Monday, January 8, 2018

Backcountry Recreation, Part 1

Backcountry recreation is growing in popularity in my town of Cambridge, Vermont, and in northern New England generally. By "backcountry" I mean off-road, not necessarily deep wilderness. The photo above was taken yesterday in a field at the West Farm in Cambridge, owned by the Brewster Uplands Conservation Trust, which in turn is owned by the Vermont Land Trust. The farm property includes seven miles of multi-use trails open to the public. Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain, is in the background.

Winter backcountry recreation in Cambridge includes Alpine and Nordic skiing as well as snowboarding and snowshoeing at Smugglers' Notch Resort, snowmobiling on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, snowshoeing on the Long Trail (or almost anywhere), and all of the above (plus sledding!) on the state highway through Smugglers' Notch, which is not plowed in winter. Smugglers' Notch, with 1000' cliffs on both sides, is popular in winter with ice climbers.

Smugglers' Notch Resort is a four-season resort, and the scenic road through Smugglers' Notch is popular in spring and summer and especially during fall foliage season. Other summer backcountry recreation in Cambridge includes hiking on a wide variety of trails, bicycling of all kinds, and paddling on the Lamoille River. All of these activities, in all seasons, have increased in recent years.

I have been interested and a little surprised to learn about so many organizations that exist to support backcountry recreation all across Vermont and northern New England. In addition to the organizations linked above, here are a few more that I recently came across:
No doubt there are many more, but this gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of organizations out there.

It should not be surprising that Vermont is a leader in backcountry recreation. The concept of long distance hiking has deep roots in Vermont, with the creation of the Green Mountain Club and the Long Trail in 1910, which in turn inspired the Appalachian Trail. Regular readers of this blog may recall that Nancy and I spent several days on the Long Trail in 2017 (details here).

In fact the concept of long distance hiking in Vermont goes back nearly a century before the creation of the Long Trail to one Alden Partridge (1785-1854). The link is to an article about Partridge by Vermont historian Mark Bushnell. Partridge was a native of Norwich, Vermont. He attended nearby Dartmouth College before transferring to West Point. In 1819 he founded what is now Norwich University, the oldest private military academy in the United States. The school was originally in Norwich, hence the name, but it has been in Northfield since 1866. Partridge's backcountry hiking exploits were legendary, as described in Mark Bushnell's fascinating article which includes an account of a bushwhack ascent of Mount Mansfield in 1818, the year before Partridge founded Norwich University.

Today the town of Norwich (about the size of Cambridge) is still making news, as noted in this New York Times article last month: A Tiny Vermont Town Is a Big Cradle of Olympians (subscription probably required, sorry). But that's merely the Olympics. In this post I am interested, like Norwich's native son Alden Partridge, in backcountry – and I am proud to say that Cambridge is the home of Backcountry magazine.

Backcountry recreation draws visitors. Last summer the men's and women's cross country running teams from West Point visited Cambridge to train on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail and other trails. All this interest in backcountry recreation is exciting for Cambridge!

So, I am part of Cambridge town government. What are the implications here for government? That is a topic for my other blog, The Switchel Philosopher.

See Backcountry Recreation, Part 2.

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