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The Valley Reporter
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Waitsfield, VT 05673
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Fall color in the Mad River Valley

Foliage near peak display at the base of Mount Abraham within the proclamation boundary of the Green Mountain National Forest in Lincoln. This photo was taken on Sunday, September 22, 2013.

 

Fall colors near peak in higher elevations

 

With shorter days and cooler nighttime temperatures, fall has arrived, ushering in one of nature’s most magnificent seasons. In Vermont, on the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF), fall colors are expected to be most vibrant during the next couple of weeks in the higher elevations.

"America's public lands, particularly our eastern national forests, are among the most spectacular venues to view peak fall colors," said U.S. Forest Service Eastern Regional Forester Kathleen Atkinson. "I urge you to spend some time outdoors and enjoy the beautiful scenery that our forests offer.”

This is a special time for our residents, our visitors, and our forest. We have already seen a lot of vibrant color in the higher elevations and expect that leaves will be near peak in some of the higher elevations this weekend and next,” said Steve Roy, Natural Resources staff officer for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests. Roy also expects that there will be an influx of local and visitor traffic in the coming weeks and is encouraging motorists to be mindful of where they park and to use extra caution when driving and recreating on the forest.

The GMNF is one of the more heavily recreated national forests in the nation, serving between 3 and 4 million visitors per year. Located within less than a day’s drive of more than 70 million people, the forest serves a wide variation of outdoor enthusiasts each contributing significantly to our local communities and the overall economy. In addition to foliage viewing, other recreational activities on the forest include camping hunting, fishing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, hiking, mountain biking, alpine and cross-country skiing. Like many tourist destinations, the GMNF is a major contributor to local economies and has been recognized as having some of the nation’s most brilliant foliage viewsheds.

Beginning each September, the Forest Service tracks the progress of fall color and is once again offering a fall colors toll-free telephone hotline – 1-800-354-4595. The hotline provides audio updates on the best places, dates, and routes to take for peak viewing of fall colors on national forests across the country.

Fall colors provide an economic boost to many communities across the United States. The New England area alone receives an estimated $8 billion annually in local revenues from fall visitors, who come from all over the world to see stunning mountainsides bathed in brilliant reds and oranges, mixed with stately evergreens.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, see www.fs.fed.us.

Foliage hikes

The country’s oldest long-distance hiking trail, the Long Trail, traverses the western ridge of the Mad River Valley, allowing for views over vast expanses of trees when they’re at their brightest with reds, oranges and yellows. For those who don’t have time to hike the whole trail end to end, these easily accessible sections offer views of Camel’s Hump, Mt. Mansfield, the Adirondack Mountains and the White Mountains as they change colors with the season.

Sunset Ledge

This 2.2-mile roundtrip Long Trail hike starts at the Lincoln Gap and ascends only slightly before emerging at an opening with westward views over Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. It’s a quick, easy hike for families or for folks looking to watch the sunset.

Directions: From the intersection of Route 100 and Route 17, travel five miles south on Route 100 and make a right onto Lincoln Gap Road. Travel up Lincoln Gap Road approximately four miles. Two dirt parking areas will appear on the left side of road. The trailhead is next to the second parking area on the left side of road (Long Trail, heading south).

Mt. Abraham

This 5.7-mile roundtrip Long Trail hike starts at the Lincoln Gap and ascends gradually through pine forests before climbing steeply across rocky terrain to the summit of Mt. Abraham, a 3,953-foot peak with 360-degree views.

Directions: From the intersection of Route 100 and Route 17, travel five miles south on Route 100 and make a right onto Lincoln Gap Road. Travel up Lincoln Gap Road approximately four miles. Two dirt parking areas will appear on the left side of road. The trailhead is just the past second parking area on the right side of road (Long Trail, heading north).

 

General Stark Mountain

This 6.2-mile roundtrip Long Trail hike starts at the Appalachian Gap and ascends through forest along the top of Mad River Glen ski area, past the double chair lift to the top of the single chair, Stark’s Nest warming hut and the summit of General Stark Mountain, with views eastward.

Directions: From Route 100, take Route 17 west to the top of the Appalachian Gap and park in the parking area on the right. The trailhead is just across the road (Long Trail, heading south).

 

Burnt Rock Mountain

This 5.2-mile roundtrip hike starts in Fayston and follows the forested Hedgehog Brook Trail up to where it intersects with the Long Trail. It then traverses rocky terrain with some of the best views of The Valley to the summit of Burnt Rock Mountain.

Directions: From the intersection of Route 100 and Route 17, travel two miles north on Route 100 to Center Fayston Road. Turn left onto Center Fayston Road and stay on that to Big Basin Road. Turn left onto Big Basin Road and park at the end (Hedgehog Brook Trail to Long Trail, heading north).

 

The leaf-peepers’ guide for local foliage viewing

 

Waitsfield to Moretown

 

This route follows a scenic section of road along the Mad River to Moretown, avoiding traffic along Route 100. There are two options beginning in Waitsfield: a shorter but no-less-scenic ride loops back to Route 100B via Moretown Common Road, while the longer route, roughly 30 miles, takes motorists over Moretown Mountain Road to Northfield Falls, and through a total of five covered bridges.

Both offer spectacular wide-open views of the Mad River Valley, as well as heavily wooded areas sure to burst with color over the next few weeks. The following are brief route descriptions.

