×

A friendly ride on the Cross Vermont Trail

  • Cornfields line the Cross Vermont Trail in Waterbury. The route runs about 91 miles between Burlington and Wells River. Marty Basch photo.



Special to the Valley News
Friday, August 23, 2019

In less than a mile, the Cross Vermont Trail displayed its lovable quirkiness.

First, cross over the Winooski River on a paved steel arch bridge. Then follow a gravel path into Hope Cemetery, where I could swear the spirits of several dead Vermont governors and Revolutionary War soldiers provided a phantom tailwind pushing me onto a dirt path along a cornfield. Then venture onto a wildflower-sprinkled mowed grassy path behind a state office complex.

As I exited the parking lot onto busy U.S. Route 2 under construction, a mountain biker entering the lot yelled, “Welcome to Waterbury!”

The 91-mile Cross Vermont Trail, about 30 miles of trail and bike paths and 60 miles of paved and dirt roads, traverses north central Vermont from the splendid shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington’s Oakledge Park to the flowing Connecticut River in Wells River.

The ever-evolving communities-centric route parallels Interstate 89 and Route 2 along the Winooski and U.S. Route 302 between Groton State Forest and the Connecticut. It links the state’s largest city, its capital, suburban neighborhoods, schools, parks, small towns and lush rural majesty.

The route hatched from an idea in the late 1990s and eventually grew into the nonprofit Cross Vermont Trail Association (crossvermont.org) that oversees it.

According to executive director Greg Western, bicyclists travel somewhat equally in both directions, often using the Waterbury and Marshfield areas to overnight with lodging options like campgrounds, motels and more. Wider tires are recommended.

I pedaled the route in three days in mid-August on a gravel grinder with panniers. My wife, Jan, accompanied me by car. I’ve cycled pieces of the route, like the pleasant but sometimes sandy old Montpelier-Wells River railbed from Marshfield through Groton’s Ricker Pond State Park.

I’ve also pedaled some of schizophrenic Route 2 — sometimes narrow, congested and scenic.

This pieces it all together.

Before going, absolutely download CVTA’s cue sheets and maps, bring patience and learn to trust the signs as they will be there — usually — when you most need them. Expect some confusion, like leaving Oakledge Park and its stone earth clock as the route uses local roads with street lights, crosswalks and four bike paths in about 13 miles. One section of a bike path was closed for construction, and the map helped for a quick Plan B.

Also know that friendly Vermonters tend to materialize to send you the right way when indecision reigns.

Vermont’s rich farm and forest countryside began on Wlliston’s dirt Governor Chittenden Road by Catamount Family Outdoor Center. Richmond was a pleasant surprise, its single-track Johnnie Brook Trail followed by a pleasant riverside park, impressive 16-sided Old Round Church and legendary Cochran’s Ski Area, known for grooming the storied, Olympian-loaded Cochran family and other U.S. Ski Team members.

Duxbury Road by a spectacular Long Trail suspension bridge in the shadow of Camel’s Hump was delightful. Waterbury’s dirt Lover’s Lane was welcome after slim and snaking Route 2. I rode the lane about for a quarter-mile in the face of an oversized truck backing up with heavy equipment before passing it. A pedestrian bridge provides stunning Mad River gorge views by a former dam.

Bustling Montpelier’s golden-domed Statehouse impressed, too, its bike path and streets a departure from hectic Route 2. We spent the night in a motel.

In East Montpelier, the organization’s trail crew muscle was evident. They’re building two new bridges to repair the 35-foot-deep “big washout” caused by a May 2011 storm. One bridge is passable now. Also, the CVTA is hoping to raise $250,000 for a bridge over the Winooski and more East Montpelier bike paths to avoid Route 2. A route-mapping update is underway, too.

Delightful rows of Country Club Road cornfields led to a long and pretty Route 2 stretch, with various shoulder widths, from Plainfield to Marshfield and well-known Rainbow Sweets bakery, where the Philadelphia native owner’s got his sweet schtick down after 44 years. The flavor-bursting Johnny Depps were killer for the climb to the railbed through Groton State Forest to Ricker Pond and a camp with loons’ eerie cries.

Many blissful rail trail miles filled the final 15. A delightful stretch through the shade and marshes of Wells River Conservation Area also followed the Connecticut River, where later I crossed the double-decker steel bridge over to New Hampshire — the western edge of the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail — after enjoying various slices of the Green Mountain State.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty.basch@gmail.com.