Opportunity for Rutland County Trails

RUTLAND: STRIDES & RIDES | By KIMBERLY GRIFFIN

Have you ever wondered how parks and other outdoor “natural” recreational venues are created? Often, as I walk among the trees and over the rocks on our region’s trails, I try to imagine the shovels and rakes, chainsaws and axes that many a hand must have wielded in order to create a path for my boots to traverse. And if I am really in a state of imagination, I try to trace the work even further back in time to the meetings and the sketches and the friendly — and sometimes not so friendly — arguments over land ownership and rights-of-way and fundraising and promotion that surely must have occurred long before a shovel ever touched the earth.

For many long-time Rutland City residents, the transformation of the area that is now Pine Hill Park is the one illustration of such work. Surely the same can be said for the Pittsford trails, the D & H trail, Northwood Park, and the many other recreational networks in our community.

As part of the work RAPAC is doing with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission under the Vermont Department of Health’s Healthy Community Design Grant, I was recently part of a meeting just like I imagined. Folks from the Pine Hill Partnership board, regional commissioners from Mendon and Hubbardton, and local citizens all came together on June 15 to pour over a map of the region; assessing existing trail networks, deciphering what plots of land are public or private, and coming up with dream trail connections to join towns or peaks, or just continue a trail past its current termination.

I was in awe of the knowledge each of these individuals carried about the woods and the back roads and the mountains in our region. As a group, there was seemingly no rock, no old bridge, no bend in the river that wasn’t familiar. And so, as we began to look dreamily at the potential for expanding and connecting the regional trail system, it felt as though the sky was the limit.

One such dream that is quickly becoming a reality, is the proposed Jim Jeffords State Forest. Linking Coolidge State Forest and Aitken State Forest in Mendon and Shrewsbury; the 100,000+ acre land conservation project will not only provide our region with over ten miles of hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowmobile trails, it will also offer conserved habitat for Vermont wildlife such as moose, deer, turkey, bear, trout, songbirds and more, providing a resource to hunters, anglers and birdwatchers as well.

Acquisition of this land is currently being managed by the Trust for Public Land, along with a group of volunteers. A significant portion of private land has already been donated, and some funding to support more land procurement has been secured through private donation and public grants. The project team is currently working on a campaign to raise the remaining funds for the forest. For more information on the Jeffords State Forest, contact Kate Wanner at the Trust for Public Land: kate.wanner@tpl.org.

While the Jeffords State Forest is one example of the beginnings of a new park/maintained intentional recreation space, it isn’t the only. June 15th’s meeting yielded quite a few new dreams; listing Class 4 roadways as potential mountain biking paths, revisiting old rail beds, and even highlighting Otter Creek as a water trail for canoeing and kayaking were all just bits of thought to be sorted, mapped and explored in the (hopefully near) future.

We are so fortunate to live in a state where opportunities for outdoor, exploratory recreation are virtually everywhere. I look forward to the continuance and further development of such opportunity for myself and generations to come.

Kimberly Griffin is the Director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition (RAPAC) whose mission is to promote and increase bicycle and pedestrian activity in Rutland County.
E-MAIL: kimberly.rapac@gmail.com

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