Despite Irene’s Havoc, Vermont Trails Ready for Snowshoers

Snowshoeing in Vermont is alive and well this winter, despite a deadly punch from Tropical Storm Irene less than four months ago.

The August 28 storm’s flooding destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses across Vermont, killing at least four people in the state. It was easily the worst natural disaster to strike the state since an epic 1927 flood.

Flooding from Irene devastated picturesque villages across much of the state. It washed away no fewer than 500 miles of state highways and damaged or destroyed at least 200 bridges, among them a few of Vermont’s iconic covered bridges.

The flooding also laid waste to many of Vermont’s hiking trails, which of course double as snowshoeing paths in the winter.  The good news is many trails escaped damage, and a number of pathways that were wrecked have since been repaired.

And amazingly, the state was able to quickly pull itself together after Irene, powered by a massive volunteer response. All major roads in Vermont are open. Most woodland and mountain trails that were damaged are fixed and ready for winter snowshoe traffic. Almost all inns, restaurants and nightspots are also back in top shape, too.

It’s not all good news, of course. A few trails, especially in southern Vermont, are off limits. Bridges are particularly hard to fix, so brook crossings in some areas are risky.

The worst damage from the flooding was across the southern two thirds of the state, but even there, most trails are nearly back to normal. At the Mountain Top Inn and Resort in Chittenden, in hard-hit Rutland County, all roads leading to the resort have long sense been repaired. The resort itself suffered no damage from Irene.

Some trails at Mountain Top Inn suffered damage from flooding and washouts, but those have since been repaired, said Roger Hill the Operations Director of Mountain Top. The trails will be further improved next summer, he said.

Vermont’s Catamount Trail system, popular with snowshoers and Nordic skiers, suffered significant damage, said Jason Fredericks, the Executive Director of the Catamount Trail Association.

“We had numerous bridges taken out along with washouts, and many downed trees along the trail. Fortunately, we were able to replace a number of bridges and complete a tremendous amount of work prior to the winter season,” Fredericks said. The Catamount Trail runs south to north the length of central Vermont.

Some bridges are still out in sections 2, 3, 11 and 12 of the Catamount Trail, but once things freeze solidly for the winter, these sections of the trail will be navigable, he said.

Sections 2 and 3 are near the towns of Wilmington and Dover in far southern Vermont, which was particularly hard hit by Irene. Sections 11 and 12 are near Plymouth and Shrewsbury in south central Vermont, another spot in the state that was slammed by Irene.

The damage cost the Catamount Trail Association at least $60,000 to fix, blowing a hole in the organization’s budget. The organization was not able to obtain relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fredericks said.

The best way to help is to join the association, since fees collected from members cover most of the association’s $300,0000 annual trail maintenance spending plan.

The Long Trail, which, like the Catamount Trail, runs the length of Vermont roughly along the spine of the Green Mountains, also suffered quite a bit of damage during Irene. Much of the trail was closed after the August 28 storm but it reopened by mid-October.  There are some detours, especially near Shrewsbury in central Vermont, where a-mile section was washed away by the rampaging Sergeant and Gould brooks, said Megan Dunn, Director of Communications for the Green Mountain Club, which operates and manages the Long Trail.

Some bridges were wiped out along the Long Trail, so you might want to detour around or avoid those areas altogether to avoid trying to ford streams in snowshoes, Dunn said. Those bridges are near Route 12 in Woodstock, ay Kent Brook near Route 100 in Gifford Woods State Park and at Stony Brook in Stockbridge.

Feeder paths into the Long Trail are also affected. The Bucklin Trail east of Killington in Coolidge State Forest is closed because 700 feet of old road that made up part of the trail was wiped away by flood waters, replaced by a steep, possibly unstable streambank, which is no place for even an adventurous snowshoe trekker.

Parts of the Green Mountain National Forest are also off limits to hikers, nordic skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts. Those areas include the Clark Brook, Cooley Glen, and Chittenden Brook trails, and the Spruce Peak Shelter spur, according to the National Forest’s website.

That said, the vast majority of the national forest remains accessible.  Snowshoe tour guides in Vermont have had to slightly fine tune some snowshoe plans, but most trails are open and ready for the season. “Just about all the Vermont trails in the Green Mountain National Forest that I use for business and recreation are in great shape,” said Bruce Acciavatti of Bristol, Vermont based Wonder Walks.

Acciavatti said he has not yet had a chance to assess trail conditions in the Adirondack region of New York.

Northern Vermont suffered less damage from Irene than the southern parts of the state.  Kingdom Trails in northeastern Vermont suffered almost no damage from Irene, said Lilias Ide, operations manager of Kingdom Trails Association.  A membership to get on the trails cost $7 a day or $40 for an entire season, Ide said.

Although Vermont looks mostly recovered from Irene, thousands of residents are still struggling with repairing ruined homes and businesses. Many have no idea how they will find enough money to cover the costs.

If you visit Vermont consider donating to groups like the Vermont Irene Relief Fund, or any other group trying to help flood victims recover.

Despite the trail closures in some parts of Vermont, the overwhelming majority of areas accessible by snowshoe are ready for visitors. All the state needs now is snow.

As of December 16, winter in Vermont was off to a slow start.  There was no snow on the ground at low and middle elevations. Even at the summit of Vermont’s tallest mountain, Mount Mansfield, only two inches of snow thinly covered the ground. On December 16 last year, the same spot was buried beneath a full two feet of snow.

So anyone thinking about Vermont as a snowshoe destination should not worry so much about Irene, but instead pray for snow.

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