Groundbreaking for northern Vt. rail trail - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Groundbreaking for northern Vt. rail trail

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It may not look like much now-- a gaping hole where a trestle once stood, a tractor awaiting work-- but Friday marked a new chapter for what was once a railroad across northern Vermont.

"There's a history around the country of abandoned rail trails becoming paths and finding new life," said Laural Ruggles of Friends of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.

New life in the form of a 93.2-mile, four-season recreational path from St. Johnsbury to Swanton, a project that has been stalled for more than a decade by finances and a lengthy permitting process. But for communities along the route, it's worth the wait.

"Oh, it's going to be great. It's going to be great for recreation. It's going to be great for some economic development, real tourism draw," said John Hall, the town manager in St. Johnsbury.

Right now if you're on the bike path headed out of St. Johnsbury you're stopped by signs, but in September, they will be gone, with a bridge in their place.

"At this point, about 60 percent of the trail is open for snowmobile use now. The sections that are closed, it's either due to washouts or bridges that are out," said Alexis Nelson, the executive director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.

VAST says having an uninterrupted route from St. Johnsbury to Swanton would be a key snowmobiling draw, so they fronted much of the funding to get the $9.5 million trail rehab project started. The federal government will pay $5.2 million if project supporters can match 20 percent.

"You'll go through forested canopies, you know, beautiful green meadows, as you get into Danville fantastic views of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and then of course at the end here you'll have the entire length of Joe's Pond with its features of wetlands and beaver ponds and so forth," said Steve Larrabee of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail Committee.

This step from St. Johnsbury along to scenic Joe's Pond in West Danville is only the first section of the project, and some residents along the path have gotten involved, wanting to see new life on a now-overgrown trail.

"It's almost unanimously people are very excited about the trail coming through finally. They've heard about it for years and say well, will it ever happen? It's finally going to happen now," Larrabee said.

Because the rest of the project needs to be approved in sections, it could be another few years before the whole trail is complete.

The trail will be open to most recreational activities ranging from walking to biking, horseback riding or snowmobiling, but since it's state-owned land ATVs will not be allowed.

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