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Trail Grooming Collaboration Popular With Outdoor Enthusiasts

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View of North Branch Nature Center from Gould Hill Road, Montpelier, Vt. Photo by John Lazenby

The expanded trail access created by a cooperative grooming effort between the Montpelier Parks Department and the Onion River Nordic Club has been enthusiastically received by many people seeking activity outdoors. But escape from the confines of COVID-19 restrictions on traditional social gatherings is not without its problems. 

Successful shared use of trails requires consideration and understanding that pose an educational challenge. Walkers and dogs can easily wreck a trail that has been carefully groomed for skiing or fat biking. To minimize that problem, Onion River Outdoors has made loaner snowshoes available at several trailheads accessing the North Branch Park.

When ski tracks have been set, those walking, snowshoeing, or biking are encouraged to travel beside the tracks, not on them. 

Parks Director Alec Ellsworth has been posting regular updates about skiing and grooming conditions on the Montpelier Parks and the Nordic Club Facebook pages. The summary usually includes information about trails not only in the parks, but at the Capital City Golf Course and both U-32 and Montpelier High schools.

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Where Dogs are Prohibited — or Allowed

Dogs are prohibited on the maintained trails in East Montpelier. Organization President Dan Voisin explained: “. . . to be clear, the policy remains that dogs are prohibited from those trails that are maintained by Onion River Nordic. Of particular but not sole concern is the fact that these trails run adjacent to pastures with cattle. Dogs and cattle do not mix. I plead to you to take your dog elsewhere or we risk setting a bad precedent — once people see dogs on the trails, they feel that they can take their dogs there regardless of permission or whose land they are on. So while your dog may be perfectly trained, the next dog may not be.”

While dogs are allowed off leash in Hubbard Park, they must be leashed when in North Branch Park, Ellsworth said.

Overall, Ellsworth has been pleased with the trail collaboration, and appreciative of the volunteer groomers who maintain the connected trails in East Montpelier. In addition, volunteers from the Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association have been manually grooming the traversing trails above the North Branch with a small drag. The wider trails along the river and looping the field at the North Branch Nature Center are machine groomed.

Trail Access for the Public, School Teams, and the Bill Koch League

With the parking lot on the west side of County Road regularly plowed, skiers have been accessing the Morse Meadow and Harry’s Haven trails. Both Montpelier High School and Main Street Middle School Nordic teams have been training at the field. The Bill Koch League, a national program for younger children (ages 5–13), began its winter season on Sunday, Feb. 13 at Morse Meadow. Naima Green, who is overseeing the program this year, said that registration is now available through the Montpelier Recreation Department (802-225-8699).

Skiers using the trails are encouraged to join the club. Membership dues support the costs of trail grooming, and additional donations to the grooming fund are an option. Club member Gretchen Elias is coordinating membership and grooming donations. “To date, 26 local individuals/families have contributed toward grooming by sending in their membership . . . and SIX of those amazing folks contributed an additional donation above the membership fee,” Elias reported. The membership form can be downloaded from the ORNC Facebook page. 

For more information, contact the Onion River Nordic Ski Club at 802-279-8174 or info@onionrivernordic.org.