Commentary, Opinion

Let’s make a Killington waterway trail 

By John Keough

I founded Appalachian Trail Adventures (ATA) in 2007, and the company has grown steadily each year, with a focus on providing fun adventures and premier customer service. I have lived and worked in Killington since 1986, and at 51 years old, that’s 34 years spent in the local area. ATA has enjoyed status as the number one tour on TripAdvisor in Killington since 2010, and our overnight customers hail from locations around the globe. In addition, we enjoy bringing folks from all over Vermont and out of state into Killington for day trips to kayak the town’s beautiful rivers. In return, they visit the town to dine, fill up with gas, shop and partake in other activities, thus giving back to the local economy.

ATA plays a crucial role within the Killington community similarly to the ATV tours, the Adventure Center, restaurants, hotels, rental and retail shops, allowing visitors to enjoy their stay by engaging in outdoor adventures.

ATA engages in regular trash pickup on a daily basis at the trailheads and lake parking lots all over Killington. Indeed, in the last 2 years, ATA has removed two trailers’ worth of trash from the town’s river. ATA guides are walking “welcome centers,” happily fielding questions regarding where to dine and the region’s best attractions.

Town officers, residents and businesses act as local ambassadors to help market Killington’s natural assets. With the Appalachian and Long Trail junction located in its proximity, Killington is Vermont’s “hiking mecca.” The new mountain biking trails are a big hit, with beautiful water resources available to enjoy as well. In fact, Killington boasts over 6 miles of pristine rivers where folks can kayak, fish and bird watch along River Road to the Skyeship on Route 4.

By implementing a waterway trail system, we can make the town of Killington a premier summer “outdoor enthusiast destination” with unparalleled hiking, mountain biking and kayaking adventure opportunities. This trail system will feature designated start and ending locations with parking areas, including trailhead signage and a river map.

Is it time to propose a water trail system starting from Thundering Brook Road along River Road all the way to the Skyeship on Route 4? The upper section along River Road and lower section from Rabeck Mountain Road can be paddled all summer, which is very rare in Vermont. The middle section from the River Road Bridge by Valley Park Condominiums to Rabeck Road is rough to paddle during low water conditions. However, this may have changed recently depending on beaver activity.

The River Road Class 2 wetland has drawn sightings of over 114 different bird species, making it one of Vermont’s top birding locations. The river supports healthy beaver, brookie, minnow, turtle, bull frog, dragonfly and crayfish populations. Beyond that, the lower river sections along Route 4 are bursting with wildlife, including coyote, deer, porcupine, moose and bear.

Past efforts to promote river resources from River Road all the way along Route 4 to the Skyeship parking lot have stalled. However, in recent years, the town has installed parking areas and signage for the lower Route 4 section by Rabeck Road and Mission Chapel Road — thus only leaving River Road parking areas to be constructed.

A Killington waterway and wetland management plan should be adopted to promote the town’s scenic waterway, striking a balance for people, businesses and wildlife while improving water quality for bird and fishing habitats. During drought conditions (such as last summer), the water quality suffers dramatically. Thankfully, beaver dams significantly improve the water table line, recharging the groundwater.

Knowing this, one of the most effective ways to improve river quality is to install beaver baffles. A beaver baffle allows some water to pass through the dam without breaching it and destroying the wetland, minimizing beaver damage to property and trees. 

The baffle doesn’t create running water noise, so the beavers won’t increase the dam height, raising the water level. The baffles can also be installed so that road culverts stay above the water levels. This management plan has worked successfully for other towns across the U.S. and Canada, and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept. has installed over 300 beaver baffles in Vermont since the program started in 2000.

In conclusion, a waterway trail system would afford an opportunity to exert a positive environmental and economic impact on Killington that both residents and visitors can enjoy.

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