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Greenway Gets Ready for Facelift

Mascoma River Greenway supporters have more than warmer temperatures to look forward to this spring.

Work is scheduled to begin April 14 for the next stage of construction of the MRG, an envisioned four-mile, multi-use trail connecting Lebanon to West Lebanon along the unused Boston & Maine railway.

A concept that first appeared in the city’s master plan 15 years ago, MRG supporters have seen steady progress in recent years for what they hope will connect Lebanon’s residential neighborhoods with workplaces, schools and shopping areas along its corridor adjacent to the Mascoma River.

Last year, a one-mile stretch of the railway running west from the Slayton Hill Road overpass was recognized by the state as abandoned, allowing for removal of the tracks and ties that remain on the state-owned path.

Weather permitting, a Maine railroad company will be in Lebanon on April 14 to help volunteer workers begin unfastening the rails and ties along the stretch. The area begins on top of the steel overpass above Slayton Hill Road, which connects Mechanic Street to Mascoma Street near Alex Peck Day Memorial Hospital.

“As long as enough snow and ice has melted off of the tracks in the next couple weeks, that’s when we’re hoping to start,” said Paul Coats, Lebanon’s Director of Recreation and Parks. “The company will be there really just to help with the technical aspects of the process. A lot of the man-power and excavation is being done by volunteers.”

Including pledges from companies and individuals for work and construction, the MRG Coalition has raised approximately $1.5 million of the estimated $2.2 million in costs associated with the project. Many of the expenses involve repairs to five bridges along the route, including the need for fencing and re-fabrication on some of the structures.

“We would have been thrilled if we’d raised $1 million at this point, so to be up around $1.5 million is pretty great,” Coats said. “We did that during what we called our private leadership phase. The next phase is also going to be very important, too, the public phase where we’re going to be reaching out into the community, telling them about the project and getting donations like $20 here, $100 there.

“We’re going to need a lot of those kinds of donations to fill out the balance.”

The MRG plans to begin that campaign with a National Trails Day celebration on the Greenway June 7, with guided tours of the trail, live music at Colburn Park and other festivities.

DeBonis Returns To Vermont for GMC Post

Michael DeBonis has been named the Green Mountain Club’s next executive director.

A Middlebury, Vt., native and Johnson State College graduate, DeBonis is moving back to the Green Mountain State after a five-year stint as executive director at Forest Guild, a national sustainable forestry non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, N.M.

The 42-year-old DeBonis has hiked both the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail and been a GMC member for 10 years. He’ll oversee GMC’s mission to preserve and protect the Long Trail — a 273-mile hiking trail spanning the length of Vermont through the Green Mountains — as well as nearly 200 additional side trails and networks.

The GMC has an annual operating budget of about $2 million.

“I grew up in the Green Mountains and a lot of my first outdoor experiences were on and around the Long Trail,” DeBonis said in a phone interview from Santa Fe. “It’s a very special institution, and what makes it special is not only the trail itself, but the community around the trail, all of the volunteers and community members who help shape and protect it.”

The GMC has about 10,000 members and nine sections, including areas that deviate from the Long Trail. The Woodstock-based Ottauquechee Section has nearly 300 members and maintains 45 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from U.S. Route 4 in Quechee to the Ledyard Bridge at Norwich.

“I really look forward to meeting volunteers of the sections and to get a good understanding of why they do what they do,” DeBonis said. “That can only help administratively, to get out in the field and learn more about the interests of the members.”

DeBonis begins in mid-May to replace Will Wiquist, who stepped down last fall after 21/2 years.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

NFCT Brings in Thomas

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail has hired Holderness, N.H., native Karrie Thomas as executive director, replacing Kate Williams.

Headquartered in Waitsfield, Vt., the non-profit NFCT helps connect paddlers to a 740-mile inland water trail, traversing historic routes from Old Forge, N.Y. to Fort Kent, Maine. More than 60 paddlers, including Norwich’s Evan Haynes (2011), are registered as having through-paddled the entire trail.

The NFCT provides maps, books, web-based tools and other resources for paddlers and works to connect the route with the communities it passes through.

“The Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s vision of strengthening communities... aligns with both my life and career goals,” Thomas said in a news release. “I look forward to working with paddlers, volunteers, community members, land owners and policy makers to be sure that the trail enhances the vitality of the region for years to come.”

A Colorado College graduate, Thomas recently managed fundraising and community relations for a land trust organization in California. She begins at NFCT on April 14.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.