The Mad River Path (MRP) has been working for 31 years to build and maintain a network of multi-use public pathways to foster a healthy community by connecting the people, businesses and special places of the Mad River Valley. The MRP is a nonprofit that relies on community support – both financial and volunteers – to continue its mission. The MRP is more committed than ever to continue to expand this important Valley asset. During these past few months the MRP has seen a big increase in use as people discover its nine sections and 11-plus miles of trails throughout The Valley.
The MRP has been fortunate to have hundreds of volunteers participate by becoming board members, working on a committee and the Mad Dash, hammering boardwalk planks, planting gardens, building bridges, clearing knotweed, contributing financially or becoming a hosting landowner. A 1988 survey indicated that 78% of Valley residents supported the creation of a path linking Warren to Moretown. This enthusiasm continues today with more than 500 people and 100 local businesses donating to the MRP every year. The community support over the decades has allowed the MRP to grow both in the length of trails and the strength of the organization. Collaboration with The Valley towns, landowners and other trail and recreation organizations continues to be critical to the future of the MRP and recreation in the Mad River Valley. One example of many is the grant support awarded to the MRP by the Mad River Valley Recreation District each year, who in turn enjoys expanding support by the towns.
First board president Ellen Strauss of Warren shared some history of the start of the Mad River Path:
“The Mad River connects The Valley towns in the most magical way, but not everybody can travel it by boat. A path along the river from Warren to Moretown is much more user friendly and would be a fantastic community asset. Connect the towns with an alternative to Route 100 and enjoy the river. At least that is what Arthur Williams, Clesson Eurich, Allen Clark and I thought in 1988. They were all walkers and bike riders. I was young and pregnant. What did I know? Seemed like we could get it done in a season or two. So we jumped right on it and did the section north of the Warren school – piece of cake! Harrison Snapp, MRP board member since 1991, loved the vision and enthusiasm of the first MRP board. He and Fred Gilbert, MRP board member emeritus, both got involved because they wanted to expand opportunities for community members and Valley visitors to connect with each other, connect to businesses, but most importantly to connect with what nature has to offer.”
“In 1992, working closely with Elwin Neill, farmer, the town of Waitsfield and the Mad River Ridge Runners, the East Greenway was created connecting Tremblay Road to Meadow Road. Next up was the Mill Brook Trail which connected the former Tucker Hill Lodge cross-country ski system and the Catamount Trail. The first Mad Dash was held in 1996 – a community event that is in its 25th year and continues to be the MRP’s annual fundraising event. Kevin Russell became the MRP’s first paid executive director in 1998 – a turning point for the organization that had previously been all volunteer-based and Kevin founded the Mad Dash,” Strauss said.
Russell said he is proud to have been part of the MRP and its work.
“I have had many prideful moments running on the paths and the sidewalks. I am particularly proud of the continuation of the Mad Dash as it celebrates 25 years this October. Hats off to the many incredible board members, directors and volunteers of the Mad River Path that for over 30 years continue to create a more vibrant walkable community. I am very proud to be part of that legacy,” Russell said.
Floods in 1998 and 2011 destroyed large sections of the MRP which were restored through huge volunteer efforts. Lessons were learned, and since the MRP has been working to build more resilient trails. In 1999, through the collaboration of Waitsfield, the Vermont Land Trust, Friends of the Mad River, the MRP and Neill Farm, the West Greenway became the first permanently protected section of the MRP. In 2014, the MRP’s first-ever land purchase project came together, which involved the purchase of 4 acres of land by Waitsfield Elementary School and the establishment of a new ½-mile path, Waits Way. This land is now owned by the school and available for public use. The MRP is also adding new trail easements every year to protect the trail sections.
The MRP was instrumental in getting two underpasses built under Route 100 to ensure safe travel for people – one connecting the Sugarbush Snowmaking Pond Loop and Riverside Park near the Warren Lodge and one connecting Lareau Farm and Mad River Riders trails with the Lareau Swimming Hole and Austin Walk. In recent years, two steel-beamed bridges have been designed by Mac Rood, MRP board chair: the Clay Brook Bridge behind the Warren Lodge and the Chase Brook Bridge across from Fayston Elementary School. Connections like these are essential to the MRP’s mission, and additional pedestrian connections are planned and created each year. While some connections are simple and can be made in a matter of weeks, others are the result of years of planning, fundraising, partnership building and, finally, constructing.
The most visible and popular section of the MRP is the newly created 3-mile Heart of the Valley Trail, which connects Waitsfield Elementary School to Fiddler’s Green utilizing sidewalks, boardwalks and gravel and dirt pathways. Nearly 50 businesses are found just off the MRP in this section and others. Board members hope to connect Fiddler’s Green to the Austin Parcel and the Lareau Swimming Hole without having to walk on Route 100 in the future.
This year, the MRP will grow by at least 2 miles, including trails on the Yestermorrow property and land owned by Chris Lamonia behind the Big Picture. Planning to connect sections along the Mad River is a constant activity, and a new project to connect Irasville to the Long Trail is underway.
As the MRP is the community’s and has been for more than 30 years, it continues to be designed by what the people of the Mad River Valley want and need. Some of the MRP is on public land, but generous private landowners who have the community’s interests in mind host most sections.
The Mad River Path is a 501c3. To learn more about the MRP, visit www.madriverpath.org or call 802-496-7284.
Brines and Jondro are Mad River Path board members. Brines is past president.