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New Bridge, New Route For Long Trail In Bolton

When you imagine hiking the Long Trail, the sound of traffic speeding by probably doesn’t come to mind. But hikers who’ve trekked from Camel’s Hump north to Mount Mansfield know the stretch of the trail in Bolton, through the Winooski River Valley.  Here, Long Trail hikers cross Route 2, Interstate 89 and the Winooski River on an unpleasant road detour out of the woods.

“You have to turn left and walk west for three miles to Jonesville," explains Ben Rose, who worked on the rerouting project extensively when he served as executive director of the Green Mountain Club. "You have to cross Route 2 at Jonesville, and go underneath the interstate and walk another 6/10 of a mile and then you cut into the woods on a power line….” As Rose expounds of the logistical messiness of this stretch of the Long Trail, GMC president Jean Haigh chimes in bluntly, "And it’s ugly, too!”

Charting a new route for the trail in Bolton was a long-held goal that was tricky to fulfill.  “Within a few hundred yards as the crow flies, you have a town road, a major river, an active railroad, a state highway, and an interstate.," explains Will Wiquist, who's served as executive director of the Green Mountain Club since 2011. "And there’s only a few places where those can all come together, and have permanent protection for the Long Trail." 

Rerouting the trail meant the GMC had to purchase land or get easements from private landowners, not to mention federal permission to cross a rail corridor. That work, plus the cost of constructing the new footbridge over the river, puts the price tag for the project at over $1.5 million, including several hundred thousand in state money.

But is it worth it? For hiking?

At a groundbreaking ceremony this week for the project, former Governor Howard Dean told a small crowd of dignitaries and hiking enthusiasts, yes, it's worth it.  “Sometimes it’s hard to talk folks in the Legislature into investing in this," Dean said. "More importantly, it unifies us as a community and that’s what Vermont is so good at.”

Part of the community Dean refers to is students at Norwich University, who drew the initial concept for the 224-foot suspension bridge. Civil Engineering professor Edwin Schmeckpepper says the students’ design was a prototype for the final bridge plan. “Even if their design had been completely redone, it still was very valuable because it gave the Green Mountain Club a reasonable estimate of what the project would be," said Schmeckpepper. "You have to know if it’s a $100,000 project, a $1,000,000 project, or a $10,000,000 project. So they got good information out of that.”

The engineering firm VHB in North Ferrisburgh did the final design work for the pedestrian bridge. Project manager Aaron Guyette stands on the riverbank describing the how the span will look on this spot.  The steel truss suspension bridge will be anchored by 40-foot steel towers on both sides of the river. "There’s a lot of high flood events, so that had to be taken into consideration with the elevation of the bridge, the bridge design, "says Guyette. "But then we wanted something that fit in as well, something sleek and slender.”

The bridge and the new route for the Long Trail are expected to open next fall. As hikers walk across it, they’ll look in one direction to see the Winooski River flowing around a bend, and in the other direction…. a clear view of Interstate 89. 

Some things can’t be moved.

Note: This story is updated and expanded from a previous version.