Begin in the village of Waitsfield, and head out on Bridge Street through the covered bridge. Veer left onto Joslin Hill Road and begin a steady climb. At about two miles, Waitsfield Common, at the corner of Common Road, is visible on the right. A sign notes that this site hosted the original settlement of Waitsfield, circa 1794. On the left, Common Cemetery offers a peaceful place to walk and take in the views.

Take North Road by veering left at the intersection, and follow the road as it descends and shortly turns to dirt near the Pine Brook covered bridge. Open fields and the mountains beyond become visible to the south. Old farmhouses and barns set amid farm fields and meadows dot the road as it meanders up and down over the hilly landscape.

The road crosses the Moretown town line at about five miles and becomes Pony Farm Road. Sweeping views of The Valley open up, and this may be a good spot to pull over for some photographs. The Mad River becomes visible to the left once again after about one mile, shortly before the road meets up with Route 100B.

Take a right at a T-intersection with Route 100B and drive through the village of Moretown, which boasts a general store, a few churches and many historic homes. A sharp right just past the general store brings motorists up a steep hill on Moretown Common Road. For the longer route, go straight on Moretown Mountain Road. Stay on Moretown Common Road (bearing left) for the shorter ride.

 

Moretown Mountain Road to Northfield Falls

 

On the longer route, the mostly dirt Moretown Mountain Road continues to climb for about three miles. Some open fields allow views to the southeast, but forest dominates the landscape here.

As the hill crests at about 9.5 miles, there is a pull-off to stop and look back down the road, towards the northwest. The tip of Camel's Hump is visible in the distance.

The road descends and becomes paved again at about 14 miles. As the road, now called Cox Brook Road, makes its way to the small settlement of Northfield Falls, motorists pass through not one, not two, but three covered bridges, all within one-quarter of a mile of each other.

The three bridges, called the Northfield Falls, Upper and Lower Cox bridges, date back to the late 1800s. They cross the Cox Brook, a tributary of the Dog River.

This group of bridges is the only place in Vermont where one covered bridge can be seen from the portal of another, as is possible from the Lower Cox and Northfield Falls bridges, according to information from the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

After entering Northfield Falls, a right turn takes motorists to Northfield, home of Norwich University. Several cafes and restaurants in Depot Square, the town's village green, provide lunch options.

Motorists may continue to travel south on Route 12A to Roxbury, returning to the Mad River Valley via Roxbury Gap, a route that also offers many foliage views. Another option is to double back on Moretown Mountain Road.

 

Moretown Common Road to Route 100B

The Moretown Common Road roughly parallels Route 100B as it winds its way along the Mad River but follows a ridge that offers spectacular views of Camel's Hump and mountains to the north. Open fields also allow unobstructed views south down the Mad River Valley. Any number of spots on this quiet road dotted with an occasional farmhouse or barn would be suitable for photos.

The road doesn't enter the woods for an extended period until it nears the intersection with Route 100B. Route 100B, although far busier than the Moretown Common Road, also has many points of interest. It has been designated the Mad River Byway by the National Scenic Byways Program and offers views of foliage on steep hillsides bordering the Mad River. Motorists may return to Moretown by turning left on Route 100B.

 

Back roads of Fayston

Although a short route, this loop on back roads in Fayston offers everything a leaf peeper could ask for: towering trees that bend over sparsely populated roads, open fields, thick forests and huge mountain views.

Head down Route 100 north out of Waitsfield and turn left onto North Fayston Road. This road climbs steadily, passing the town offices after about one mile. North Fayston Road becomes dirt after about two and one-half miles.

After about three miles, at the top of a hill, views open up to the left. Also on the left, the road soon passes the Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm. Motorists may catch a glimpse of the horses – known for their stout stature and shaggy manes – grazing in the fields.

The road comes to an intersection with Big Basin Road, Sharpshooter Road and Center Fayston Road after about four miles. On the right is a schoolhouse dating back to the early 1800s, now a private residence.

Turn left on Center Fayston Road, and follow the road up and down over small hills, past old barns and farmhouses. Soon, forest begins to take over, with little visible human development. In some spots, tree boughs gracefully frame the roadway.

After about six miles, take a right on Kew Vasseur Road. From this point until the route meets up with Route 17, the spots to stop and take in spectacular mountain views are too many to list. It's probably best just to drive slowly and pull off the roadway when the mood strikes. One highlight is the intersection of Kew Vasseur Road with Bragg Hill Road, when mountain views open up straight ahead, past fields and a well-maintained red barn.

Taking a right on Bragg Hill Road brings even more spectacular scenery. Unobstructed views of the Mad River Valley and ski slopes on Mount Ellen and Mad River Glen to the immediate south dominate here.

Near the intersection of Bragg Hill Road and Stagecoach Road, a bench just off the left side of the road offers a fine spot to get out of the car and enjoy the views. The bench, dedicated to Willis Bragg, looks out over a huge field sloping down towards The Valley, with mountain views in every direction. Green Mountain National Forest spreads out to the south, while in the north, hillsides dotted with the occasional silo and red barn are visible below.

After about nine miles, Bragg Hill Road veers left and joins up with No. 9 Road at the intersection with Phen Basin Road.

As the road descends back into The Valley, a working maple stand is visible on the right, with blue tubes snaking in between trees. On the left, an old but well-maintained sugar shack sits in a field just off the road.

In a little less than one mile, the road becomes paved again. It joins up with Route 17 at about 10 miles. Notice the white building across the road. It was the Number Nine Schoolhouse and is now a private residence. Turning left takes motorists back to Route 100 and Waitsfield.

 

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