By Matt Williams, Phil and Audrey Huffman
The Catamount Trail Association (CTA) and the Vermont Backcountry Coalition (VTBC) would like to voice their support for the Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) effort to conserve 632 acres as an addition to the Green Mountain National Forest in Warren. The CTA works to protect public access to a 300-mile backcountry ski trail that runs the length of Vermont. The Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC) is a CTA program that seeks to expand, conserve and manage Vermont’s backcountry skiing and riding resources beyond the Catamount Trail through local chapters, including the recently formed Mad River Valley Backcountry Coalition (MRVBC).
Protecting the Lincoln Gap parcels as proposed by the TPL has long been a priority for the CTA, as it provides a critical 1.3-mile link in the Catamount Trail that would be extraordinarily hard to replicate on adjacent parcels if the property was sold to private owners who were not open to public recreational access to the land. We also feel that permanently securing these recreational opportunities for the region aligns well with the Mad River Valley community’s push to expand outdoor recreational opportunities as a core part of its economic development strategy. The Valley towns see enhancing trail-based recreation as a key strategy to bolster The Valley’s tourism economy and quality of life, making the area even more attractive both to visitors and residents (current and potential).
CTA and VTBC are proud to be a part of the incredible network of recreational trails both in the Mad River Valley and across the state, and we firmly believe in the important role that trails and outdoor recreation can play in local economies. Last year the Catamount Trail, and managed backcountry zones in the VTBC network, brought over $5.5 million in tourism revenue to local economies across Vermont.
We also know that expanded backcountry recreation is not without challenges, particularly for private landowners. We sometimes experience problems with skiers using the Catamount Trail to access private property that they do not have permission to ski, as has at times been the case in Warren. We have been working to address these issues in Warren for the last few years through local educational efforts and posting appropriate signage along the trail to help better inform skiers, and we are committed to continuing and expanding those efforts going forward in collaboration with MRVBC members. Statewide, CTA has been working hard through our VTBC program to promote our Vermont Backcountry Ethics code, and to help skiers understand the importance of respecting private land and maple sugaring operations in particular.
In our view, the Mad River Valley is a perfect example of how trails and backcountry recreation can help to enhance local economies, improve the quality of life for Vermonters, attract tourists, and contribute to the state’s working landscape. Projects like the TPL’s Lincoln Gap conservation effort are critical to securing continued public access to Vermont’s treasured mountain places, and we are grateful for their leadership in protecting this beautiful corner of The Valley. We are also deeply grateful for all the private landowners who agree voluntarily to host the Catamount Trail, and we’re committed to working together to ensure a positive experience for everyone.
Williams is the executive director of the Catamount Trail Association.
Phil and Audrey Huffman, are CTA volunteer trail chiefs, Waitsfield.