The State of Vermont recently made one of the biggest state-wide investments in outdoor recreation in its history. On Monday, March 28, Gov. Phil Scott announced that $4,549,313 in grants from the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) had been awarded to municipalities and nonprofit organizations around the state for projects to enhance outdoor recreation and foster economic growth.
Over the next two years, the VOREC Community Grant Program will bring to life 24 outdoor recreation projects. Some examples: One grant will revive the 150-year-old Danville train station as an information hub for visitors on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. Another will help Montpelier explore the feasibility of a whitewater park for paddlers. Still another will provide scholarships for youth who identify as BIPOC to take sailing lessons in Burlington.
Ludlow will build a skatepark. Killington will get a new single track cross-country mountain bike trail. Marlboro will build new trails … the list goes on.
Grants will also go to statewide organizations such as the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance, the Town of Randolph and the Vermont Huts Association, and the Vermont River Conservancy and White River Partnership.
Many outdoor communities proposed worthy projects that met the $50,000 minimum grant-ask threshold. In fact, 103 ideas were submitted, totaling $21.5 million in requested funding.
As Jackie Dagger, VOREC Program Manager, notes: “The grant program is intended to support VOREC’s vision of a network of communities across Vermont supported by thriving local economies that are organized on five key principles: 1) To grow outdoor recreation-related business, 2) Increase participation in outdoor recreation among all demographics, 3) Strengthen the quality and extent of outdoor recreation resources, 4) Increase stewardship of outdoor recreation and environmental quality and 5) Promote and enjoy the health and wellness benefits of outdoor recreation.”
The grant program was established as a pilot program in 2018 with the passage of Act 194. In 2019, $100,000 in grants were awarded to two communities. Newport received $35,000 to build a trail connecting Prouty Beach and Bluffside Farm—a critical piece of the city’s larger Waterfront Recreation Trail and Lake Access project.
The town of Randolph was awarded $65,000 to help the Ridgeline Outdoor Collective (then called RASTA) build The Trail Hub information center, as well as signage, maps and trails.
In 2020, a new round of grants awarded $200,000 to seven additional communities. All nine VOREC communities were featured in “The New Basecamps,” an outdoor recreation and business guide that appeared in Vermont Sports thanks to a partnership between the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA), the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM), and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
Thanks to another partnership among those groups, this guide features 11 communities and 3 statewide projects that are receiving the next round of VOREC Community Grants.
The best part? Governor Phil Scott has recommended that another $5 million be allocated to the program and the Vermont Legislature is on track to support this same amount for another year.
“Vermont’s natural beauty, combined with outdoor recreation opportunities, are economic engines for our state and a driving force for why people visit and live in Vermont,” say Gov. Scott. “These grants will help continue to connect trails to downtown centers, develop new recreation assets and promote all we have to offer.”
From (roughly) north to south, here are 11 of the places that were VOREC grant winners. The remaining 10 will be featured in a fall issue.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, there is always something going on in Derby. Kingdom Games holds dozens of swimming, biking and running events in the region starting in February with the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival (a 25 meter swimming pool cut in the ice of Lake Memphremagog) and ending in October with the Fly to Pie Kingdom Marathon. Each spring, Kingdom Games hosts the Dandelion Run which starts at Derby’s Beach House on Lake Salem with options to do distances up to a half marathon. On July 4th, the Harry Corrow Freedom Run on the Newport-Derby Bike Path covers 3.5 of the 20 miles of the beautiful Memphremagog Trails. In the winter, those same trails are groomed for skiers and snowshoers.
The lakes and rivers of Derby are popular with boaters and anglers as well. Paddlers on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail can follow the Clyde River and traverse several of Derby’s small lakes including Lake Salem and Charleston Pond.
Clyde River Canoe Rentals can help set up a trip, rent boats or provide shuttle services for anyone wanting to do a longer stretch of the NFCT. They also offer 5-mile and 16-mile paddle trips—shuttle, boats and gear provided. Pick up a copy of the Clyde River Paddling & Fishing Guide (available from the Northwoods Stewardship Center).
