As it currently exits, the so-called Town Link Trail doesn’t have much “town” and very little “link.”
It does have some beautiful “trail” that inspires dreams about what could be if the vision for the trail were to become reality.
The Town Link Trail has become a frequent subject at recent Charlotte Selectboard meetings as safety, particularly with regards to pedestrians and bicyclists, has been on the agenda and the topic of impassioned pleas during the public comments portion of the meetings.
Much of the focus of the discussion has been about Ferry Road and the need for a safe way to get to and from Lake Champlain and the village of West Charlotte on foot or two wheels. The completion of the proposed Town Link Trail has been advocated for safety from speeding or reckless drivers.
Other than planning, almost all the work to date on the trail that’s slated to eventually run from Mt. Philo to the Town Beach, has been done on the portion east of town. West of town – not so much.
“I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Laurie Thompson, co-chair of Charlotte’s Trails Committee. “We’re looking at the next phase. If the next phase turns out to be Ferry Road, let’s do it.”
Biking the trail
The first part of the completed trail is the Melissa and Trevor Mack Memorial Trail, which starts at State Park Road and runs about .7 mile north and then west to Route 7. This is a relatively level, gravely and grassy trail through a vineyard with great views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
The trails committee has been trying to get the trail built for the half a mile from the Mt. Philo parking lot to the beginning of the Melissa and Trevor Mack Memorial Trail. The effort on this section helps illustrate the obstacles and cost involved with completing the whole trail.
Thompson said that the trails committee has the right of way and easements required to build the trail along the north side of State Park Road. They applied for a grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation for this section, which they didn’t get. But to get an agency of transportation grant, the trail would need to be paved. Thompson said the cost estimate they got for paving this half-mile section of trail was $670,000. This requires a town match of 20 percent or $134,000. The trails committee has a little more than $90,000.
They also applied for a grant from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, which they didn’t get. But if the grant does eventually come through, it could be a gravel path. The cost for that would be approximately $117,000. Thompson said the maximum grant they could get from Forests, Parks and Recreation is $50,000.
The Melissa and Trevor Mack Memorial Trail northwestern end is at Route 7 where it travels under the highway in a large culvert that easily accommodates two-way bike or pedestrian traffic.
Cohousing section of trail
On the other side there is a little more than a mile of completed trail, most of which travels through forested property of the Champlain Valley Cohousing community.
This reporter took a ride out to get a firsthand feel by bike.
The trail here winds back and forth through woods and grassy areas with some sharp blind curves where a bike rider would ring their bell or shout out to warn oncoming bikers. It passes a pastoral pond with a couple of benches, perfect for composing haiku or just catching your breath.
This section ends on the west side of the Cohousing Community on Common Way with the final leg being an uphill pedal to a harrowing ride down Greenbush Road, with no road shoulders. In fact, from here to the lake there is no trail and almost no shoulders.
To the east of Greenbush Road and north from Common Way is one of two areas on the way to the lake where easements are lacking, so the Town Link Trail may have to go along the road here – a scary and disappointing prospect.
“Much of the trail is in the conceptual state. Until we have a permit for a trail, we’ve got a series of private neighborhood trails,” said Mike Russell. He is a former member and his wife Margaret Russell is a current member of the Charlotte Trails Committee.
The Russells have a private neighborhood trail on their property that runs from the train station off Ferry Road to Lake Road and is indicated on the Trail Vision Map in the Town Plan. The section from Ferry Road to their property is the other section without easements.
And getting the trail across the railroad tracks is an issue. For the time being, the only likely way is to have pedestrians and bikers cross the tracks on Ferry Road. Mike Russell said because of liability concerns the only way that the railroad is going to allow a Town Link Trail crossing is if an expensive controlled crossing, like the one at the bottom of Depot Hill on Ferry Road, is constructed.
There is easement allowing the trail to run along Ferry Road and “that easement along Ferry Road might be what we have to settle for in order to have it linked in our time,” Russell said.
Current trails committee co-chair Thompson said that she is hoping to meet in July with selectboard chair Matt Krasnow, town administrator Dean Bloch and representatives of the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Forests, Parks and Recreation to find out what the agencies think about the trail and what Charlotte could do to improve its chances of getting a grant.
Although the Town Link Trail has been about a 20-year project, Thompson is still optimistic about it.
“I am so pro trails. It enhances a community,” she said. “When a house is for sale in Cohousing and you look at the ad, the first thing they say is, ‘It’s right next to a beautiful trail.’”
She also talked about the economic impact. She said that both the Inn at Charlotte on State Park Road and the Mt. Philo Inn on Mt. Philo Road promote their proximity to the completed 2 miles of the Town Link Trail.
Thompson feels that a completed 7-mile trail would do wonders for tourism.
“Outdoor tourism brings millions of dollars to Vermont and the beauty of it is people go home,” she said. “You can keep the pristine beauty of the state.”