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The future of the Mad River Path

10/25/2007

By Carol Thompson

Over 20 years ago a group of Mad River Valley visionaries began talking about creating a continuous trail system that would stretch from Warren to Moretown, connecting the communities, schools, recreation areas and centers of commerce. Ideally, the new path would stay as close to the Mad River as possible and be pedestrian-friendly, accommodating walkers, runners, bicyclists, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

During that period of time the organization that would evolve to become the Mad River Path Association underwent many transformations, starting as a volunteer-based workforce and eventually becoming a membership-based no-profit with a paid part-time executive director. We have completed about half of our original goal and currently maintain approximately 15 miles of trails in six different sections. Our most popular path is the Mad River Greenway, which can be accessed from either Meadow Road or Tremblay Road in Waitsfield. We usually spend about $4,000 a year to keep the grass on this path mowed and the sides of the trail trimmed from the invasive knotweed that is taking over our stream banks.

When the Path was being constructed, there was a large contingent of volunteers, always at the ready to cut trees, remove blow-downs, haul rocks, build bridges and level out the dirt surface of the trails to make passage more enjoyable. We had an extensive phone-tree of people to call and our work days were fun, exhausting and a great way to meet people.

As the Path is aging, the needs of the Path are increasing. Many of those bridges are now showing signs of deterioration, with holes in the hemlock planks and supports that are in need of replacement. Many of the people on those phone trees of the past are working two jobs, managing families and can't carry heavy chainsaws into the woods and break new trails the way they used to. A new infusion of blood or money to hire work crews is necessary if the Path is to remain a dependable alternative to spending time inside or traveling in a motorized vehicle.

Everyone who uses the Path loves the Path. I can attest to that devotion and affection because I walk the Path frequently, introducing myself as the director, and the positive feedback I hear is proof that The Valley would miss "their" Path if it ever went away. When I speak to people one of my first questions is, "Are you a member of the Path?" Amazingly, about 95 percent of the people I talk to are not members. Many didn't know that they could become members (although there are signs at the beginning of the trails saying that the Path is maintained by a small nonprofit group that needs their help). Some thought they were members but, upon further investigation, once were but are no longer. I give out membership envelopes and newsletters to those who are not members and rarely hear back from anyone.

A big part of my job is fund raising. I wrote five grants last year and helped organize two major fundraisers -- our 20th Birthday Bash in the spring and the Mad Dash community fitness event in the fall. Between these two income-producing and very popular events, we made a profit of approximately $9,000, which is about 30 percent of our budget. Many years ago we had a membership base of 400 individuals and families, and this year, after sending out over 1,400 mailings and requests for membership contributions, we currently have around 110 paid members in a community of 6,000 people that is visited by many thousands more every year. And many of them use the Path on a daily basis.

I think that people have had a love affair with the Path for so long that it has become a community staple -- it has been here forever and it will be here forever. The Mad River Valley Planning District has placed expansion and procuring easements for the Path at the top of their list of priorities. The newly formed Mad River Byway has put the Path high on their radar screens, as long as we start working towards legal easements -- work that is time consuming and very expensive, and possibly beyond the ability of our small organization. Currently, only the west side of the Mad River Greenway has been protected, all of our other trails either have a casual agreement with the landowner or a signed agreement that has a 60-day cancellation clause.

The future evolution of ensuring that the Path is permanent and will not go away will require a great amount of community input, both financially and personally. We have a wonderful group of corporate business sponsors who help us out with the Mad Dash, but it is time for the people who use the path and are proud to live a community that values recreation, conservation and our beautiful natural resources to come forward with a show of support. As a nonprofit organization, donations are tax-deductible, and as a public and free local resource, time spent volunteering and money spent protecting the Path brings back untold returns by making our small piece of the world a better place.

On Friday night, October 26, we will be the recipients of a Benefit Bake at American Flatbread. If you have ever wanted to support the Path or get involved with the Path, please attend this event. We are looking for new board members, new trail adopters and new blood to infuse into our veins. Please check us out at www.madriverpath.org and see what we have been up to for the past 20 years. Get involved and let's see how we can all pull together to finish our Path, one step at a time.

Thompson is the director of the Mad River Path Association.
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