SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

The Catamount Trail: A Destination Snowshoers Can be Proud of

A snowshoe enthusiast’s work never ends.

It’ll be months before anybody can tromp through the Vermont woods on snowshoes, but people associated with the Catamount Trail from the Massachusetts border to Canada are quietly working to keep it open.

The 300-mile Catamount Trail along the spine of Vermont is predominantly a cross country ski trail – North America’s longest.

Though the majority of those that use the trail are skiers, snowshoers can also enjoy it, especially if they try not to ruin groomed ski tracks along the route.

Maintaining the 20-year-old Catamount Trail and keeping it open is a constant challenge because much of the route runs across private property. That means the Catamount Trail Association, which controls the trail, depends upon the kindness of private landowners who sell or donate easements for the winter pathway.

Most landowners are understanding, cooperative and often like the trail near their homes, said Ted Milks, the Executive Director of the Catamount Trail Association.

Properties sell, though, and Association members sometimes find that they must negotiate with a new landowner to keep a section of the trail open.

The group is trying to make agreements more long-lasting. “Our hope is to convince them to give us a permanent right of way,” Milks said. Landowners often find that having the trail on or near their land increases property values, he said.

The Catamount Trail Association relies on more than 40 trail chiefs, volunteers who work with landowners, organize trail maintenance work parties and act as eyes, ears and advocates for the trail.

Sam Bartlett of Leyden, Mass. is a trail chief for a section of the Catamount Trail in far southern Vermont. Like most trail chiefs, he does most of his work in the fall, negotiating with landowners, thanking them and making sure there are no questions or concerns.

He also organizes autumn work parties, who enter the woods once the leaves are gone to remove blowdowns, repair washouts and otherwise ready themselves for a winter on the trail.

Vermont is trail heavy, catering to different groups with different interests. Parts of the Catamount Trail share space with trails maintained by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, a snowmobile group.

The arrangement is imperfect, Bartlett said, because snowmobiles come upon skiers and snowshoers rapidly, raising safety worries. However, most snowmobile riders are courteous and friendly, he said.

In a few places, the Catamount Trail crosses paths with the Long Trail, a north-south hiking trail that runs up the entire spine of the Vermont Green Mountains.

Most of the Catamount Trail goes through lower elevations, while parts of the Long Trail go up and over a variety of mountain summits. That makes the Long Trail, maintained by the Green Mountain Club, an iffy proposition for snowshoe enthusiasts who want an alternative to the Catamount Trail, said Ben Rose, Director of the Green Mountain Club.

Long Trail blazes are white, and are sometimes buried in deep winter snow, making the trail a challenge to snowshoers. However, parts of the Long Trail are popular with winter snowshoers. For instance, the part that rises to the summit of Camels Hump is downright busy with snowshoers on bright winter days.

The Catamount Trail Association has made it even easier to enjoy its trail in the winter through its new, 8th edition Catamount Trail Guidebook. The $16.95 publication is available through the organization’s Web site. It includes detailed route information, suggestions for day trips, lodging directions and directions to access points.

Milk, the Catamount Trail Association director, said he is seeing rising numbers of snowshoers on the trail in recent winters. “Snowshoeing really took off, so it’s a great opportunity for people who normally wouldn’t go out in the winter,” he said.

For more information on the Catamount Trail Association, visit www.CatamountTrail.org. For more information on the Green Mountain Club, visit www.GreenMountainClub.org.