Money for Vermont rail trail is good news for businesses along route

  • FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2005, file photo, Don Glover, Caledonia County Coordinator for the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, walks past rails and ties being removed from an old railbed in Danville, Vt. Completion of a 93-mile rail trail across northern Vermont got a big boost when Republican Gov. Phil Scott requested funds in the 2020 budget to complete the project. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2015, file photo, Dee Palmer walks her dog on the first section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Danville, Vt. Completion of the 93-mile rail trail across northern Vermont got a big boost when Republican Gov. Phil Scott requested funds in the 2020 budget to complete the project. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File) Wilson Ring

Published: 1/25/2020 10:52:21 PM
Modified: 1/25/2020 10:52:08 PM

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott’s news that he hopes to dedicate more than $2.8 million in state money to finishing the 93-mile Lamoille Valley Rail Trail on a former rail bed in northern Vermont was welcome news to Cindy Locke, the executive director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, which maintains the trail.

The governor said the state’s share would enable the use of $11.3 million in federal transportation funds, most of it to build bridges on the trail, which is popular with bicyclists, pedestrians, skiers and snow machine users.

“I didn’t know that was coming,” said Locke, who has been discussing the trail with state officials for the last few years. When it’s completed, the trail between St. Johnsbury and Swanton — now just one-third finished — will be the longest bike, pedestrian and snowmobile trail in New England, and will connect with a rail trail in Canada and another in New Hampshire, she said.

The trail runs along the banks of the Lamoille River and through the spine of the Green Mountains, using a route created by the former St. Johnsbury and Lamoille County Railroad, which from 1877 until 1994 passed through five northern Vermont counties and 18 communities. Just 33 miles of the trail are open to bicyclists now, and about 80 miles are open to snowmobiles, according to the nonprofit Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. It reaches an elevation of 1,400 feet near Joe’s Pond in Danville, Vt.

The open section of the trail, which is paved with crushed stone, is open to all non-motorized uses, and in the winter to snowmobiles. Local snowmobile clubs keep the trail groomed. The trail sees most of its use in the summer, according to the LVRT nonprofit.

“People actually come to Vermont just to go on this trail,” Locke said. “There are breweries, restaurants and shopping, and all attribute a boost in economic activity because of the trail.”

VAST had launched a capital campaign in 2017 to try to raise money to complete the trail. Meanwhile, tourism businesses and lawmakers have been pressing the Scott administration to devote more money to tourism marketing, saying the state’s share of visitors to New England has been falling in recent years. Scott said the trail will carry people into the most rural parts of our state.

“This is a big deal for a region that feels disconnected,” Scott said in his budget address.

When it’s completed, the trail “could be the crown jewel of the Vermont state park system, attracting bikers from all over the world,” said Hans Huessy, a Burlington lawyer and bicyclist who volunteers as chairman of VAST’s Lamoille Valley Rail Trail committee.

If the money for the trail is approved this year as part of the state budget, the state will operate the LVRT in the same way it does the nearby Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail and a shorter Delaware and Hudson rail trail between Castleton and Rupert, Vt., Huessy said.

Much of the money to fix the trail will go to reconstructing bridges, some of which could cost $1 million or more, Huessy said.

“I tried to ride some sections of the trail that are closed, and it looks like the metal superstructure of the bridge is fine, but the decking is rotted and gone,” he said.

There are businesses along the trail now, and a few small enterprises — such as an electric bike rental company — have sprung up to serve trail visitors.

“This will obviously open opportunities in all the towns along the way for people to open Airbnbs, open bike shops and rental facilities, for restaurants and small stores to sell supplies,” Huessy said.

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