the state did just announce that this grant is going to be available to help with the Velomont Trail's planning process. What still needs to be figured out with this project?

A group of children with bicycles wave at the camera.
Angus McCusker
Pausing on the Velomont Trail in Rochester, kids participating in a summer mountain bike camp by Ridgeline Outdoor Collective and One Planet pose for the camera.

The key component for that is master planning, which will help us figure out ideal parking, road crossings, hut and trail sitings, mitigation of ecological impact. So a lot of planning is still underway. We're still pretty early on in that planning process. This will be a huge piece for us to work with towns, engage the towns, communities along the way, which is really important. You know, we started very grassroots, with community buy-in and interest. So we want to make sure we continue that as we work.

When do you think this trail will be completed? Do you have an estimated year in mind?

We don't have a target date, but I'm hoping within the next decade or so. But we do have phase one broken up.

"A" is along the Morrill Valley Rail Trail, which is slated to be completed this year. And "B" is from Killington to Wakefield —that's about 82 miles that'll hopefully be completed sometime in 2023 or 2024. And then segment "C" will include 50 miles of the existing Catamount Trail in southern Vermont. That'll be upgraded.

So within the next couple of years, we'll have segments or the Velomont Trail completed, but the entire length will definitely take a couple years for sure.

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