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Minerva
12-29-2002, 08:38
The following article appeared in this morning's Rutland Herald:

Trail relocation plan palatable to all, but costly
December 28, 2002

By SETH HARKNESS Staff Writer

KILLINGTON — A proposal to move part of the Appalachian Trail in Killington from the road into the woods seems to solve every problem except the financial one.

The U.S. Forest Service, town officials and a hikers group all support the idea of moving about a half-mile of the trail onto protected land and closer to a scenic waterfall.

What remains to be decided is how to pay for the $200,000 project if it is approved.

As it exists now, the portion of the trail north of Route 4 near Kent’s Pond in Killington includes a half-mile stretch on Thundering Brook Road. This arrangement has long been considered unsatisfactory because it takes hikers out of the forest and diverts them from the 140-foot-high Thundering Falls.

The new plan, endorsed by the Forest Service out of the four options recently put forth for public review, would move the trail north onto a piece of land covered by a protective easement. The proposed trail would require a new footpath and a 470-foot boardwalk through the floodplain of Kent Brook and the Ottauquechee River.

The new trail section, which would include a short spur to the falls, would rejoin the existing trail on the east side of River Road.

This plan has the support of the Forest Service, the Green Mountain Club and the Appalachian Trail Conference, a non-profit group based in New Hampshire that is devoted to protecting the 2,168-mile hiking trail.

The new proposal, $182,000 of which would go to building the raised boardwalk and a 30-foot bridge over the Ottauquechee River, could be as financially challenging as it is politically palatable.

The project’s expense represents two-thirds of the Green Mountain National Forest Service’s annual trail budget for the entire state, and the agency will look for outside funding if it decides to go this route.

“They have said this is more than their budget can handle,” said J.T. Horn, president of the Appalachian Trail Conference.

The plan also has won the support of the Killington Select Board, which rejected an earlier and less expensive proposal.

“Although very expensive, it’s best for everybody,” said Select Board Chairman Norman Holcomb.

The effort to improve this section of Appalachian Trail goes back many years. In the late 1980s,the federal government acquired easements on the 56-acre parcel north of Thundering Brook Road as part of an effort to protect the entire trail and remove it from the roads.

The Forest Service proposed its original relocation project in the Kent Pond area in 1998. This would have created a new trail across the dry section of the easement, skirting the falls, and then let hikers walk a short section of Archie Baker Road and River Road before returning to the woods.

Many local residents and the Killington board objected to this proposal, citing privacy and the aesthetic concerns that would arise with hikers passing so close to homes.

The Forest Service did not pursue the project, although it is now one of the other three proposals up for public comment. It carries a price tag of $26,300.

Another proposal outlined in the Forest Service’s environmental assessment of the trail relocation is to create a southern relocation, shortening the trail’s overlap on Thundering Brook Road by half. The estimated cost of this choice is $32,850, but it does not bring hikers close to the falls or eliminate walking on the road.

The fourth option is to do nothing.

Horn said he expected a couple years of federal and state grant applications to precede the boardwalk project, if the Forest Service approves it after the 30-day public comment period that began Dec. 19.

“My hope is we’ll have a finished structure in two to three years,” he said.

Anyone interested in seeing an environmental assessment of the trail relocation options can reach the Forest Service at 747-6753.

Contact Seth Harkness at seth.harkness@rutlandherald.com.