The Clyde is, of course, known for its fishing, too, with a stretch near Newport, holding landlocked salmon –a species that was once prolific here – as well as brook and brown trout. Guides from all over Vermont often head to the Clyde.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: The Derby Fish & Game Club will use its $173,000 grant to help rebuild a 100-year-old dam on Kid’s Pond off Route 5. At no charge, the pond introduces children to the sport of fishing and provides seniors with accessibility issues a place to continue to fish. Plans also include making the facility accessible to all with a platform where a wheelchair can be securely locked in place for fishing.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: For fishing and hunting gear, stop in at Wright’s Sports Shop. The Derby Line Village Inn is an old Victorian inn furnished in period antiques and is also a local’s favorite for weekend dinners. The East Side is the spot to go to for dinner on the water. If you are up for a drive, the peaceful and updated cottages at Quimby Country are about a half hour east on Great Averill Lake. Quimby Country is America’s oldest sporting camp. Stay in one of the lakeside cottages or sign up for guided activities that include fly fishing, rock climbing and mountain biking. For a fishing guide, Gibb’s Guides out of Island Pond is the local expert.
2. St. Johnsbury
For some, St. Johnsbury at the junction of I-91 and I-93, is a place to stop on the way to bike Kingdom Trails. But that’s not giving the cultural epicenter of the Northeast Kingdom its due. St. Johnsbury is home to gems like the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum,and Catamount Film and Arts.
Now, with the completion of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail due this year, there’s a new reason to make this a destination. By the end of 2022, you will be able to bike 93 miles from its terminus in St. Johnsbury all the way to Swanton, near the Canadian border on New England’s longest rail trail.
The gravel trail follows the old railroad route which was designed to take passengers from Portland, Maine, across the northern states to Ogdensburg, N.Y. on Lake Ontario.
The railbed has been resurfaced with firm gravel to make a perfect, car-free route for cyclists, walkers, skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers.
And there are plenty of resources for cyclists of all kinds in St. Johnsbury. LINK Vermont is a nonprofit workspace for bicycle repair and maintenance. In summer 2022, they’ll be located in a popup space at the former Caplan’s Army Navy Store, hosting bike repair services, a bike and outdoor gear lending library in partnership with NEK Prosper!, build-a-bike workshops, swaps, and other activities. All Around Rental in St. Johnsbury Center just added E-bikes to their fleet and delivers them to the LVRT trailhead. Lamoille Valley Bike Tours will also be expanding to offer rail trail tours, as well as bike and E-bike rentals in St. Johnsbury.
For a touring guide, meet local Fritz Fay of Land Animal Adventures who hosts a weekly no-drop gravel ride for all levels on Tuesday nights that meets at the Trailhead Pavilion. You can also explore a brand new, 1.7 mile flow trail scheduled to open in early June in the Town Forest; a project led by the Caledonia Trail Collaborative. New to mountain biking? Contact professional mountain bike instructors Joe Fox and Bryna McCarty of Noble Fox Adventures to schedule a tour or skills clinic.
But don’t be too quick to bike (or ski) out of town. Make a pilgrimage to nearby Dog Mountain, a 150-acre property with trails, a gallery, and a dog chapel that the late artist Stephen Hunek turned into a tribute to all things canine. Walk the trails, or enjoy live summer concerts.
Catamount Arts aslo puts on live performances that range from hip hop to poetry readings to classical concerts.
What the VOREC Grant will do: St. Johnsbury will use its $128,00 to develop signage and wayfinding for cyclists and pedestrians to use the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT). The grant will also help start a bike lending library and free or low-cost bike, snowshoe, and exercise programs and gear.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop There are plenty of places to stay in in St. Johnsbury like the dog-friendly Comfort Inn or the Cherry St. B&B, or splurge and head just 10 miles east to the luxurious Rabbit Hill Inn. For an after-bike brew head to Whirligig Brewing and the Taco Poco onsite taqueria. For drinks, try the St. Johnsbury Distillery’s cocktails and Kingdom Taproom’s craft beers and for food, Table features farm-to-table fare. St. J. also has some amazing diners, including Salt Bistro and Pica Pica Fillipino Cuisine.
