In 1921, Rutland businessman and former mayor Henry Carpenter donated 273 acres of land to the city for a park.
Over the years adjoining land was added, and today Pine Hill Park covers more than 300 acres.
While city residents have enjoyed the greenspace and the park's swimming holes for years, it wasn’t until the early 2000s, that mountain bike enthusiasts began carving out an ever-growing network of trails.
Today this group of volunteers, called the Pine Hill Partnership, has created nearly 17 miles of trails within the park and connected to other trails that stretch to nearby Proctor and Rutland Town. Partnership members say traffic is way up and the recent purchase of a snow groomer now ensures year-round use.
Andrew Shinn, Pine Hill Partnership's president, said mountain biking has become much more popular in recent years and Pinehill Park has tapped into that.
“We’re finding in Rutland, based on an economic impact study we did this [past] summer, the impact is $1.3 million plus dollars from tourism,” said Shinn. “From out of town people coming to ride here and spend money here. It’s been great.”
Shinn said having that data helps encourage more local businesses and agencies to support the partnership's expansion and upkeep efforts. “We’ve never had numbers before to demonstrate how a public park and a trail system can really help the local economy. On any given Saturday or Sunday, especially in the early season where we’re one of the few trail networks open, two-thirds to three-quarters of the cars in the parking lot are from out of state.”
Rebecca Mattis, is a member of the Rutland City Board of Aldermen, as well as a member of the Pine Hill Partnership.
“When I first came to Rutland, Pine Hill Park was one of the first places I went to. I’m a hiker, not a mountain biker," admitted Mattis, "at least not yet,” she added laughing. But she said the trails are enjoyed by dog walkers, runners and hikers as much as bikers, which is a big part of the park's appeal.
“And it speaks to not just the beauty of the area, but it speaks to what a small group of people can accomplish when they have a great idea,” she went on.
About 50 members of the Pine Hill Partnership held their annual meeting Monday evening in Rutland. They invited leaders from several other nearby trail networks including Slate Valley Trails in Poultney, Green Mountain Trails in Pittsfield, and the Killington Mountain Bike Club. Seth Westbrook came to Monday's meeting on behalf of the Woodstock Area Mountain Bike Association. He said he's been riding for years, and was excited to see all the new trails in Vermont.
“It’s growing and everybody is looking for other places to ride," said Westbrook. "And trying to connect with other networks as much as possible is kind of a big thing within the state right now."
Like the proposed Velomont Trail, which would connect Stowe and Killington and eventually points south. While it’s still in the planning stages, Westbrook and others at Monday's meeting believe it's gaining traction. "Don’t forget the concept exists already in the Long Trail," Westbrook said, "the idea is not a new one, hikers have been doing it for a long time.”