The Velomont Trail Will Let MTBers Traverse Vermont From Hut to Hut on 500 Miles of Singletrack

The Velomont trail will stretch nearly 500 miles from south to north. Here's how the massive singletrack project is coming together.
Photo courtesy of Carter Clark

The Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) is one of the country’s most extensive trail advocacy groups. Despite Vermont being one of the smallest states in the nation, VMBA boasts nearly 10,000 members across 29 chapters statewide.

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Amongst the daily routines of trail maintenance, grant writing, and new trail scoping, VMBA has taken on a new project. The Velomont Trail aims to connect most of VMBA’s chapters across the state with a nearly 500-mile continuous trail. 

Vermont trail riding in the Mad River Valley. File photo: Matt Miller

“Our VMBA chapters are very community-based organizations that steward their local trail systems. The Velomont is envisioned as that connective tissue that will bring you from one community to another,” Nick Bennette, Executive Direct of VMBA, told us.

If Bennette’s name sounds familiar, he was a guest on the Singletracks Podcast a year ago. We caught back up with him and Angus McCusker, Executive Director of the Velomont Trail Collective, and asked about this monumental project that stretches the entire state.

The Velomont Trail

The Velomont Trail Collective is technically a VMBA chapter, though its primary purpose is to drive The Velomont Trail project forward. 

“When the Velomont’s complete, it’s going to encompass a lot of trails that already exist in our chapters,” Bennette said. “But there’s going to be a lot of new trail or areas that are sort of trail deserts right now. Someone has to be responsible for that trail, too, so the Velomont Trail Collective is presently playing that role.”

Two other organizations have partnered with VMBA and the Velomont Trail Collective. Vermont Huts Association is a non-profit seeking to broaden residents’ connection to the wilderness by providing an enriching outdoor experience.

The Vermont Huts Association oversees the Catamount trail, a cross-country ski trail that also stretches the length of Vermont. The Catamount Trail Association works to maintain and protect access to the backcountry trail. The Velomont Trail hopes to take a page out of their book but at lower elevations.

The idea for the Velomont Trail started about seven years ago. McCusker and his local VMBA chapter were considering new trails in their area of Central Vermont. “We could build trails anywhere, or we could connect to our neighboring chapter,” McCusker explained.

Several different VMBA chapters met and discussed the idea which they supported. This was the start of proposing trails to connect to an adjacent VMBA network. “So we were fortunate to have that right off the bat, as we were beginning to develop our network on a local basis,” McCusker said. While the overall concept for the Velomont Trail had yet to be conceived, a foundation was being laid.

As networks and chapters connected, the concept grew. “Originally, we had six different chapters connected,” McCusker said. “And then the idea, to be fully honest, just sort of snowballed.” 

As it stands, the proposed Velomont trail will connect 23 of the 29 VMBA chapters. The trail will stretch 485 miles, from Massachusetts in the south to Canada in the North. A total of 30 new huts and five hostels will be constructed along the trail and in the 27 communities the trail crosses.

Connecting Communities

One of the aspects of the Velomont Trail that both Bennette and McCusker are excited about is the trail’s connection to many communities and villages throughout Vermont.

“You can imagine living in a village in Vermont and having a trail right from your village,” McCusker said. “That would be an amazing resource—take a lunch break [on the trail] or have the school bike program for kids. All kinds of possibilities, including people coming to visit, to use the trail.”

“Vermont as a landscape is just so ideal for this type of connected experience,” Bennette added. “We have so many small communities—that’s what defines Vermont. You’re in one small community with its general store and its outdoor shop—Vermont is defined by these hamlets. These could be the waypoints.”

The Velomont Trail would then not only be about cycling but also a way to showcase the villages and communities that are the heartbeat of Vermont. “That idea of being able to play hopscotch between these communities is one that’s a uniquely Vermont proposition,” Bennette said. 

A proposal like the Velomont Trail seems reasonable in a state as active in outdoor activities as Vermont is. In fact, 1.5% of Vermont’s population are VMBA members, according to Bennette. “We got an estimate last year from the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies that suggested 50,000 Vermonters were out riding mountain bikes regularly in the summer,” Bennette told us.

Not only is the Velomont Trail expected to bring tourism dollars to the communities scattered along the trail, but it will also provide jobs. The project requires hiring over 300 laborers to build the various huts and hostels sprinkled along the trail.

And it seems like the state of Vermont recognizes the potential benefit of the Velomont Trail. The state pushed $150,000 toward the Velomont project to help them in their planning process.

The Velomont trail still won’t come easy

Of course, a trail project nearly 500 miles long will have its setbacks. The scale of the project alone can seem overwhelming. If building almost 500 miles of continuous trails seems labor-intensive, try connecting an existing network of trails and newly proposed trails to make that 500 miles.

And then try doing all that while hopscotching from one privately owned parcel of land to the next. The land throughout Vermont has proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of The Velomont. Unlike states out West, Vermont doesn’t have that much public land.

“In Vermont, [around] 70% of our public access trails are on private land,” McCusker said. 

“The benefit there is that the hurdles you have to jump through for private landowner development are much fewer, but the parcels tend to be smaller,” Bennette added. Bennette speaks of “hurdles” in reference to attempting to get trails approved on federal land. Unsurprisingly, working with the federal government can equal a long wait time. 

Working with private landowners expedites the process immensely. However, depending on the location of the proposed trail, 50 miles of trail could mean working with ten different landowners. And getting all ten of those landowners to agree can be difficult. 

But, there is an incentive for the landowner if they agree to let VMBA use their land. This incentive comes in the form of a tax break. “If you agree to use [your land] in some current form of public value, which is defined as forestry, agriculture, or conservation, you get a tax benefit,” Bennette said.

Currently, recreation, which mountain biking falls under, doesn’t fit into this public value benefit. However, VMBA is advocating for the landowners to receive a conservation easement for the land the trail would be on.

Photo courtesy Carter Clark

When can we ride?

McCusker and Bennette stressed that the Velomont Trail is an ongoing process. They are working toward connecting all trail segments, but this will be a multi-year process. 

However, they will have some trail segments open this spring for riding. “The northern segment on the Moile Valley Road Trail—that’ll be at least 45 miles, possibly more,” McCusker told us. Depending on one community’s involvement, the northern section of the trail could jump up another 12 miles. 

The current middle section will be the longest at 113 miles. Of that mileage, 82 miles will be new trail. The southern section of the current Velomont will be 50 miles, but only 18 miles of new trail.

With a total distance of 485 miles, VMBA’s goal is to have 70% of the entire trail be singletrack. “It’s [depended] a lot on where the connections can be made,” McCusker said. While the group shoots for that 70%, it may not be realistic with this jigsaw puzzle they are putting together. While they do have many dirt roads at their disposal if they must, this is a mountain bike trail, and they are working hard to stay at their goal.

However, you can expect most of the Velomont to be off asphalt. Aside from a necessary pedal into one of the villages, nearly all roads will be doubletrack dirt roads.

McCusker told us that riders can expect around 10 miles between huts. Huts, as well as the trail, will be ADA-accessible. 

The Velomont Trail Collaborative is still working out details for the hut system. While we don’t know how much it will set you back to stay in one of the huts along the way, you can expect to pay. You’ll also need to schedule and reserve huts in advance. 

Keep track of the Velomont trail on their Instagram