MIDDLEBURY — While Middlebury’s trails may still lie buried under several inches of snow and ice a local group of trail runners eagerly await spring’s thaws.
The group is called Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts and hopes to attract new members of different abilities this summer.
‘It’s a good way for people that are looking to get out and get involved, meet other people and enjoy the resources we have,” said Ben Bruno, one of the group’s organizers.
Middlebury and the surrounding Champlain Valley is home to miles of trails including the Trail Around Middlebury, trails in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area and others. The area has long had a dedicated following of trail runners. Jeff Byers is a local runner from Middlebury and a chemistry professor at Middlebury College. He’s been running on the trails for the past seven years and maintains a blog on his experiences running on local trails.
“Every time I go out I find something different,” he said. “That’s just what happens when you’ve got this incredible resource just in our backyard.”
This past summer, runners began informally meeting at the Waterfront Park in Middlebury’s Marbleworks District for evening group runs on the Trail Around Middlebury. These “Tuesdays on the TAM,” as they were called grew in popularity and established a small core group of regular participants.
By the end of the summer, people were looking forward to more opportunities to run as a group aside from just their Tuesday evenings. Most participants were more experienced distance runners but they wanted a way to reach runners who couldn’t make the Tuesday evenings or newer runners who weren’t up for running for an entire hour. What started as a once-a-week meeting grew with the help of the popular socializing site Meetup.com. As they enter spring and running season, the group lists 97 “enthusiasts” and eight coordinators who help organize the runs. Upcoming runs range in difficulty from a 5K “Dog Jog” in Wright Park to benefit the Addison County Humane Society to the Middlebury Maple Half Marathon.
Heather Flewelling, one of the group’s organizers said interest in running off of paved roads has been growing nationwide and the Meetup group hopes to be the local hub for runners all abilities.
“There’s no disadvantage to building the community and connecting people,” she said. “People are running new trails and becoming more confident. Everybody that’s come out on runs with us is super excited to meet other runners.”
And the group is looking for new members. Earlier this month, runners gathered for an informal gathering in the tasting room at the Woodchuck Brewery. The events attracted some new members and the group hopes to see some new faces at their runs, including those that may not be as experienced.
“It can be intimidating to just go to an event where you might not know people and the ability of others,” Bruno said. “We want to be as accommodating as we can and let people know that no matter their ability, we’re happy to get out and run and meet other people who love to run.”
In addition to the regular Tuesday evening runs, Flewelling said she hopes the group can expand their reach and run in the Breadloaf Wilderness areas or even running from gap to gap on the Long Trail or even on trails in the Adirondack region of New York and hopes the group will help establish Middlebury and Addison County’s as a center for trail running.
“My vision is when people think of trail running in Vermont, they think of coming to Middlebury because it’s such a perfect place to start from,” she said. Hopefully we’ll grow and expand into that.”