A collaborative of local recreation organizations and others, led by the Mad River Valley Recreation District, is putting together a grant application for a $500,000 Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative grant (VOREC) to construct a trail hub and information kiosk behind the Localfolk Smokehouse on Route 17 as well as a bridge over the Mill Brook that will connect to the trails in the Howe Block of the Camel’s Hump State Forest.
Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that landowners, John Morris, Localfolk Smokehouse; and Peter and Blaine Laskowski, Dana Hill Road; are working with the rec district, the Mad River Riders, Friends of the Mad River, the chamber and others on the specifics of the project while the rec district takes the lead on the grant application.
“In a typical year there a couple hundred thousand dollars that VOREC gives away in grants. This year, because of CARES act funding, the Legislature allocated and the governor approved a budget that has $20 million in grants for the program,” Friedman explained.
Friedman spent a lot of time this year, following and lobbying the Legislature on economic relief and policies for local businesses, so he was aware of allocation.
GREAT GRANT PROJECT
“I started thinking about how we could steer some of this money to The Valley. Being involved with all these groups got me thinking about how to put some of these pieces together. I realized that building a bike/pedestrian bridge over the Mill Brook behind the Smokehouse, which would connect to the trail system in the Howe Block, would be a great grant project,” he said.
Beyond connecting to the Howe Block, such a trailhead also connects to the Waitsfield sidewalks, sections of the Mad River Path and provides access via the Howe Block trails to Sugarbush.
“I’m also aware that the No. 1 question people ask us when they come into the chamber offices after, ‘Can I use your bathroom?’ is ‘where do we hike or bike or walk?’ I realized that there’s a real opportunity to develop a real trail hub that can become an entry point for our community and visitors,” Friedman explained.
Friedman said that he’d recently met with Morris and the Laskowskis about the project.
“It’s awesome that these property owners are so into it. It’s not the norm as we know. John’s already cleaning up the back of his property to make it more appealing. When you walk around the back of his property it’s beautiful. It’s going to be like a park and that’s going to be the hub of connectivity,” he noted.
Friedman said that while all the specifics of the grant application haven’t been sorted out yet, part of the funding request would be for funding for landscape architecture.
“We look at this as something similar to what’s going on down in Rochester and with the trails in the Northeast Kingdom. What we’ve always lacked is that downtown connectivity,” he said, adding that local backcountry alliance and Catamount Trails folks have also been asked to collaborate.
Friedman pointed out that recreation is why people move to Vermont and The Valley and it is what attracts tourists as well.
“This is our future. Outdoor recreation is what brings people here. We need to enhance what we’re doing. This project works hand and glove with stewardMRV and other efforts. And the level of cooperation and collaboration between all these organizations – that’s the real story here. It’s really awesome to see and it’s amazing the way everyone is working together,” he added.
The grant application process involves two parts. The first is a letter of interest after which the rec district will get invited to participate in a more formal grant application which will happen this fall, he said. Funds will be distributed next year and will need to be used in two years.
Friedman said that this project, if successful, will be the single largest investment in outdoor recreation in The Valley.