8. Springfield/Rockingham/Bellow’s Falls: The Valley Revival
Once a manufacturing hub, the Connecticut River valley towns of Springfield, Rockingham and Bellows Falls are finding new life. Springfield is home to Black River Produce and Meats, the Black River Innovation Campus and has the fastest internet speeds in the country (10 gigabits).
Rockingham sees thousands of visitors pass through, making stops at the Vermont Country Store to shop for everything imaginable. Bellows Falls, a former mill town right on the Connecticut, is seeing its downtown classic buildings given face lifts as antique shops and small restaurants move in.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, this is an area that has hidden gems that many Vermonters are not even aware of.
In Springfield, Hartness Park walking trails pass by the hill that was the former Springfield ski jump. You can also run, bike or cross-country ski on the Toonerville Trail – a 3-mile former railway corridor along the Black River that connects to Charlestown, N.H. The trail is the site of the town’s EdgarMay 5K Turkey Trot each year (this year too.)
For nature-lovers there’s the 10,000-year-old North Springfield Bog, and Springweather Nature Area, 1,300 acres with trails used by cross-country skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers in the winter. For a fun afternoon with kids, try one of the Springfield Valley “quests” —a treasure hunt of sorts—that let you discover places along the trails throughout the area (quests are listed in the Springfield Valley Trail Guide).
The city is also just 11 miles from Mt. Ascutney. A monadnock rising above the Connecticut River Valley, Mt. Ascutney, was once a full-fledged ski resort with lifts, lodging and a ski school.
After several changes in ownership and a bankruptcy it shut down. In recent years, locals have been reviving it via the non-profit Ascutney Trails Association. There are now mountain bike trails, more than 50 acres of hardwood and spruce glades for backcountry skiing, a T-bar and new base area lodge. Last season the ski area launched Thursday night citizen races on the lit hill. Okemo is also less than a 40-minute drive away.
From Rockingham and Bellows Falls, there are several major trail networks that are worth a visit from anywhere in the state—or beyond.
In the historic town of Grafton, Grafton Trails and Outdoor Center, affiliated with the Grafton Inn, has a network of trails groomed for cross-country skiing, fat biking and tubing and you can rent gear right there.
Not far from there, the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association has conserved more 2,000 acres in Rockingham, Athens, Grafton, Brookline, and Westminster with a 26-mile hiking trail system with stunning ridgeline views as far south as Mount Snow, a wildlife sanctuary and even a summit hut you can stay at (temporarily closed due to Covid-19). The Oak Hill trails, just outside Bellows Falls, also feature 2 miles of trails.
Shop: Two legendary shops support athletes in this area. The West Hill Shop, just south of Bellows Falls in Putney, has long been a leader in cycling and cross-country ski gear. In fall of 2020, the West Hill shop was bought by Zach and Amy Caldwell whose Caldwell Sport has helped some of the top Nordic racers in the world prepare for competitions. In 2018, Frank Wadelton, better known as Frank the Welder, moved his custom bike frame and R&D shop to a 12,000 square-foot facility in Bellows Falls.
Eat/Drink: If you are craving a hearty steak, it’s hard to beat the filet mignon at Springfield’s Black Rock Steakhouse. Wash it down with a local brew such as a Harpoon or Trout River ale. Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, near Ascutney, is the locals’ place to pick up a breakfast or lunch sandwich. In Rockingham, Wunderbar is doing take-out only but it’s worth calling ahead for dishes like Pumpkin Bolognese or Bourbon Apple Ribs.
Stay: For a step back in time to a town that has hardly changed in the last two centuries, treat yourself to a night at the historic Grafton Inn, home of Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center and Grafton cheddar. Near Springfield, the Hartness House Inn is a beautiful, updated B&B on the National Historic Register with 38 rooms set on 35 acres. At Mt. Ascutney, Holiday Inn Club Vacations operates villas with one to three bedrooms.
What the Grants Will Do: Springfield and its team of volunteers will use its $19,250 VOREC grant to develop improved up-to-date marketing materials and trail signage, rehabilitate existing kiosks and build new ones at trailheads on the Toonerville Trail and Hartness Park. It will also build community engagement and stewardship of the Toonerville Trail and Connecticut River Byway through development of an inventory and action plan to track and control invasive (especially noxious) plant species
Rockingham, in partnership with local trail non-profits and the Village of Bellows Falls, will use its $19,000 VOREC grant to plan connectivity in its trail systems, create maps and signage, build trail stewardship programs, and create a pump track.