Work is finally about to start on a four-season recreation trail proposed to span northern Vermont. The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail has been on the drawing board for over a decade, and on Friday there was a ground-breaking ceremony in St. Johnsbury.
From 1877 to 1994, trains rumbled through this corridor between St. Johnsbury and Swanton. Now the railbed is covered with weeds. But in a few years, organizers, including the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, or VAST, hope it will be a gravel thoroughfare for all kinds of travelers- on foot, bikes, snowmobiles, skis, horses—even dogsleds.
At the groundbreaking, Senator Bernie Sanders recalled the many financial and regulatory obstacles that have slowed progress. But he sees a bright future for the scenic multi-use trail.
“What excited me is imagining a 93-mile path going from one side of the state--St. Johnsbury--to Swanton—that is extraordinary. And even more importantly the path is going to open up vistas that people have not seen in decades. Incredibly beautiful vistas,” Sanders said.
Sanders also expects the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail to provide a year round boost to local economies. The trail is strategically located, as LVRT Committee Chair Laird MacDowell explained.
“The rail trail will also include crossings in Johnson of the Long Trail and also the Catamount Trail, and most of the VAST trails are north south, so look at this as like a big interstate connecting all these trails, all these north-south trails,” MacDowell said.
MacDowell, Sanders, and VAST Executive Director Alexis Nelson picked up shiny new shovels and tapped the ground near a bridge that will be re-built to begin phase one of construction, a fifteen-mile section between St. Johnsbury and Danville. It should be ready for snowmobiling this winter.
The federal government has kicked in 5.2 million dollars, and FEMA has come up with additional funds to repair storm –ravaged sections. But to finish the project, organizers will have to raise a few million more. Fundraising and construction could take years. But as audience members remarked, getting this far hasn’t been easy, and they don’t plan to give up now.