On a recent weekday, I got to savor something very, very rare: I had Kingdom Trails to myself. With the Canadian border still closed and out-of-state travel restricted, the trails were empty of the usual throngs from Montreal and Massachusetts. The weather was still warm and the hillsides tinged with the first shades of fall.
While I’ve ridden these trails hundreds of times, I picked up a map all the same. Last winter three owners of large properties off Darling Hill pulled their land from the network, unraveling some of what Kingdom Trails and its 97 landowner partners had built over the last three decades. The “three T” trails (Troll Stroll, Tap n’ Die and Tody’s) that were must-rides were gone from the map, and the river trail that connected two big networks was gone.
Though miles of new trails have extended Kingdom Trails to the north and east (with new ways to connect to Burke Mountain from Burnham and the Moose Alley network) there was a big blank area on the trail map around Darling Hill, a testament to the fragility of trail building on private lands in Vermont.
But what wasn’t yet on the map were some of the new trails that have been built these past few months. Last summer Jim and Marci Crone not only resurrected Elmer Darling’s iconic 1904 mansion Burklyn, but they revived his community spirit. The California couple bought the mansion and 86 acres and had their cousins, avid mountain bikers Bob and Sharon Morse take over as innkeepers. They worked with Kingdom Trails to put in a new trail, Burklyn, that weaves around the property in a buffed singletrack.
“We wanted to help keep bikers off the road and to honor Elmer’s spirit –he did so much for this community,” Crone said. On top of that, the renovated Burklyn, now an inn with 14 rooms, looks like it belongs in the pages of Architectural Digest.
Thanks to private landowners like the Crones and to volunteers, around the state, Vermont has seen an enormous growth in its trail networks this past year. Tom Stuessy, president of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association estimates that more than 25 new miles of trails have been built and more are on the way.
What’s more, new regions are becoming mountain bike destinations. Slate Valley, near Poultney and Castleton, has seen a huge influx of riders from around the state as it has built out its network of both mountain bike trails and gravel rides. In Randolph, a new hotel and a new network of trails the Vermont Technical College campus will make this an easy stop and destination for anyone traveling up and down I89. Near Middlebury, new trails in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area are projected to span a huge expanse of wild land between the roads that lead over Middlebury and Brandon Gaps, with stunning campsites in between. For more on what’s being built see “Fresh Dirt,” p. 8.
As I rode back through the open fields of Darling Hill, I knew that soon fall foliage would be at full peak. Riders would come back. At some point, the trails would become busy again. But with more places to ride, more new trails to explore, Vermonters–at least—can spread themselves out around the state.
I glanced back at the trail map. On the top left were reminders to: “Respect This Gift. Protect Nature. Care for Others. Be the Example.” But what caught my eye first was the headline: Ride With Gratitude.
Gratitude, yes! Thank you to all the landowners, the chapters, the volunteers and the sponsors. Vermont’s trails are a gift we should all cherish. —Lisa Lynn, Editor.