You might know Danville as the home of Joe’s Pond, the roughly 400-acre pond (well stocked with fish) where locals bet on when the ice will melt out each spring, a ritual that has helped track Vermont’s changing climate. Or you might have lost yourself once or twice in The Great Vermont Corn Maze. At 24 acres it’s New England’s largest and draws crowds from August through September when the corn is head high.
Or maybe you’ve headed to Danville to take a course with Penny Hill Tree Climbing, an outfit that offers one-day classes to train arborists, saddle hunters and anyone who wants to learn the techniques of climbing trees without harming them. After, you might head to the town green and catch one of the free family movie evenings with classic favorites projected on a big screen and free popcorn.
Want to learn another important skill? Just a few miles south in Peacham, Train NEK offers SOLO-certifying Rural and Backcountry Medicine courses including Wilderness First Aid and CPR.
Thanks to a VOREC grant, the 150-year-old Danville Train Station is being reimagined as a hub to guide visitors and anyone exploring the four-season Lamoille Valley Rail Trail to all there is to do in the area. This spring cyclists and hikers can use the 15-mile completed Section 1A between St. Johnsbury and Danville and soon they will be able to continue west from Danville to Morrisville, Johnson and all the way to Swanton. Lamoille Valley Bike Tours of Johnson offers rentals—including e-bikes—and shuttle services all the way to St. Johnsbury.
Danville also holds the title as the Vermont town with the most miles of dirt roads (102 miles), which makes it a gravel riding dream. If you who want to try some of the other gorgeous bike routes in the area, sign up for the nearby Peacham Fall Fondo (Sept. 24), a fun community-minded bike ride on the region’s back roads put on by former Tour de France pro and Unbound gravel race winner and Peacham resident Ian Boswell. The best part? It has an aid station that’s stocked with homemade apple pies.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: The $97,650 VOREC grant will help create a transportation and recreation hub in the former Danville Train Station. The hub will offer amenities such as ADA bathrooms and information about the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT) as well as other outdoor recreation, attractions, and businesses within a 10-mile radius.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: Stay at the three-bedroom Emergo Farm Bed & Breakfast, a sixth-generation working dairy farm on 200 acres that’s a mile from the rail trail or the four-room Danville Restaurant & Inn in the village. For pub fare and a Little Devil IPA head to Red Barn Brewing on Route 2. After a ride, refuel with Vermont comfort food such as fried chicken and waffles and a spiked switchel at Three Ponds’ new location on the town green or order the daily special at the family-run The Creamery. For lunch, pick up a sandwich or panini at Bentley’s Bakery and Café.
4. Champlain Islands
For a different view of Vermont, bike the Island Line Trail from Burlington to the Champlain Islands. The Island Line follows the narrow Colchester Causeway, the old railroad bed that crosses Mallett’s Bay. Riders or walkers then take the bike ferry run by Local Motion across the narrow cut to South Hero. Just 14 miles from Vermont’s biggest city you’ll find a very different world.
Grand Isle and North Hero islands –connected by bridges—are marked by low terrain, farm fields and orchards. The islands are a popular biking destination with quiet roads, a rural landscape and beaches such as White’s Beach, where you can cool off. The Champlain Islands Bikeways Brochure offers a number of suggested routes, including ones that will take you by the Birdhouse Forest (yes, a forest populated by birdhouses) or Stone Castles, which passes miniature castles made from pebbles and stones. On Isle La Motte, explore the 85-acre Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve where you can take a self-guided tour of fossils that date back 480 million years.
For more adventures, Lake Champlain’s Inland Sea offers protected waters for paddling. From North Hero, stock up at the North Hero General Store and you can kayak out to Woods Island and Knight Island State Parks for an overnight at one of the park system’s remote campsites and lean-tos.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: Grand Isle County’s VOREC grant of $99,726 will allow partners in South Hero to develop a plan for safe and connected biking and walking routes, connected to the increase in traffic from the Local Motion Bike Ferry. The region plans to build a new website portal with an interactive map as well as improve signage, safety outreach and education, and organize events.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: Snow Farm Winery and Ellison Vineyards have tasting rooms where you can taste some of Vermont’s top wines, with live music on occasion. Stop for a pie or a pastry at DonnaSue Bakes on Grand Isle, an honor-system shack that serves up baked treats. The Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero has been a local’s favorite for fine dining for years and Hero’s Welcome General Store is a classic general store. Just next door, spend the night at The North Hero House with views of the lake, or paddle out to a campsite on one of the state park campgrounds on Knight, Woods or Burton islands.
