July 28, 2011

In the winter, Stowe's historic Derby Trail is a majestic romp through the wilderness — a wide, inviting thoroughfare for skiers taking part in the annual Stowe Derby ski race.

But in the summer, it's a muddy, soggy mess, a train wreck of rainwater tributaries, rocks and roots.

For the Stowe Mountain Bike Club, that's an opportunity.

“It's just the most beautiful spot,” said Rick Sokoloff, president of the mountain bike club. “It's right out of the wilderness.”

For $25,000, the mountain bike club thinks it can turn the trail into a year-round destination for mountain bikers, hikers and skiers alike.

The club is deep into building the Vermont Ride Center, an ambitious multi-mile trail network through the woods around Stowe. Part of the project winds through the Adams Camp Property, a 513-acre chunk of land owned by the Trapp Family Lodge. In 2006, the Stowe Land Trust purchased development rights to the property and placed a conservation easement on it, preserving it for public use.

Adding one mile of the historic Derby Trail to the mountain bike network would create a loop with the club's existing trails in the Adams Camp, and benefit users year round, Sokoloff said.

“This will be a fabulous trail for hikers, walkers, all sorts of users,” Sokoloff said.

The Stowe Derby dates to 1945, when Austrian ski legend Sepp Ruschp and Erling Strom, a mountaineer from Norway, challenged each other to a race from Mount Mansfield to Stowe village. Today, more than 800 skiers show up every February to run the course as a fundraiser for the Mt. Mansfield Ski and Snowboard Club.

The trail has taken different routes over the years, but a 1-mile stretch through the Adams Camp would link two of the bike club's trails: Kimmer's Trail, named for Kimmer Adams, a local rider killed in a mountain-biking accident, and Haul Road.

But that section of the Derby Trail has issues. Water is a constant problem, making it too wet for mountain bikes, said Sokoloff, and erosion has washed out portions of the trail.

Drainage problems also make the trail difficult to maintain during the winter, said Carol Van Dyke, president of the Stowe Nordic Outing Club.

The mountain bike club is now raising money to install culverts, build a bridge, and lay gravel on the trail. The group is aiming to fix the trail this summer, if the weather stays dry enough.

The Nordic club, Stowe Land Trust, Mt. Mansfield Ski and Snowboard Club, Lamoille Region Chamber of Commerce and the Stowe Area Association have all given their blessing to the project.

The mountain bike club is accepting donations for the project by mail and online (see box). Paul Reed from Sundown and Walker Construction in Waterbury has drafted a plan to fix the trail.

Building for future

For Van Dyke, the improvements will be a big help to winter users, as well.

“This is an important project because of the long history of the Stowe Derby event, and improving the trail will solidify the route for future generations,” she said. “The Stowe Derby Trail is also a key connector in the Stowe Nordic network. It comprises a section of the Catamount Trail (the trail that goes from the Massachusetts state line to the Canadian border) and is the main access from the groomed trails to the Stowe Recreation Path.

“Investing in our town's trails infrastructure is preserving recreational opportunities for current residents and visitors, as well as future generations.”

The big picture

Work on the Vermont Ride Center is coming along, Sokoloff said. Workers from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, a nonprofit program for conservation projects, are in town for the next few weeks to help with the work at Adams Camp.

When completed, the trail network will include Trapp Family Lodge, Sterling Valley, Stowe Town Forest and Adams Camp, and will connect to neighboring trail networks at Little River State Park in Waterbury and the Cotton Brook area in Moscow.

When completed, it will be one of the largest mountain-biking trail systems in the Northeast.

The project has been under development for three years and has received financial and other support from a long list of local, state and international agencies.

Based on studies of other areas with mountain-biking trail systems, supporters expect the ride center to bring between $1 million and $2.5 million of tourist dollars every year to Lamoille County, along with a slew of new jobs.

The Derby Trail could help bolster that, Sokoloff said.

“We're reaching out to anyone in town in support of rebuilding and repairing this trail,” he said.

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