By MADELINE HUGHES
It was about 20 years ago in Charlotte when the idea of creating a trail to link places across town caught people’s imaginations. Situated along Lake Champlain with Mt. Philo to the east and rolling farmland in between, Charlotte has some of Chittenden County’s most picturesque views and not surprisingly is a magnet for recreation.
A trail traversing the town would make for great hikes, allowing walkers, bikers and more to easily crisscross from one side to the other without hitting much pavement.
That idea morphed into what today is known as the Town Link Trail, which has slowly come to fruition.
The seven-mile path is planned to eventually connect Mount Philo State Park and the Charlotte Town Beach.
Two major sections are completely finished: the Melissa and Trevor Mack Memorial Trail connects State Park Road and U.S. Route 7, leading to an underpass under Route 7. The Co-Housing portion of the trail continues from there past the Charlotte Berry Farm to Common Way.
In the future, the trail would connect to Ferry Road and Lake Road, creating a path to walk to the beach.
The Trails Committee formally started in 2003. Fifteen years later, growth in Chittenden County has meant more people looking for recreation and, at some times of the year, some of Charlotte’s trails, especially those on and around Mount Philo, have reached capacity, according to State Parks and Recreation officials. That means the trails cannot handle more wear and tear than the current level.
Part of the state’s recently released draft management plan addresses supporting other Charlotte trails in order to provide other recreation outlets.
“We are no longer just doing trail maintenance work or getting easements,” said Margaret Russell, co-chair of the Trails Committee. She explained that trail committee members also write grants, work on outreach, and communicate with state officials.
The Trail Committee’s hope is that the completed Town Link Trail will make it easy for hikers and bikers to access the Lake Champlain ferry and Green Mountain Transit buses on U.S. Route 7. “Once we get into town it’s going to be pretty easy,” said Laurie Thompson, co-chair of the trails committee.
Much of the remaining trail between Ferry Road and Lake Road will be on Russell’s property, before the trail continues onto or alongside Lake Road. The committee already has permission to use that land.
For now, the committee will focus on the portion of the trail that will run alongside State Park Road, linking Mount Philo to already-completed trail sections to the west.
The committee has raised over $90,000 for the link trail project through grants. Every year, the committee averages $4,000 in donations. The committee also received in 2017 $1,500 for maintenance and $5,000 to match grants.
Each square foot of the trail ranges in cost. The path could be gravel, or a mowed right of way through a field, Thompson said.
The committee is currently has applied for a $50,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation to finish the trail section along State Park Road, Thompson said.
Regardless of the grant success this time, committee members say their priority is to find a way to fund and build the trail section along State Park Road to continue making progress connecting the park trails to the east to trail sections to the west.
“We need to decide how we fund it, which will determine how we move forward,” Russell said.
Other steps the trails committee members are taking now include placing trail signs along the finished portion of the Town Link Trail, and the Town Loop Trail, which was completed for the town’s 250th anniversary six years ago.
The committee is looking to acquire signs to ask people to leash and clean up after dogs while on town trails, as well as potentially installing dog waste stations, where bags and trash cans would be provided on town trails
And, although it was completed as part of last year’s Route 7 reconstruction project, the new underpass will have a formal grand opening on September 8 with a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon. “It’s a labor of love for a lot of people,” Thompson said.