For a small city, Burlington packs in big recreation with beaches and parks, climbing gyms and outdoor retailers all within walking distance. Stroll along the waterfront on the Burlington Greenway, (a bike path that runs from downtown all the way to the Champlain Islands) and you will come to the Community Sailing Center, which provides access to boats ranging from SUPs to keelboats. The boats rent at low-cost and some are equipped for people with disabilities.
Just past the sailing center is the world-class A-Dog Skatepark. North Beach, just a bit farther north, is where Burlington locals stretch out their beach towels or rent SUPs from Paddlesurf Lake Champlain. North Beach also has its own campground, as well as a sandy beach—one of three in the city.
On the other side of the bay, to the south, the Burlington Surf Club has regular SUP events, and windsurfers and other watercraft to play with. Nearby, Petra Cliffs’ indoor climbing gym is where everyone can learn to climb. For expert climbers, Lone Rock Point, which juts out into Lake Champlain, is home to one of the most scenic crags in New England and has a series of wooded trails that parallel the cliffy shoreline.
And if all that isn’t enough? Rent a bike from Local Motion, Skirack or Outdoor Gear Exchange and you can cruise all the way to the Champlain Islands on the bike path.
What the VOREC Grants will do: Burlington’s $300,000 VOREC grant will help fund a pilot project that will offer low and no-cost gear, such as camping equipment and bike rentals through Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront. It will also provide scholarships for sailing camps for youth who identify as BIPOC. Some of the funds will go to building an urban bike park in Leddy Park and a boardwalk on the Wetlands Walk at the Ethan Allen Homestead near the Winooski River.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: Burlington has a wealth of shops, such as Outdoor Gear Exchange, Skirack and WNDNWVS that will outfit you for just about any outdoor adventure. After a day on the water or the waterfront, stop in for a sunset tropical cocktail by the lake at The Beach House VT at North Beach State Park or at Splash by the docks on the Burlington waterfront. Or go for a cruise on the lake on the Spirit of Ethan Allen. After, check into Hotel Vermont or camp out at the North Beach campground.
Thanks to its many parks and trails, Montpelier has been growing as a recreation destination. From just behind the Statehouse you can take a short hike to one of the best views in Vermont from Hubbard Park’s stone tower. Completed in 1930, the tower is on the National Register of Historic Places and provides sweeping views of the Green Mountains, the Worcester Range, and east to New Hampshire. Hubbard Park also offers miles of trails for exploring, biking, and hiking.
North Branch River Park, a 200-acre park, follows the North Branch of the Winooski River just outside of town. You can find wide paths for walking along the river and thrilling mountain bike trails up on the hill — there is something for everyone. Head across the pedestrian bridge at the north end of the park to access the North Branch Nature Center, an outdoor education center that hosts year-round events and programming on their 28-acre nature preserve. For an even longer adventure, head north out of the park on the Sparrow Farm Trail and you can walk/bike all the way to East Montpelier.
Montpelier’s Siboinebi Recreation Path is a 4.5-mile paved, accessible path that cuts right through the heart of downtown. It follows the Winooski River the whole way, and is a great place to see the river, teach a kid to ride a bike, or just go for a stroll with a friend. You can access it on the west end from the Dog River Recreation Area, on the east end from Old Country Club Rd., or park downtown and head either direction.
The Winooski cuts through the center of town and the upstream section of river between Marshfield and the city has Class II and Class III rapids. The new VOREC grant will help explore the possibility of building a whitewater park.
For boaters and SUP’ers, there’s also Wrightsville Reservoir. Just 5 miles outside of town, the nearly two-mile long reservoir has a beach area that rents boats, a separate boat launch and a disc golf course. Motorboats are allowed on the southern end of the reservoir. Head north for a quieter paddle and swim, and for some great bird and wildlife watching.
