Landslide that devastated roads, trails still active

WATERBURY, Vt. (WCAX) Officials now say the Cotton Brook Landslide in Waterbury is the state's worst in modern history. And our Christina Guessferd found out the landslide is still active three weeks later.

The landslide displaced 250,000 cubic meters of material, spilling onto Cotton Brook Road and wiping out Fosters Trail.

Officials say cracks all around the side of the landslide indicate there's a good chance we'll see more fallout, especially since we're looking ahead to more rain. That sediment is making its way downstream, dumping into the Waterbury Reservoir and forming a delta. They say the area is extremely dangerous, almost like quicksand.

Now, all of this is causing serious issues for outdoor enthusiasts.

"We just don't see stuff like this frequently in Vermont," said Caleb Magoon, who co-owns Waterbury Sports.

Magoon is receiving an influx of calls from out-of-state mountain bikers wondering when the Cotton Brook corridor will reopen.

"We have the unfortunate position of explaining to them that it's a lot worse than you would expect," Magoon said.

Cotton Brook Road links Waterbury and Stowe, and now that essential connection for outdoor enthusiasts is strictly off limits.

"It's going to take a little while for that to be rebuilt. It's not something that's going to be, you know, sort of fixed in a day or two," said Julie Bomengen of Elmore.

"I'd be very surprised if anything happened this year," Roger Murphy said.

Murphy and his wife, Julie Bomengen, got their first glimpse of the massive slide Monday. As president of the Stowe Trails Partnership, Murphy is keeping a close eye on the damage.

"I've seen some landslides in Vermont. I've never seen anything of that magnitude in Vermont. I've seen it over in the Adirondacks, but not on this side of the lake," Murphy said.

"It just really highlights for me how things are pretty fragile and tenuous and you just never know what's going to happen, so just being aware of the force of nature and respecting it, and giving it it's space to do its thing," Bomengen said.

Officials from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation remind everyone this landslide is still moving and they want everyone to keep their distance.

"We really want to get people back out there again, but we want it to be safe," said Walter Opuszynski, a field recreation specialist with the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.

And they say they won't know if the 14-plus acres are safe until the geological team finishes mapping and assessing the area. They can't finish that job until the land is stable. But once they get that data, officials will work to answer two critical questions.

"Can we open Cotton Brook Road? Fosters Trail was extensively damaged and that's going to be, from a recreation perspective, the second question that we're trying to answer is: can or should anything be done with this trail?" Opuszynski said.

Geologists say landslides near Cotton Brook Road aren't unusual. In fact, the trail got its name because clay and sediment from slides often turn the stream a grayish-white color, like cotton. It's the enormity of this landslide that makes it so unnerving.

Now, it's just a waiting game until the ground stops shifting.