By Aaron Retherford
When Millstone Hill was a bustling home to 75 independent quarries over 100 years ago, it was granite grey for as far as the eyes could see.
But now that nature has reclaimed the land and the dormant quarries have filled with turquoise water, it has become one of the gems of the Green Mountain State.
The Millstone Trails Association encourages everyone to go out and experience the beauty of the Barre Town Forest and the Millstone Trails.
Millstone Hill has evolved from an industrial wasteland into a one-of-a-kind recreational getaway in central Vermont – complete with 32 miles of trails for mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, hikers, and snowshoers.
It all started when several local residents wanted to turn the area around Websterville into a tourist destination, so they began work on creating cross-country skiing and mountain bike trails. Then when Rock of Ages began discussing selling a large piece of land in Websterville, the Millstone Trails Association was formed in order to protect what is now the Barre Town Forest.
While the majority of the trail system is groomed for mountain bike use, all non-motorized forms of recreation are welcome on the trails.
Mountain bikers must pay a $10 day pass fee to use the trails since most of the wear and tear on the trails comes from mountain biking, and much of the trail system is maintained specifically with mountain biking in mind. However, everyone else can use the trails for free.
“We are interested in serving a broader recreating public than just mountain bikers,” Nathan Reigner, President of Millstone Trails Association said.
Reigner has been president of the MTA for only a few months, but he’s been an avid fan of the trails for a couple years. In fact, when he was looking for a place to move after living in Burlington, it was the Millstone Trails that convinced Reigner and his partner to move to the Barre area.
“What really sealed the deal was the ability to access such high-quality and expansive trails, so easily from our house,” Reigner said. “That’s something I had experienced other places I had lived, but not in Burlington. It was really great to be able to go out for a top quality recreation experience with only a five-minute drive.”
Reigner said there are different areas of the trails he enjoys depending on his mood. Gnome Man’s Land is a challenging and high adventure area, so that’s where he goes if he’s looking for a challenge. If he wants a peaceful ride away from the crowd, he heads to the Canyonlands. Most of the time, he goes to the Barre Town Forest because it contains more miles of trails than anywhere else, and it’s easily accessible. It also has the greatest diversity of trails.
That’s why he thinks there’s nothing else like the Millstone Trails in Vermont.
“There are other places with mountain biking as challenging as ours. There are places with more expansive trail networks. There are places that groom more regularly in the wintertime,” Reigner said. “But there’s no place that combines the mileage of trails with the physical characteristics of the trails as far as challenge and depth of snow. We have some of the best snow in the state up on that hill there. Then you have to throw in the historic quarries. That scenery from those quarries is truly remarkable.
“One way to look at it is as a post-industrial kind of a landscape. But I like to think of it as a kind of place where human activity and nature have come together to make something greater and more spectacular than either would have on their own.”
The MTA acts as the trail manager for the Barre Town Forest as well as the Millstone Trails Network that’s on private land adjacent to the town forest. Barre Town Forest covers over 350 acres of land, and the trail network is split about 50-50 between the town forest and private land.
The MTA is also becoming more welcoming to fellow recreationists.
For the first year ever, trail maps are now free, making it a more accessible trail network than in the past. Maps can be downloaded at http://www.millstonetrails.com/trail-maps/. The map can also be used electronically through Google maps.
“We’ve doubled our efforts over the past year to provide a public service,” Reigner said. “Having the maps free and publically available and understanding our real goal is to get people having fun on the trails and exploring the landscape. With that as our goal, we recognized having our maps publically available was the number one thing we could do to accomplish that goal.”
There’s one more aspect of the Millstone Trails recreationists might not know about. Pick up next week’s issue of The WORLD to see what it is or Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vtworld.news to get a sneak peek.