by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

Vermont’s roads treat bicyclists to spectacular scenery, particularly in fall for muscle-powered leaf peeping. The Green Mountain State has also been expanding its eco-mobility network, which today includes over 300 miles in 37 multi-use trails with some classics like the Island Line Trail, the West River Trail, and the Cross Vermont Trail which will someday stretch across the entire state from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River. The economic spinoffs can be seen in the cafes, brewpubs, bike shops, and B&Bs that have sprouted along these trails.     

The Island Line Rail Trail, now in the Rail Trail Hall of Fame, takes cyclists from Downtown Burlington onto a causeway jutting into Lake Champlain. With a short ferry trip across a gap in the causeway, cyclists reach the quiet roads of South Hero Island to explore miniature stone castles and Snow Farm Vineyard, which offers a summer calendar of concerts as well as wine tastings.

At the southern end of the West River Trail, Brattleboro, a town of 12,000 people and two bike shops, hugs the banks of the Connecticut River near the site of a fort built in 1724. The Vermont Asylum for the Insane, founded here in 1824, has been retooled as Retreat Farm, a community resource for sustainable agriculture with miles of trails including several to the stone tower built by the patients in 1887 as a form of therapy. The West River Trail follows the route of the 36-mile rail line that once sped passengers from Londonderry, Vermont, to Brattleboro, where Whetstone Brook powered a saw mill, paper mill, textile mill, and the Estey Organ Company, once the nation’s largest manufacturer of melodeons. Upstream from where these mills once churned, Whetstone Brook is still spanned by the Creamery Covered Bridge built in 1879.   

Today in Brattleboro’s downtown, stores selling hardware and shoes mix with 19th century buildings repurposed as restaurants, boutiques, studios, and art galleries. On the first Friday of each summer month, Brattleboro holds its Gallery Walk featuring art exhibits, bands, dancing, and an open air market with a pop-up beer garden.

In 2009, bicycle- and pedestrian-related tourism, events, infrastructure, programs, and businesses generated almost $83 million in Vermont, supporting over 1,400 employees, producing a payroll of more than $41 million, and contributing $2.4 million in taxes and fees to the State of Vermont. In addition, a 2009 study estimated that bike and walking infrastructure added $350 million to real estate value and saved $85 million in public and private transportation costs (Vermont 2012). 

In March 2021, the Vermont Transportation Agency committed to improving the state’s multiuse trail network as part of a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan that promotes ecomobility for people of all ages and abilities (Vermont 2021). In keeping with that goal, the Cross Vermont Trail Association continues to complete an 87-mile trail linking the Island Line Trail in Burlington with Wells River on the eastern edge of the state by way of the historic village of Waterbury and the state capital of Montpelier. To the west, the Cross Vermont Trail will link with 1,100 miles of trails and routes in New York and Quebec as well as Vermont. At the other end of the state, cyclists can cross the Connecticut River and keep peddling east into New Hampshire, which has also discovered that cycling is good for business.

References

Vermont. 2012. Economic Impact of Bicycling and Walking in Vermont. Accessed 6-4-21 at https://accd.vermont.gov/sites/accdnew/files/documents/VDTM-Research-2012EconomicImpactBikingWalkingFullReport.pdf

Vermont. 2021. VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan. Accessed 6-11-21 https://vtrans.vermont.gov/sites/aot/files/planning/bikeplan/VTrans_BPSP_Report_FINAL_20210310-FullReportAndAppendices.pdf.

{PHOTO: “Brattleboro VT Covered Bridge PM 6-4-21 1590JPG]

The 1879 Creamery Covered Bridge still spans Whetstone Brook in Brattleboro, Vermont.

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.

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