Northeast Kingdom bike trails closed over Act 250 conflict

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VICTORY, Vt. (WCAX) Fifty miles of mountain biking trails are closed this summer in the Northeast Kingdom. The issue is over whether they require an Act 250 land use permit to operate.

The 13 bike paths in the Victory Hill Sector are overgrown and haven't been maintained and state officials say they require the permit. Organizers disagree.

"At this point, we are just very sad and paralyzed by what this has done to us," said John McGill, who owns the land and maintains the trails.

He bought and repurposed land that was once used for logging. The trails opened in 2010, and McGill says thousands of bikers would come to what he turned into a nonprofit summertime recreational space.

McGill closed the trails for the year after the state questioned if the site needs an Act 250 permit, which is designed to manage and protect Vermont's landscape from over development.

"It's completely inappropriate that Act 250 be applied to bicycle trails," McGill said. "Especially bicycle trails that have benefited the land."

The state launched a review after the town called to inquire. Town clerk Tracey Martel oversees the town of Victory with its 65 full-time residents.

"I don't know, I don't have that answer," Martel said. "Someone asked me to do something, and as a town clerk, I follow through. If they need an Act 250 then they need to get it, but we support their businesses, we want them to succeed."

Kirsten Sultan, the Natural Resources Board District 7 coordinator, says that McGill added new areas that were not logging trails, along with collecting revenue from fees and events.

In a statement, she said: "These activities represent the construction of improvements for a commercial purpose - a trigger for Act 250 jurisdiction - thus my initial analysis concluded that an Act 250 permit is required for the commercial project."

"We feel that Act 250 is designed to prevent massive ski resort development, Walmarts, Dollar General stores," McGill said. "I feel very strongly that it's inappropriate to be applying that to a small backyard recreational project."

McGill says if he can't get this resolved, he is thinking about selling the land.