Earlier this month, a lift began turning at Mt. Ascutney in Brownsville, for the first time since 2010. Though it may have only been a small rope tow, it was a big sign that the old ski area—a place whose base lodge had burned to the ground and whose lifts had been sold—was on its way back.
Locals have worked hard over the last few years to resurrect Ascutney as a multi-use backcountry ski/mountain bike/snow bike destination. ( See Comeback Mountain.) On December 19, Ascutney Outdoors, the non-profit that’s been working toward resurrecting the area, announced it had:
“..completed the purchase of the burned-down base lodge from MFW Associates, and is taking on the responsibility for asbestos remediation and demolition of the building. The purchase is a giant step towards our goal of bringing back recreation to Mt. Ascutney, and economic vitality to the village of Brownsville. The demolition will remove a blight from our community, and the site provides the perfect location for an ‘Ascutney Outdoors Center’, a multi-use activities and events space. The building we envision will become the public face of AO and serve as a hub for all of our activities: community events and gatherings, conservation and educational programs, arts and music events, and, of course, our awesome biking, hiking, skiing and other affordable recreational pursuits. “
What wasn’t announced was that on the Friday, Dec. 16, MFW had sent over a notice that the use permit that allowed public recreation on 104 acres (within the area marked in red on the map) was going to be revoked in 30 days and Ascutney would lose five miles of beginner trails used for mountain and fat biking, starting January 16.
“This took us completely by surprise and is a real disappointment,” said Sports Trails of Ascutney Basin’s director, Michael Bell. MFW and its principal, Dan Purjes, were not available for comment but, according to a report in today’s The Vermont Standard, Purjes had sent a notice to the town that he would “consider signing a new license agreement as long as he got a tax break.”
The land impacted includes some of the easier terrain and trails such Blue Dipper and Cathy’s Crossing. “This won’t impact skiing but it does impact a lot of our easier groomed fat biking and mountain biking terrain,” said Bell. “We’re going to have to close those trails and take down the signs.”
Bell did acknowledge that the MFW land has been for sale and there was a permit to subdivide a two-parcel area into 13.
“We knew it might happen sometime but this took us by surprise and could affect us economically,” he said. The trails were already attracting mountain bikers from around the Northeast and there was hope that fat biking and backcountry skiing could bring people to the area as well. “Every time I go to the gas station or café I now see bikes on cars in the parking lots and I see our stickers around New England. There’s no question we were getting the word out.”
Still, Bell isn’t too put off. “We’re Vermonters,” he said. “We will adapt.”