The Mountain Times

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Pine Hill Park: A network of evolving trails built by a community

Pine Hill Park in Rutland is quietly becoming the center of a growing mountain biking scene in central Vermont. It complements the many area offerings nicely, with lift-accessed terrain at Killington, the steep challenges of the Green Mountain Trails and the Mendon Forest fire roads. Pine Hill Park offers visitors an ever expanding and evolving, well-maintained network of trails.

In addition, the park offers fun events throughout the summer and fall (don't miss the Lunar Quarry, September 15, a 12-hour mountain bike relay race at night with live music.)

But the park is also a model for what can be accomplished by a grassroots community effort. Pine Hill Park Founder Michael Smith tells how the park came to be, how it is protected for future generations, the importance of volunteerism and about exciting new projects underway this summer.

HOW IT CAME TO BE

Over a decade ago, Smith used the woods on the north side of Rutland to train for mountain bike racing. He put a lot of work into developing miles of trails for himself and his friends using ancient carriage roads and logging trails; quickly becoming attached to the area.

When Smith got wind of a plan to sell off the land and create a housing development, he knew he had to act.

Smith explains: "There were proposed housing developments that had 24 and 42 houses planned. All my work would have been gone. I got really upset about it and became more civic-minded. I called everyone I knew and we all showed up en masse at an alderman's meeting to get the plan squashed. I realized if it wasn't this housing development that destroyed it, it was going to be something else. The area needed protection; needed to become an official park."

Smith succeeded in rallying enough support and his rec area received official park status.

A lot of hard work followed: building bridges, switchbacks and berms, also applying for permits, raising money and organizing volunteers. When the park opened to the public, Smith's experience with mountain biking in the area was evident. The trail system is creatively laid out and makes the most out of the natural contours of the land. Switchbacks are spaced out effectively to make climbing to the top relatively easy. Once at the top you can enjoy a spectacular overlook that sits above Rocky Pond and offers views of Blue Ridge Mountain and Sherburne Pass. There are strategic spots that offer views over Rutland or shady areas for lunch.

Among the beautiful bridges at Pine Hill Parks are a 100-foot suspension bridge on Overlook Trail, an arch near Rocky Pond, twisty-banked bridges and unique stepped bridges; all built by volunteers using donated materials.

* Pine Hill Park -courtesy Of PHP Photo _2

 

SUCCESS WITH VOLUNTEERS

Tens of thousands of volunteer man-hours went into creating the park as it is seen today. "As I've done for about eight years, I try to involve the Rutland High School to get a lot of the work done," Smith says. "For example, this year we are renovating the old rock quarry that exists inside the park. The project will involve about 250 students. Everything I've done is based on a model of sustainability. We try and make trails that will last and provide enjoyment for years to come."

Youthworks is a Christian group that sends students from all over the country to participate in such community work projects; they will be in town starting the last week of June through the end of summer on Mondays and Tuesdays. All trail enthusiasts are encouraged to show up for the Youthworks trail days. Smith says, "These kids get outside to do something for the community that they might not ordinarily do. I and the other adults who volunteer see it as a free gym membership for the summer."

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

The "carriage trail" is an exciting new development that Pine Hill Park's army of volunteers is working on. When completed, this six-mile trail will allow riders to access the Pine Hill Park network of trails from behind Proctor High School. The trail will follow an old carriage route that stretches along the ridgeline near Rocky Pond. Smith is happy to finally get this project started after years of planning and seeking permission from landowners.

"Sometimes, it is a delicate negotiation to bring both private and public entities on board for a greater community good," Smith said. The much-anticipated opening of The Carriage Trail is scheduled for next summer.

Also in the works is a paved bike trail along the East Creek. Smith plans to break ground on this new $2.7 million recreation path soon. "After six years of development and unbelievable red tape, construction of the very first segment will begin soon. The trail goes along the East Creek, behind the Department of Corrections and towards Saint Joseph's College. Volunteers and fundraising will be critical to get the project finished. The path will be 10 feet wide and paved. It will bring Rutland up to par with the other towns and cities within Vermont that have been enjoying the substantial economic, social, recreational, and health benefits of such a project for many years now. This path will provide easy access for commuting, social, historical, recreational, and fitness purposes," he says.

Pine Hill Park is located at the Giorgetti Athletic Complex in Rutland. There is a bike shop with rentals available.