After a day on the trails or on the water, head downtown. Onion River Outdoors organizes a host of events, ranging from gravel rides like the Muddy Onion, to bike swaps and mountain bike clinics, to regular shop rides and runs. Right next door, ROAM has a top selection of apparel and there are no shortage of places to go for a beer and the city has a an impressive selection of restaurants that feature international cuisine.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: Montpelier will use its $213,000 VOREC grant to hire the Montpelier Youth Conservation Corps to build two connector trails that will strengthen the downtown’s connection to existing trails and recreation assets and to design an urban Whitewater Park. The funds will also help create promotional videos and an adventure guide.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: Book a room at the Capitol Plaza hotel downtown or the Inn at Montpelier and then plan a day and a night on the town. There’s everything from authentic Thai at Wilaiwan’s Kitchen to Italian fare served with a riverside view at Sarducci’s. For drinks, hit the Three Penny Taproom for a huge selection of local brews or stop by Gin Lane where Caledonia Spirits distills its now world-famous Barr Hill gin and its bar serves up cocktails.
7. Mad River Valley
It’s hard to imagine what you could add to the Mad River Valley to make it a better destination for outdoor recreation. Sugarbush Resort has skiing in the winter. In the summer, it hosts lift-served downhill mountain biking, an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course and disc golf. Plus, there are regular afternoon corn hole competitions with wood-fired pizzas and live music at its Lincoln Peak plaza.
Mad River Glen may not run its lifts in the summer but its slopes are there for hiking and General Stark’s Pub for refueling after. And you can hike past both ski areas, from Lincoln Gap, all the way to Appalachian Gap on the Long Trail with big views west to Lake Champlain and east across the Mad River Valley.
Summer is a time to savor here. It’s Cool off in the pools and cascades at Warren Falls or rent an SUP and paddle around the still waters of Blueberry Lake. It’s when you can wade deep into the Mad River and catch a sizable trout on a fly rod or go soaring with Sugarbush Soaring. Or simply meander on the Mad River Path, a system of public pathways that connect the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston and Moretown.
It’s the time road cyclists make a point of testing themselves on both “Gap” rides, knowing that the steepest paved mile in America is on Lincoln Peak. Increasingly, the Mad River Valley is a mountain biking destination. The Mad River Riders has worked to create a network of nearly 60 miles of trails that link and loop throughout the Valley and now connect up to the downhill trails at Sugarbush Resort. The Valley’s network includes the beginner-friendly Blueberry Lake trails in the Green Mountain National Forest, classic technical trails at Eurich Pond, Chase Brook Town Forest, Camel’s Hump and Phen Basin State Forests, and flowy classics starting at Lareau Farm.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: The $408,019 grant “represents one of the largest investments in outdoor recreation in the history of the Mad River Valley,” says Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. The funds will go toward developing a recreation hub with a welcome center with parking and restrooms. The hub will act as a jump off point for the surrounding trails. The project will also build a new pedestrian bike bridge across the Mill Brook with a new crosswalk across Route 100 to link the hub to Waitsfield’s walkable downtown.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: The Valley is famous for its home-grown food and beverages. After a day on the bike, stop at Lareau Farm for American Flatbread’s specials topped with produce grown out back and local meats and cheeses. Mad Taco and Canteen Creemee are must stops, as in a pilgrimage to Lawson’s Finest Liquid’s brewery and pub. Rent a bike at Sugarbush or get yours tuned up at Stark Mountain Bikeworks.
Halfway between the urban bustle of Burlington and the college town of Middlebury lies the city of Vergennes. One of Vermont’s 9 cities, Vergennes combines the best of city and country life with an historic opera house and plenty of boutiques and restaurants. Large Victorian homes line one side of the main street with boutiques, galleries and cafes such as the acclaimed Black Sheep Bistro and the Vergennes Laundry bakery on the other. Vergennes is something of a foodie town with Daily Chocolate, lu.lu. ice creams and Shacksbury craft ciders all calling this place home.
Vergennes is also a good jumping off point to burn any calories you consume in town. From downtown, head west for a bike ride through gorgeous farm country toward Kingsland Bay State Park, where you can camp or launch a kayak and navigate the rocky points that jut into Lake Champlain. Continue on to Basin Harbor Club where you can dine with views of Lake Champlain or play golf on its beautiful 18-hole golf course, which is open to the public. Just south of the city, hike up Snake Mountain for spectacular views of the Champlain Valley, all the way across to the Adirondacks. In the spring and fall, watch for the thousands of snow geese that land in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area during migrations.
