All photos by Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson/Emberphoto.com.
The flooding in Vermont this spring may have washed away memories of the soaking rains of August 2008. That’s when several bridges, and much of the historic carriage route connecting Brandon to Silver Lake near Mt. Moosalamoo, were severely damaged. Afterward, the administration of the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF), which manages the area, was left with a major repair job on its hands. Popular with area hikers, as well as with Vermont’s burgeoning community of mountain bikers, the Leicester Hollow Trail was a user-friendly link to the 16,000-acre Moosalamoo National Recreation Area.
“The loss of the trail left a big hole,” says Jenny Nixon Carter of Brandon. She directs the Moosalamoo Association, a coalition of businesses and organizations working to promote access, recreation and economic development compatible with the conservation of the Moosalamoo recreation area. “We didn’t have much mountain biking to begin with … and there’s a growing demand for improved mountain biking in the area,” she notes. “The trail was also a popular and family-friendly hike.”
Meanwhile, the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) also had its eyes on the Moosalamoo area. Director Patrick Kell, knowing that the GMNF was interested in mountain biking, viewed the restoration of the Leicester Hollow Trail as a great opportunity. “With a good network of existing trails and amenities like Silver Lake, nice campgrounds and good access,” he says, “there’s such great potential here to improve the trails, not only for mountain biking, but to make this place more attractive to everyone.”
In the fall of 2008, the mountain-bike and Moosalamoo associations sat down with Holly Knox, the recreation and trail coordinator of the GMNF’s north zone, and her colleagues at the forestry office in Rochester. Their discussions gave life to a unique partnership that, three years later, can take credit for the long-term revival of the Leicester Hollow Trail. Not to mention the enhancement of the Leicester Hollow-Chandler Ridge loop — a nine-mile circuit that “is unlike anything else in Vermont,” as Kell describes it. “Where else do you have a relatively gentle, ridgeline trail, with lakes on either side of you, connecting to a lush and gentle valley? It’s backcountry riding,” he says, “and it’s simply beautiful.”
Reviving the trails has come at no small cost and with no small effort. While the original Leicester Hollow Trail was located within the floodplain of Leicester Brook, most of the new trail has been constructed above the floodplain, and to a high standard of sustainability. That process involves a considerable amount of thought-ful design, erosion control and rock armoring. VMBA has earned a reputation in recent years for building lasting, high-quality trails around the state, and GMNF recognized this.
By tapping into some of the funds made available through the federal economic stimulus package in 2009, the GMNF was able to direct nearly $200,000 toward the trail project. VMBA also secured a $2500 grant from Norco Bikes, based in British Columbia. And the Vermont Recreation Trails Program funneled additional monies to the Moosalamoo Association to be used for trail access and infrastructure improvements in the area.
“We embrace opportunities for partnerships on projects like these,” says Knox of the GMNF, “but the spirit of collaboration with this project has been simply phenomenal.”
Most of the funding has been used to put people to work. This summer — like the last one — Vermont Youth Conservation Corps crews have been camping out on the site, where they’re crafting and shaping trails with hand tools and natural materials. Kell has also been on site working with prominent trail designer/builder Hardy Avery of Stowe, assisting with key features along the way. The GMNF has pitched in by offering hands-on training, education and other support to the youth work crews — including the delivery of freshly baked pizza one night last week.
A local contractor has been hired to rebuild two bridges across Leicester Brook, and the VMBA and the Moosalamoo Association continue to rally volunteer helpers. Work on the trail is expected to be completed this fall.
“People are going to love it here,” predicts Kell. “Bringing trails like this to our Green Mountain National Forest is a big step for mountain biking in Vermont.”