People & Places

Snowmobile trails sustain serious damage; past work on stream crossings destroyed by Irene

Repairs to Vermont's 6,000-mile network of snowmobile trails could cost upwards of $7 million. Photo by Susanne Sperring.
Repairs to Vermont's 6,000-mile network of snowmobile trails could cost upwards of $7 million. Photo by Susanne Sperring.
When it comes to getting there from here, it turns out it’s not just Vermont’s highways and back roads that were blasted by Tropical Storm Irene.

Vermont’s 6,000-mile network of snowmobile trails, a key component of winter tourism in the state, faces a massive repair effort that could cost from $5 million-$7 million, said Bryant Watson, executive director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST).

Members in the nonprofit association of 132 snowmachine clubs around the state have been tallying damage, and the picture is grim in the areas of the state hardest hit by Irene’s flooding.

“What it boils down to is the tread of the trails is pretty much intact,” said Watson. However, where the clubs built bridges for stream crossings and put in culverts in wet areas, Watson estimates perhaps 80 percent of the trail infrastructure was wiped out.

But Watson said those in the state’s snowmobile clubs are “can-do people” and “are proud of their system” of trails and eager to get to work to restore them.

“We are very optimistic about getting things back together again,” he said.

VAST’s groomed trails wind through many small rural villages where its 32,000 snowmobiling members provide an important economic boost in winter.

Watson cautioned that the trail system, which runs with permission on private landowners’ property and in a large network in the Green Mountain National Forest, took a major hit and won’t be fully open this winter. In Shrewsbury in Rutland County alone, he said 20 culverts were washed out or damaged.

For this year, VAST is going to concentrate on making sure the main “corridors” are connected from north to south and east and west and to ensure access for all of the clubs. VAST’s main north-south corridors run roughly along the spine of the Green Mountains, where some of the worst flood-related devastation occurred.

“It may not be the trail it was before,” he said, but things will be open.

Watson said a critical meeting is set for Thursday with the Forest Service, which needs to be a key partner in any restoration effort. VAST is hoping federal grants and funding can help with the repairs and that the organization will “spend down all of its reserves” to bring trails back.

The most disheartening thing is seeing a lot of work that was done to improve trails get wiped out, he said. VAST used $540,000 in stimulus recovery act monies to put people to work on 40 projects around the state last year.

“Unfortunately, 95 percent of all the work we did was gone,” he said Friday.

According to Watson, things won’t be the same for snowmobilers for a while in the Green Mountain National Forest.

“It will take four to five years working with the Forest Service to get back to where we were,” he said.

DISCLOSURE: Andrew Nemethy worked as a contract writer for VAST in the mid-2000s.

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Andrew Nemethy

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  • Don’t you think you should add a disclaimer about the fact that Nemethy was a paid member of the VAST public relations team? Because that fact just might be contributing to this story, no? Amidst all the real post-Irene devastation, worrying about the joy-riding and fossil-fuel spewing VAST crowd seems like a big stretch. Unless, of course, you were once on the VAST payroll.

    Please, make the correction to this piece so that the author’s history with VAST is disclosed.

    • Thank you, Michael, for pointing this omission out. I inserted a disclosure clause.

  • Mr. Colby is distorting my relationship with VAST, a fact I believe he well knows, and which has no bearing on this story, except that with knowledge of the trail system it occurred to me to think about possible damage as a story.
    Mr. Colby’s antipathy toward the recreation blinds him to the fact that it is an important economic winter activity for 32,000 riders and all the small businesses that rely on snowmobilers – which is why it occurred to me write the story. I will confess to a bias: for news stories wherever they may be.
    For the record, this was my relationship with VAST: I never did public relations for them. I was a freelance contractor who desktop-published and wrote stories for VAST’s newspaper well over a decade ago, just as I also desktop-published the newsletter for Friends of the Vermont Statehouse, wrote for the Vermont Natural Resources Council newsletter, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the state’s travel publications, edited the Gardener’s Supply catalog – in sum, worked as a freelance writer and editor making a living. I am a freelance correspondent in the same way for
    Finally, I am not a snowmobiler (though as an avid nordic skier I enjoy and appreciate the VAST trails in the region.)