In less than a mile, the Cross Vermont Trail displayed its lovable quirkiness.
First, cross over the Winooski River on a paved steel arch bridge. Then follow a gravel path into Hope Cemetery where I could swear the spirits of several dead Vermont governors and Revolutionary War soldiers provided a phantom tailwind pushing me onto a dirt path along a cornfield. Then venture onto a wildflower-sprinkled mowed grassy path behind a state office complex.
As I exited, the parking lot onto a busy Route 2 under construction, a mountain biker entering the lot yelled, “Welcome to Waterbury!”
The 91-mile Cross Vermont Trail, about 30 miles of trail and bike paths and 60 miles of paved and dirt roads, traverses north central Vermont from the splendid shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington’s Oakledge Park to the flowing Connecticut River in Wells River.
The ever-evolving communities-centric route parallels Route 89 and Routes 2 along the Winooski and 302 between Groton State Forest and the Connecticut. It links the state’s largest city, capital, suburban neighborhoods, schools, parks, small towns and lush rural majesty.
The route hatched from an idea in the late 1990s and eventually grew into the non-profit Cross Vermont Trail Association (crossvermont.org) which oversees it.
According to executive director Greg Western, bicyclists travel somewhat equally in both directions, often using the Waterbury and Marshfield areas to overnight with lodging options like campgrounds, motels and more. Wider tires are recommended.
I pedaled the route in three days in mid-August on a gravel grinder with panniers. My wife, Jan, accompanied me by car. I’ve cycled pieces of the route like pleasant but sometimes sandy old Montpelier-Wells River rail-bed from Marshfield through Groton’s Ricker Pond State Park.
I’ve also pedaled some of schizophrenic Route 2 — sometimes narrow, congested and scenic.
This pieces it all together.
Before going, absolutely download Cross Vermont Trail Association’s cue sheets and maps, bring patience and learn to trust the signs as they will be there — usually — when you most need them. Expect some confusion like leaving Oakledge Park and its stone earth clock as the route uses local roads with street lights and crosswalks, and four bike paths in about 13 miles. One section of a bike path was closed for construction and the map helped for a quick Plan B.
Also know friendly Vermonters tend to materialize to send you the right way when indecision reigns.
Vermont’s rich farm and forest countryside began on Wlliston’s dirt Governor Chittenden Road by Catamount Family Outdoor Center. Richmond was a pleasant surprise, its’ singletrack Johnnie Brook Trail followed by a pleasant riverside park, impressive 16-sided Old Round Church and legendary Cochran’s Ski Area known for grooming the storied Olympian-loaded Cochran family and other U.S. Ski Team members.
Duxbury Road by a spectacular Long Trail suspension bridge in the shadow of Camel’s Hump was delightful. Waterbury’s dirt Lover’s Lane was welcome after slim and snaking Route 2. I rode the lane about a quarter mile in the face of an oversized truck backing up it with heavy equipment before passing it. A pedestrian bridge provides stunning Mad River gorge views by a former dam.
Bustling Montpelier’s golden domed capitol impressed, too, its bike path and streets a departure from hectic Route 2. We spent the night in a motel.
In East Montpelier the organization’s trail crew muscle was evident. They’re building two new bridges to repair the 35-foot deep “big washout” caused by a May 2011storm. One bridge is passable now. Also, Cross Vermont Trail Association is hoping to raise $250,000 for a bridge over the Winooski and more East Montpelier bike paths to avoid Route 2. A route mapping update is underway too.
Delightful rows of Country Club Road cornfields led to a long and pretty Route 2 stretch with various shoulder widths from Plainfield to Marshfield and well-known Rainbow Sweets bakery where the Philadelphia native owner’s got his sweet shtick down after 44 years. The flavor-bursting Johnny Depps were killer for the climb to the rail-bed through Groton State Forest to Ricker Pond, and camp with loons' eerie cries.
Many blissful rail trail miles filled the final 15. A delightful stretch through the shade and marshes of Wells River Conservation Area also followed the Connecticut River where later I crossed the double-decker steel bridge over to New Hampshire—the western edge of the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail — after enjoying various slices of the Green Mountain State.