Towns prepare for tourists as crews work to finish final stretch of Lamoille Valley Rail Trail

In the late 1800′s a railroad corridor from St. Johnsbury to Swanton helped serve Vermont’s summer tourism industry.
Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 6:19 AM EST
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WOLCOTT, Vt. (WCAX) - In the late 1800s, a railroad corridor from St. Johnsbury to Swanton helped serve Vermont’s summer tourism industry. To continue that legacy, construction is wrapping up on what’s now known as the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. The final nearly 6-mile section of the 93-mile trail from Hardwick to Wolcott Village is set to be complete in February. Vermont’s Transportation Agency, which has partnered with a number of private construction firms on the work, says it’s been a major effort converting the trail from a railroad.

“In addition to overgrown sections of trail bridges, culverts, you know, we made assumptions about some things and then we got out there and realized, you know, we’re dealing with very old infrastructure and even just updated for pedestrians, we’re not making it suitable for rail to come back through. It was a big lift,” said Chris Hunt with VTrans.

Excursion trains ran in the 1980s, but the state says the track was not maintained. The railroad ceased operation in 1994, and in 2002 the state began the process to transform the trail. Nearly two decades later, Wolcott Selectboard members say their small town is more than ready for the influx of rail trailers.

“We’re getting phone calls from across the country and even international calls asking about the completion of the rail trail. So that’s pretty exciting,” said Wolcott Selectboard Member Kurt Klein. “Everything around the rail trail is kind of coming right into here and hopefully bringing activity to the village.”

Klein says the town is also in the process of acquiring a town forest to run adjacent to the trail. And thanks to federal dollars, they’ve spent the last few months improving town infrastructure to spruce up the area. Some new features include a trailhead, library, town garden, a park and there’s even chatter about a café opening up.

“We’ll continue to be a rural community, I think it will really help our downtown to be more economically viable,” Wolcott Selectboard Member Linda Martin said.

The small stretch to the village is the last piece under construction after the largest section from Cambridge to Sheldon opened in December.

It’s a major state project considering Vermont sees 8 million visitors annually, with outdoor recreation being a way many spend their time.

“It really brings people into our real rural communities of Vermont and it gets them to expand upon all the different areas of Vermont,” said Bill Gray with VTrans.

VTrans leaders say a recent Northern Vermont Development Association study shows the Caledonia segment of the trail saw upward of 300 users a day from April through November.

“What they’re predicting is just even with moderate growth, so if the state does nothing else other than to build it, perhaps improve a website, but not do some of the additional add-ons that we’re already doing, like developing a marketing plan, that they see an impact of an increase of users upward of 25% throughout the Caledonia County,” said Jackie Cassino of VTrans.

The trail is funded in part by a capital bond, and state and federal funding.

It’s universally accessible, connecting 18 Vermont towns with parking in 12, making it the longest rail trail in New England.