The Otter Creek flows through the middle of Vergennes. Falls Park and Macdonough Park, located on either side of Otter Creek just under Vergennes Falls, offer a beautiful view of the falls as well as picnic tables and grills and prime fishing opportunities.
Boats can follow the Otter Creek from Lake Champlain all the way to Vergennes, the farthest navigable point, and tie up at the town docks, just steps from downtown’s restaurants, shops, and brewery. Check the maps for the Addison County Bike Club and you can find a small network of mountain bike trails off Comfort Hill St. or visit their website to find out about group rides and other events.
Should you need help with your bike, Little City Cycles specializes in saving old bikes. Owner, Tim Mathewson, builds, repairs, rents, and sells all types of bicycles and accessories. It is also home to Green Mountain Foster Bikes, a nonprofit whose mission is to give foster children bicycles to ride. Or head to Frog Hollow Bikes in Middlebury.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: The Vergennes Connector Trail East will create a universally accessible trail between New Haven Rd. and Monkton Rd. The 2,300 feet of trail will cross city and school owned lands creating a major link in the proposed Vergennes Pedestrian Loop around the city and includes a boardwalk to span Mossy Brook near the southern end.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: Check into The Basin Harbor Resort on Lake Champlain or stay at the historic Strong House, a 14-room bed-and-breakfast set on five acres of gardens. Go for pub fare at Antidote and try whatever is on tap at its on-site hyper-local Hired Hand Brewing, which sources all of its ingredients from within 20 miles. If you need some Skida wear or Darn Tough Socks, Linda’s Apparel and the Men’s Corner have you covered and boutiques such as Malabar, Ten Stones and Blue Lily are great places for gifts.
Killington, the largest ski resort in the East, is now also the biggest downhill bike park in the East. With more than 35 miles of lift-served mountain biking, The Beast of the East has become known as the place to go to learn to downhill, to perfect your skills or compete at its many events.
But it’s not all about the downhill. Since 2015 the town of Killington has been working to build out its cross-country trails.
At present, you can ride downhill at the ski resort or head to the Kent Pond area for some mellower but also fun trails. You’ll find beginner and intermediate cross-country trails at Sherburne Trails or more advanced ones at Base Camp Trails. Together, those trails represent about 15 miles of singletrack.
Kent Pond is also a favorite destination for paddling an SUP or canoe or fishing. Just across Route 100 from Kent Pond, Gifford Woods State Park has campsites, cabins, and lean-tos you can rent.
Of course, there are a million other ways to recreate in Killington from hiking the trails or the Long Trail which crosses Route 4, to trying the resorts’ Wrecktangle obstacle course.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: The $75,000 grant will go toward building a 3.4-mile single-track cross-country mountain bike trail, from Gifford Woods State Park toward the Velomont trail. It will also help create a new a kiosk and wayfinding and a new trail map. The new addition of 3.4 miles of trail be one of the longest flow trails in the state and move closer to connecting with the proposed Velomont Trail which will connect Killington to the Green Mountain Trails to Rochester so you can ride off-road the whole way.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: For hotels, the Killington Grand, on the mountain, is right on the downhill trails or check into the newly renovated Killington Mountain Lodge which sits on the sixth hole of the par 72 championship Killington golf course. For outdoor shops, try First Stop Board and Barn, Base Camp or Alpine Bike Works. For food, The Foundry has fancier fare or try any of the many eateries on the Killington access road.
10. West Pawlet & Rupert
While a lot of attention has been given to the completion of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in the northern part of the state, many folks are not even aware that the D&H Rail Trail makes for great riding from Castleton south to Rupert.
Little to no bike or foot traffic, open meadows, and a goat farm with a self-serve cheese stand are just a few of the things that make the Delaware & Hudson Line rail trail one of the most interesting and beautiful trails in the state. The northern section goes about 10 miles from Castleton to Poultney, where you can connect to the Slate Valley Trails network of mountain bike trail and gravel routes. The crushed-stone and gravel trail then dips into New York and is interrupted with a 4-mile gap where it crosses private land before starting up again in Granville.
