By Katy Savage
While mountain biking trails are expanding throughout the region, a small committee is meeting once a month to plan the biggest connection yet—one that would go from one side of the state to the other.
The trail, called the Velomont Trail, would be like the existing Catamount Trail and Long Trail. It would connect the state’s approximate 28 mountain biking associations and would involve building another 85 miles or so of new track.
“It’s been an idea that’s been floating around for years and now we’re like, ‘let’s make this happen,’” said Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance president Angus McCusker.
McCusker is speaking with local landowners, hoping to use private and federal lands.
He estimates the project would cost $5 to $7 million to complete.
“There’s a lot of work that has to be done,” said McCusker.
There’s been a push toward mountain biking and outdoor recreation since Gov. Phil Scott established the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative Steering Committee by executive order last year.
“Vermont’s recreation opportunities are diverse and prevalent in every corner of the state,” said Scott in a press release. “As my administration works to grow Vermont’s economy, it became clear that we could do more by leveraging these assets.”
Outdoor recreation generates about $5.5 billion in consumer spending in Vermont annually, according to a recent study from the Outdoor Industry Association in Colorado.
“Providing access to outdoor recreation enhances local economies and serves as a conduit for promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Green Mountain National Forest Recreation Program Manager Holly Knox of the Rochester and Middlebury District.
Green Mountain National Forest is partnering in the development of the Velomont Trail.
“It’s something we offer for a lot of different trails but not necessarily for mountain biking,” said Knox.
Some compare the state’s current mountain bike trails system to spaghetti strings that loop back on themselves.
RJ Thompson of the Vermont Huts Association is also partnering in the Velomont project.
The name, Velomont, comes from two French words. “Velo” means cycle while “mont” translates to mountain.
“It’s a nod to our neighbors in the north,” said Thompson. “It also incorporates Vermont in it.”
The Velomont Trail will be a multi-use trail, open year round (for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in the winter.)
Thompson also wants to create several timber frame huts along the trail so mountain bikers are no further than a day’s ride away from a hut.
“Riders can get a flavor of the rural communities and head back into the woods,” said Thompson.
The Vermont Huts Association is building the timber frame huts with Yestermorrow Design School in Waitsfield.
“The huts will be equipped with just about everything a guest would need besides food and a sleeping bag,” said Thompson. “There would be bunks and cookstoves and kitchenware.”
The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers’ trail system for snowmobilers extends throughout the state but “that experience doesn’t exist yet on a mountain bike,” said Thompson.
Meanwhile, local chapters are continuing to expand mountain bike trails this summer.
Suicide Six is planning to build mountain bike trials this summer. Phase III of expansion efforts of the Sherburne Trails will begin this year.
Another project, called the Robinson Integrated Resource Project, is awaiting approval from landowners to connect the Upper Michigan Road in Pittsfield to the Rochester Ranger District Office in Rochester.
“We’re looking for a decision on that project by the end of summer,” said Knox.
Thompson, Knox and McCusker are hoping to begin fundraising for the Velomont trail next year.
“We’re looking to make short term wins,” Knox said. “In the next couple of years we’d like to have a pretty big segment connected.”