Reconnecting Our Pathways
It’s spring in Vermont again, and we’re yearning to be outdoors. The birds are back and singing cheerful songs. The polar vortex has given way to thunderstorms and intermittent sunshine. The below-freezing temperatures have retreated, and warmer days and milder nights have arrived. The melting snow has soaked into the earth and turned the frozen ground into mud. And there’s an underlying note of sweetness on the breeze that signifies the earth is waking up after a long winter.
As a state renowned for its ruggedly independent citizens and small but tight-knit communities, it’s no surprise that Vermont is home to many people who enjoy getting outdoors. We have an abundance of activities to take part in all year round–from hiking and camping, to hunting and skiing the backcountry. Being out in Vermont’s wilderness gives us a chance to collect our thoughts, recharge our social batteries, and connect with the world around us. Even mundane outdoor tasks like tapping sugar maples, clearing brush, or splitting and stacking firewood can be invigorating.
One easy way to get out and enjoy nature is to take a walk, run, or jog on one of the many rail trails throughout Vermont. Rail trails are typically pedestrian and/or cycling paths that follow the route of former railroad lines. The old train tracks and ties are cleared away and a pathway of pavement, gravel, or dirt is laid along the entire length of the trail. While walking on rail trails in Vermont you might spot maple sap lines and sugarhouses, horses grazing in their backyard corrals, farm fields being turned and planted, people standing out in the rivers fly fishing, and more signs that signify spring’s arrival.
There are 18 rail trails, spanning 130 miles, here in Vermont. They wend their way through our dense woodlands, in and out of town centers, past historical sites, and along our lakes and rivers. If you’re not up for a long walk, like the beautiful 26.4 miles of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, or all 93 miles of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (New England’s longest rail trail!), there are plenty of shorter trails to explore. Try the Manchester Rail Trail, which is only about 2.5 miles in length but connects to other short trails. Most rail trails are broken up into segments to allow people to enter at different spots, travel for as much or as little as they want, and explore the area at their own pace. Many of our rail trails and other trails are also easily accessible to those with different modes of mobility.
Did you know that there are rails trails in every state in America, including Alaska and Hawaii? In fact, there are over 2,000 trails, with many more in development. As travel and transport by rail continue to be made more efficient, the disused and abandoned rail lines that crisscross our country are being reclaimed and refurbished for public use. Some have been sitting untouched for over 100 years or more. Exploring these paths is a great way to reconnect with your surroundings while you stay active. Get out and see America by rail–no tickets needed!
Locate a rail trail in your area here: https://www.railstotrails.org/our-work/united-states/
Find an accessible trail in Vermont: https://www.greenmountainclub.org/hiking/accessible-trails/