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Couple Acquires Famed Gilbert’s Hill Property in Woodstock, Pomfret

  • Mary Margaret Sloan and her husband, Howard Krum, said it took them five minutes to decide whether to buy Gilbert's Hill in Woodstock, Vt., when the learned it was for sale. The 112-acre property is the site of the first ski tow rope in the United States and is highly accessible to the public through conservation and historic preservation easements. Krum and Sloan both have backgrounds in conservation efforts and the couple welcome the continued use of the property for public recreation. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Mary Margaret Sloan and Howard Krum

  • Mary Margaret Sloan hikes Gilbert's Hill behind her home on New Year's Day, January 1, 2017. Sloan and her husband bought the 112-acre Gilbert's Hill property four months ago and welcome its continued use for public recreation. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Skiers gather at the Gilbert's Hill rope tow in Woodstock, Vt., in 1940. Built six years earlier and powered by a Model T engine, it was the first rope tow in the country. (Library of Congress - Marion Post Wolcott)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Woodstock — When the Vermont Land Trust put the historic Gilbert’s Hill property up for sale last year, its aim was to find buyers with conservation and environmental ethics as strong as its own.

Howard Krum and Mary Margaret Sloan appear to be as suitable a match as VLT could have hoped to find.

Krum and Sloan, who are married, each have extensive conservation backgrounds and say they’re fully on board with the easements attached to the property, a 112-acre parcel straddling Woodstock and Pomfret that in 1934 became home to the first ski rope tow in the U.S.

Conservation easements require non-mechanized public access to the grounds, the preservation of the former dairy farm’s historic buildings and a future trail corridor that would connect the Appalachian Trail to nearby Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

Sloan, former president of the nonprofit American Hiking Society, knows much about efforts to protect and enhance the AT. While growing up near the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Harpers Ferry, W.Va., headquarters, her father, Chuck Sloan, was heavily involved in AT corridor preservation.

“He was a lawyer who did a lot of pro bono legal services (for ATC),” Margaret Mary Sloan said. “He was the first board chair for a group (today known as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Land Trust) which protected the corridor of the trail in the portions of it that are outside of national parks and forests.”

Sloan went on to lead the Maryland-based American Hiking Society, which promotes and protects foot trails through advocacy and funding efforts, and she later became the Northeast Regional Director for the Student Conservation Association in Charlestown.

“Truth is, I moved to this area for the hiking and happened to find that job,” said Sloan, 49, who grew up vacationing in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. “There were four kids in my family, and we hiked all the time. I fell in love with New England during those summer trips.”

Now the executive director of another nonprofit, Hanover-based youth empowerment organization Positive Tracks, Sloan hopes to help maximize the hiking potential of Gilbert’s Hill. The land includes a loop around the main ski slope offering splendid views of the Prosper Valley and connects to adjacent trail networks.

“One of the things I love about the property is its combination of open space and wooded areas,” Sloan said. “Plus it’s a special part of Vermont history.”

Gazing at the hill’s main slope, it’s easy to envision skiers carving turns during its commercial heyday in the 1930s and ’40s. Several posts from that era — re-erected during a restoration effort to celebrate the tow’s 50-year anniversary in 1984 — remain in the path of the original rope tow, which was powered by a Model-T engine and lifted skiers to Gilbert’s 640-foot summit in a minute’s time.

Krum hopes to have a rope tow reinstalled in the original location, though he’s still exploring logistics.

“We’d love to have another rope tow up, reinstall replica lights and that kind of thing,” said Krum, a former aquatic veterinarian. “The original rope tow had almost no safety measures in place, so we’re still looking into liability and things of that nature. ... We’d like to at least have it open for special occasions.”

Buildings on the property protected by a Preservation Trust of Vermont easement include the homestead, a dairy barn and milk house, and a one-story building previously used as a warming hut and lodge for skiers. It’s since been converted into a seasonal cottage.

“The idea is eventually be able to rent it out,” Krum said. “We’re doing as much of the (building renovation) work as we can ourselves and also applying for grants.”

Krum — who founded a student conservation school in his native northeast Pennsylvania before pursuing animal medicine — grew up on a family vegetable farm and plans to grow perennial flowers and grapes on Gilbert’s Hill.

“There are more and more grape vineyards succeeding in Vermont,” Krum said. “I’m going to give it a shot.”

The Vermont Land Trust is glad to have given Gilbert’s Hill a shot with Krum and Sloan, whom it identified as strong ownership candidates soon after they expressed interest in the property.

“They had a lot of energy and enthusiasm right away and seemed like a great match for it,” VLT Central Vermont director Bob Linck said. “There are a lot of elements to the property, which there are anytime you have public access to a property that is not publicly owned. But they were on board from the beginning.”

Make that the very beginning.

“It took all of five minutes for us to fall in love,” Krum said. “After being here, we couldn’t imagine not living here.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.