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By Lucy Higgins • May 9, 2023

Tucked throughout Vermont are a slew of mountain biking trails—from single track to biking paths, the state boasts hundreds of miles of terrain to explore. But with land ownership ranging from state to federal and private, trails can feel disconnected. All that is changing with the creation of The Velomont Trail: a hut-supported trail network designed to stretch over 480 miles with 30 huts dotting the way, spearheaded by the Velomont Collective, a new chapter of Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). When the network is complete, it will run from Massachusetts to Canada and stand as the largest hut-supported trail network in the country. Along the way, Velomont aims to conserve 214,000 acres surrounding the trail system. 

It’s no small feat. Luckily, a few blueprints in Vermont already exist. The Long Trail stretches 272 miles north/south throughout the state, boasting 70 campsites along the way. The Catamount Trail also stretches the length of the state, and the 300-plus miles are designed to ski from one border to the other. To date, a similar network doesn’t exist for mountain biking, which is what spurred Vermont’s existing VMBA trail networks and the Vermont Huts Association to band together. 

The 2022 Ribbon Cutting for the opening of Velomont Trail segments. In attendance Angus McCusker, far left, Peter Gregory (Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission – who helped secure the Northern Borders Regional Commission grant to construct the trail), Holly Knox (USFS), RJ Thompson (Vermont Huts), Tom Lepesqueur (L&D Trailworks – who constructed the trail). 
Photo courtesy Angus McCusker

“It kind of started as six chapters connecting Killington and Stowe,” says Angus McKusker, Velemont Trail’s Executive Director. “It just sort of snowballed into this bigger, pretty cool project that accomplishes a lot of different stakeholders across the state.” McKusker is no stranger to starting initiatives such as this. In 2013, he, along with Zac Freeman, created Ridgeline Outdoor Collective (formerly known as RASTA) as a means to connect and organize backcountry ski accessibility that crossed through private and public land. Focused in Randolph, Vt., the Collective has created two ski zones at Brandon Gap and the Braintree Mountain Forest that not only provide hundred of acres of accessible terrain, but have created a tourism hub for the local community. 

A similar hope presides for the Velomont Trail system. In creating and connecting high-quality mountain bike trails—the majority of which will be single track—it’s the organization’s goal to have increased visitation and economic influx into the towns the trails pass through. “Our communities, rural communities, sometimes it feels like one thing after another,” says McKusker, noting past hardships like Hurricane Irene. “A community needs something, you know, we need any value added. And this [trail network] has been great. It’s not going to fix everything, but it certainly helps.” 

Along with the potential for economic boost throughout rural communities, the Velemont network also provides an opportunity to pivot away from skiing—an industry many small Vermont towns are reliant on—to something that will withstand impacts from climate change. We have the [Catamount] ski trail, but in reality Vermont has a shrinking winter. We’re not centered around skiing primarily,” McKusker explains. 

To bring such an extensive vision to fruition, the Velomont Collective is reliant on the expertise of existing organizations, like the Trust for Public Land, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, and the Vermont Huts Association. The collaboration is beginning to pay off. After trailwork began in the summer of 2021, three new huts have been constructed along the trails: Chittenden Brook Hut, Grout Pond Hut, and Spikehorn Yurt

Adaptive rider Greg Durso of the Kelly Brush Foundation, taken during an adaptive trail assessment last summer with VMBA and VT Adaptive.  Photo location is top of Old Gents Trail in Rochester, VT.
Photo courtesy Angus McCusker

As Vermont Huts Association continues their progress, the Velomont Collective is working concurrently on Phase One of their efforts, prioritizing what McKusker deems “low-hanging fruit—things that seem like a good start.” In the northern part of the state, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, for example, is nearly complete, and provides opportunities to place hostels along the way. In Central Vermont, there’s been years of planning built up throughout the Rochester region, across land managers, private landowners, and Fish and Wildlife. The building blocks are already in place to finish connecting trails. Farther south, the Catamount Trails Association has existing trails that run from the Massachusetts border to Willmington, Vt., and Velomont is working with them to improve areas for year-round use. 

A trail network of this size is quite literally unprecedented, but, as the Velomont Collective is proving, unprecedented doesn’t mean impossible.  “We’ve been working on this for seven years, it started for grassroots and has snowballed into this,” says McKusker. “We’re working with the Vermont Huts Association and working with a team, we have private coordinators. We have contractors and all of that. Honestly, it’s hard to know when the trail will be completed. I’d love to ride a good chunk of the trail ten years from now—to ride down to my parents’ house with my kids.”