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.