The Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Land Speaks to Many Values
From the Fall 2012 membership newsletter
By Phyl Newbeck
While most people think about skiing when they think of Bolton Valley, Joe Croshier thinks about wildlife and wilderness. In his almost two decades in Bolton, Joe has witnessed a vibrant hunting community for bear, deer, moose, turkey, and grouse. "There are some pretty pristine places here," he said. "It's endless what this area means to people."
What draws Joe to the land is that it gives the feeling of wilderness without leaving Chittenden County. "This is an accessible area," he said "but just hiking or walking can still be exhilarating and thrilling. You don't need to go to Alaska or Montana to get that feeling of wilderness."
The Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry lands lie midway between Camel's Hump and Mount Mansfield. With its 90 kilometers of Nordic and backcountry trails, uninterrupted forest, streams, and habitat, the land is much-loved by the tens of thousands of people who visit it every year to ski, hike, hunt, and enjoy in other ways.
In February 2012, VLT embarked on one of its most ambitious conservation campaigns—a 15-month effort to raise $1.85 million to save more than 1,100 acres of the Nordic and backcountry lands for public use.
The campaign has its roots in a community that is passionate about the land and its trails. In February 2011, when Ann Gotham, a nurse practitioner who lives in Burlington, learned that the Nordic and backcountry trails were to be sold and public access to the land would cease, she began sending out e-mails to people she knew loved the land. Friends told friends about the impending deal, and soon, 80 people were involved, and the Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry (FOBVNB) was born. Many were members of the Old Goats, a group of volunteers formed by the late Gardiner Lane, who had helped maintain the Bolton backcountry trails for decades.
"Whether winter skiing, summer hiking, or fall trail clearing, with each visit I see our lovely parcel of land with fresh eyes," said Ann, who has been skiing at Bolton for 30 years and currently volunteers on the ski patrol. "This boreal forest with its hardwoods and birches, streams, irregular terrain, wildflowers, and wildlife hold for me a spiritual connection that is difficult to describe."
As more people signed on to FOBVNB, Ann and many others were contacting VLT regarding their hope to preserve the land. VLT recognized the importance of this opportunity. The land had long been a conservation priority for VLT because it is situated in the middle of the Chittenden County Uplands Conservation Project area. CCUCP is a broad partnership of land trusts, conservation commissions, recreational organizations, and state agencies. In 10 years, CCUCP has conserved more than 8,000 acres in Richmond, Jericho, and Bolton—the Bolton Valley piece sits in the center.
"The property is off the charts in terms of what it offers," said Bob Heiser of VLT. "It's a unique and popular outdoor recreation destination, which also has great wildlife connectivity." When the prospective buyer withdrew, VLT began talking with the owners. Meanwhile, the FOBVNB continued to grow, and now numbers 200 people.
After a year of negotiations, VLT signed a contract to purchase the land and has until March 31, 2013 to raise the money. If the fundraising campaign succeeds, it is expected that the land will become part of the Mt. Mansfield State Forest. Ann still marvels at how VLT was able to arrange the potential purchase. "This has been pretty incredible," she said. "I really appreciate being able to do this for Gardiner Lane and for future generations."
Recreation and Stewardship
Gardiner, who has inspired so many people who are involved in this project, moved to Bolton in the 1960s. He immediately got involved with the Bolton Valley Ski Area. Gardiner went to work making contacts and creating alliances, while at the same time rolling up his sleeves with other volunteers to flag, clear, and maintain what is now the current Nordic and backcountry trail system. Gardiner served as a mentor to the many dedicated trail volunteers who helped create and maintain them for decades. He also teamed up with Johannes Von Trapp to build the Bolton to Trapp Trail, which has become a classic backcountry tour. Today these trails are used by 15,000 residents, visitors, ski teams, and non-profit groups every year.
