The Friday before Memorial Day marks the traditional start of the hiking season in Vermont. This year, it's also the opening of a newly relocated section of the Long Trail that includes a wheelchair and stroller accessible boardwalk.
It was just a couple weeks ago when the snow and ice sufficiently melted away to open Route 108 through Smuggers’ Notch, between Cambridge and Stowe.
Now, hiking season is getting underway and visitors to the Stowe side of the notch can take advantage of a new attraction.
A relocated section of the Long Trail now includes an accessible boardwalk, as Green Mountain Club Field Supervisor Ilana Copel explained:
"The boardwalk will take you out into the beaver dam/wetland area and you get a really nice view of the notch, but past that it’s a traditional hiking trail," she said. "There are pulloffs as you go with informational signs about the history of the area, the history of the wetlands, the ecological benefits of the wetland area, animals that live in them."
The boardwalk is part of a mile-long relocated section of the Long Trail.
The relocation gets hikers off some eroding parts of the trail.
"The trail that has led up towards Sterling Pond from the Smugglers’ Notch picnic area is very steep," Copel explained. "It goes straight up a hill instead of gradually going along a hillside. So it erodes very quickly. It’s very rocky. It’s very difficult with a very large backpack."
Copel said the new trail takes a more gradual approach to the mountain-top pond.
"It brings you along a hillside, which is a more sustainable trail style than going straight up the slope of a hill," said Copel. "So not only do we [now] have this wonderful boardwalk and this information at the Barnes Camp Visitor’s Center, but we have a more sustainable trail that will last longer."
The Barnes Camp Visitor’s Center opened a few years ago in a renovated ski lodge from the 1920s.
Green Mountain Club spokesperson Kristin McLane said that’s where weekend hikers can get the latest trail advice.
Open exclusively on weekends, the center is "staffed strictly by volunteers," McLane said, "but it’s a great place to stop in and get recommendations for where to hike and information about the area."
McLane said the Green Mountain Club has people providing information at the top of the mountain as well.
"So anyone hiking this weekend on Mt. Mansfield or Camel’s Hump is likely to run into one of the Green Mountain Club backcountry caretakers," she said. "They’re stationed up on the mountains throughout the hiking season to just help educate people. Those have fragile alpine tundra on top of the mountain, so it’s really important that people don’t step on those areas because it takes them so long to grow."
McLane said hikers venturing to the mountain tops should come prepared for varying conditions:
"The weather on top of the mountain is not going to be the same as in the valley," McLane warned. "So even if it’s 80 degrees down here, still make sure you have some extra layers, make sure you have rain gear, make sure you have food and water. You just really want to be prepared for any conditions that are changing while you’re out hiking."
McLane also suggested bringing a map and something such as microspikes to help with traction on the icy spots of the trail. And, she says, expect to get a little muddy.
"So what we ask people to do now that the trails are open, if they come across any mud or puddles to please just hike right through the middle of it," she said. "Because, what that does is it prevents the trail from getting widened. It prevents the vegetation on the side of the trail from getting trampled. So even though your feet are gonna get wet, it really is way better for the trail just to walk through the middle."
No matter the weather, hikers should always plan to carry out whatever they carry into the woods.