Perhaps the most scenic part of the trail though starts in West Pawlet and heads south to Rupert. Here the trail crosses broad meadows with big views of the Taconic range. The trail passes small streams and goes by the 300-acre Consider Bardwell farm where you can stop and buy some of their renowned cheeses and watch the goats cavort.
In Rupert, stop at Sherman’s Store, which dates back to the 1850s or the historic Sheldon Store, nearby, which has been newly revived as a community hub and café.
Ride back to West Pawlet or if you have two cars, do a shuttle. Save some energy to hike up Haystack Mountain, just north of West Pawlet for huge views to New York and the Green Mountains.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: West Pawlet and the town of Rupert will use their $80,212 grant to help alleviate parking issues near the D&H Rail Trail by designating new parking areas and improving existing parking lots.
Stay/Play/Eat/Shop: Rent one of the rustic cabins, shelters or dispersed campsites at Merck Forest & Farmland Center, set on 3,200 acres. For bike gear, Analog Cycles is the place to stop if you are coming from the north or Battenkill Bikes, in Manchester if coming from the south. There is no shortage of great local food. In Pawlet stop in at Mach’s Market (yes, Mach’s) where organic sweet treats are baked in a wood-fired oven and most of the provisions are local. For a fine local meal, head to The Barn in Pawlet or The Station.
Marlboro is a town that is reinventing itself. In 2021, the campus of Marlboro College was purchased by The Marlboro School of Music which has been putting on music festivals in the town for more than 70 years. Once a ski area, Hogback Mountain now has a brewery at its summit and the mountain itself attracts backcountry skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer who come for the 100-mile views from the summit.
Halfway between Brattleboro and Wilmington and Mount Snow (where downhill mountain biking is big in the summer), Marlboro is a great summer destination, with wild areas to explore. Thanks to the VOREC grant, Marlboro’s Southern Vermont Natural History Museum is building out a new trail system with accessible trails and gardens and will be creating more programs to help people learn about the natural world.
The museum currently hosts talks with top wildlife experts in the state and owns 600 mounted specimens of native northeastern birds and mammals – the largest in the state — as well as live birds of prey, reptiles, and various other critters.
Nature abounds in this region. A biologist who recently completed an inventory of the 600-acre Hogback Mountain Conservation Area found 11 amphibian/reptile species, 22 mammals, 80 birds, and close to a hundred insect species use the area. Among that list: moose, bear, beaver and raptors.
If you want to see wildlife, try paddling Harriman Reservoir early in the morning. A short drive from Marlboro, Harriman Reservoir is the largest body of water that is entirely in Vermont. The reservoir stretches north/south for about 10 miles with undeveloped shoreline. The reservoir caters to everyone from paddlers and SUP’ers to the clothing-optional bathers who congregate at The Ledges (be forewarned). While there is no camping on the reservoir, set up a tent in Molly Stark State Park, where you can climb to the top of the Mt. Olga firetower for big views.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: The $62,000 grant will help build a new trail system, including a section that is accessible, with signage and connections to existing trails. The museum also plans to create a sensory garden and a natural playground. The grant will also help provide rentals and loaner gear such as snowshoes, binoculars, field guides, and other environmental education materials.
Stay/Eat/Play/Shop: To explore the Harriman Reservoir, High Country Marine in Wilmington rents everything from SUPs and kayaks to pontoon boats and speedboats. Rent bikes (downhill or other) at Mount Snow and ride its downhill trails. Taste local libations at Vermont Distillers and Beer Naked Brewery, both right in Marlboro. There are many great places to stay ranging from the historic Crafts Inn or Wilmington Inn to the Shearer Hill Farm B&B, situated on a working farm in Marlboro. One of the best bike shops in the region is West Hill Shop, out of Putney and for outdoor gear, head into Brattleboro to Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters.
Opening photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
This project was supported by a grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission. Funding for this project was also made possible, in part, with a Rural Business Development Grant from USDA Rural Development. Many thanks to the Vermont Department of Tourism and the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance for their help and support of this project.