Leigh Mallory, who has been described as an "institution" in Nordic skiing in Vermont is someone who has intimate knowledge of so many of the trails Gardiner helped create. Mallory's Colchester High School team trained at Bolton and the trails have been used for a number of state championship meets. UVM and St. Michael's teams also train at Bolton, as do members of the Bill Koch Ski League and senior racers.
Bolton's high base-elevation of over 2,000 feet means that sometimes it is the only Nordic facility with open trails. "From a high school and youth skiing perspective, Bolton Valley is vital," Leigh said. "It's a critical component to skiing in this area. There is early snow and late snow and sometimes during the January thaw, it's the only place with good skiing." Given the current obesity trends, Leigh noted the importance of having a recreation center so close to a major metropolitan area. "We need to be creating more opportunities for people to get out and exercise," he said.
Mallory also praised the backcountry offerings at Bolton, noting that it has terrain for all levels of skiers. "You have to be a pretty solid skier to enjoy a lot of backcountry trails," he said "but Bolton is a place where a beginner can go and still get a good experience. It's a natural progression. As you get more confident, you can access more terrain. Not many areas can boast that."
The backcountry terrain includes a 3.5-mile section of the Catamount Trail which connects Bolton to Trapp Family Lodge. This has inspired the Catamount Trail Association to get involved in the campaign. The group named the project as the beneficiary of its annual Race to the Top of Mount Mansfield, which occurred in August and raised $8,500 for the project. "This land is enjoyed by thousands of skiers each year," said Jim Fredericks, CTA's executive director "and it would leave a large void in the Nordic community if it were to be developed."
The land that gives us so many recreational opportunities also contributes to the health of our waterways and fish populations. Its topography is ideal for water quality due to the forested canopy, undulating topography, and wetland seeps. Currently Joiner Brook, which runs through the land, benefits from having forested banks that cool the water and create good fish habitat. In a forested mountain setting, rainwater passes over leaves and needles of trees before trickling down tree trunks, and then either soaking into the soil or flowing slowly over the surface. Essentially the forest helps mediate the flow of water into the stream.
In 2008, Bear Creek Environmental did a geomorphic assessment of Joiner Brook, which flows into the Winooski River. Pam DeAndrea of Bear Creek noted that any development upstream could cause a chain reaction, resulting in a deterioration of the water quality. The addition of any hard surfaces, from roads and driveways to lawns, would increase the speed of water runoff which can lead to erosion of the river banks. As a channel becomes deeper, erosion can disturb vegetation and further decrease the tree canopy which can lead to more algae growth and warmer water, diminishing the oxygen available for fish.
Karen Bates, DEC's Watershed Coordinator, said the current condition of Joiner Brook is quite good and preservation of the land will help protect it: "If you want to protect our water quality, forested land is the best way to go."
The forest that covers the Bolton Valley Nordic and backcountry land also provides habitat connectivity for wildlife that moves from the Winooski River Valley to Cotton Brook Basin and the Little River area. "It is important not to fragment animal habitat," said Liz Lee, a self-taught naturalist who lives in Hinesburg. "The more we fragment our forests, the more difficult it is for wildlife."
Lee has been leading bird walks on the property in support of the campaign. While on the land, she has seen mourning warblers, a relatively uncommon species in Vermont. Jens Hilke, Community Wildlife Program Conservation Planning Biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, describes the Bolton parcel as one of the best places for north to south habitat connectivity. "It's incredibly important," he said "and provides safe passage for bear, bobcat, coyote, fisher, and moose. I'm personally thrilled with how the purchase facilitates habitat connectivity on a regional scale."
Joe Croshier looks forward to the day when the land where he spends so many of his days is permanently protected for recreation and habitat. "I've lived in the Mohave Desert and the jungles of Thailand," Joe said "but this is one of the most interesting places I've seen. Being up here for 18 years has gotten me to appreciate what we have in this world." Perhaps the importance of this conservation campaign is best summed up by former Governor Dean at an event in support of the project. "None of us will be remembered 100 years from now," he said "but the land will always be there for future generations."