By Telly Halkias
Jared Newell believes there is something interesting to go out and do every month of the year. Seen recently making his way home to Old Bennington via fresh, calf-deep snow at the foot of Mount Anthony in Bennington, Vt., Newell recounted his day.
A friend drove him as far up the other side of the mountain by road as possible, he said. Then he split his hybrid snowboard-skis, put skins on, and climbed the rest of the way to the top. Reassembling his skis into a snowboard, down he came in the virgin backcountry powder, where not a soul had ventured.
As it were, when Newell told the story as the last bit of twilight vanished in the west, he was on one of the trails of the new Bennington Area Trail System (BATS).
A nonprofit founded just a year and a half ago, Newell was one of a group of devoted mountain bikers in southwest Vermont who felt it was time to organize, and take outdoor recreation into their own hands.
BATS focused on many parts of a trail system that already existed in and around the Bennington area in various states of repair, and unified efforts not only to get permission for access to private lands, but also to expand upon those trails.
In less than two years, the group now counts among its many local supporters Donald Campbell of the Vermont Land Trust, who is also a Bennington selectman, and David Evans, the president of Southern Vermont College, on whose lands many of the more adventurous trails now exist.
“The idea was to work on developing and maintaining a trail system that we could keep expanding, and use all seasons,” Newell said. “Everyone we have dealt with, from officials to landowners, have been receptive to the upgrade and expansion of the area’s trail system.”
The trails are multi-use, Newell continued, and for most of the year a solid cadre of BATS volunteers works on maintenance as well as planning and building in coordinated work sessions.
“The result is that we have hikers, joggers, mountain bikers, cross country skiers and just about any kind of good recreational use you can think of,” Newell said. “Of course, volunteers are always welcome to come help when we have work parties, and donations are important to our work. All of this is done on a really tight budget.”
The trail access and use is free, and trails both existing and new have been marked for the first time in local memory.
BATS denizens have taken to creative naming of the trails, with monikers such “The Wall” a seemingly near-vertical and endless rise up the northeast side of Mount Anthony. A local favorite is “Halloween Tree,” on the north and northeast side of the mountain, a mostly new trail named for a gnarly tree that looks like it’s right out of a horror movie.
“Early spring is a great time on the trails,” Newell said. “If you’re from anywhere within an hour or so, or even if visiting the area, you can spend the whole day out having a great time.”
BENNINGTON AREA TRAIL SYSTEM (BATS)
When: Trails open year-round. See Website for conditions/closures/maintenance
Where: Bennington, Vt.
Website for trail descriptions, volunteering opportunities, donations and, trail map download, conditions, and events: www.batsvt.org
Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home and former estate to Robert Todd Lincoln in Manchester, Vt., the only son of President Abraham Lincoln, is a destination jewel of many cuts, according to Paula Maynard, its press and group tour director.
“Somewhere on our 412 acres, whether inside or outdoors, there’s something for everyone in the family, and that means year-round,” Maynard said.
In March, and sometimes in April depending on the weather, that means that is there is snow on the ground. In that event, Hildene’s 12 miles of trails over varied terrain are typically buzz with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
In the absence of the white stuff, visitors who have come to explore everything the estate has to offer make their way to the visitor center, from which a number of directions are available.
“Considered the most important Lincoln site outside of Springfield, Illinois, everything at Hildene encompasses its mission, which is ‘Values into Action,’” Maynard said. “We work hard at being good stewards of the land and exercise environmentally sound, sustainable practices in all we offer the public, throughout the estate.”
While March and April are a bit early to take in Hildene’s world-famous gardens and peonies, most guests begin their stay with a visit to Robert and Mary Lincoln’s home where the focus is on bringing their story to life.
Robert Lincoln built Hildene, his ancestral home, in 1905, after a successful career as attorney and statesman and while he was president of the Pullman Company, the largest manufacturing company in the world at that time.
In the mansion is an historically significant exhibit, “The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural,” which is set within the context of Lincoln’s famous speech and includes one of only three of President Lincoln’s iconic stovepipe hats in existence.
“Sunbeam,” the fully restored Pullman rail car on the premises, is a visitor favorite. It came off the line in 1903, and tells the story of the company, society, and the black Pullman porters of the period. It’s portrayed within the historical context of a timeline from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to the civil rights movement in 1963.
This exhibit is the southernmost site on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, Maynard said.
Finally, kids will love Hildene Farm, specifically the Rowland Agricultural Center, housed in its new, state of the art sustainable barn. There, children delight in visiting with Hildene’s herd of Nubian goats, which are key to the cheese production facility therein, whose processes and production lines are open to public view.
HILDENE, THE LINCOLN FAMILY HOME
When: Open year-round
Where: 1005 Hildene Road, Manchester, Vt.
Full information on venues and estate: 800 578-1788, 802-362-1788
Coming full circle back to Bennington, perhaps one of the most anticipated events drawing passionate residents and visitors from the region will be held on March 18: the first-ever Southern Vermont Wings and Winter Homebrew Festival.
The Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, along with Madison Brewing Co. and CAT-TV, are joining forces to sponsor the inaugural event, organized by the group which led the popular 4 Corners North Homebrew Festival the past few years. The festival will be held at the Masonic Lodge, 504 Main St., in downtown Bennington from noon to 4:00 p.m.
Matt Harrington, the chamber’s executive director, said that the sponsors have invited some of the area’s top home brewers, asking them to bring their very best home brewed beer, cider, mead, braggot and wine for a chance to be crowned, “Best Home Brewery.”
Also, the organizing group has put out a call to numerous area restaurants to submit their best chicken wings for the chance to be crowned “Best Regional Wings.”
A $30 entrance ticket to the event will get each participant a commemorative glass, the chance to sample brews and wings, and the ability to vote for the winners of each through a voting process, according to Harrington.
“We were ecstatic when approached with the concept,” Harrington said. “We know how popular the past two years of the 4 Corners [festival] have been, so it was a pretty easy decision.”
The organizers of the 4 Corners festival, Harrington continued, have great experience with this type of event.
“We hope that locally we can just add fuel to the fire to get people excited, engaged and having fun,” he said. “Home brewing is an up and coming industry that we’re keeping an eye on as a way to attract a younger demographic into this region.”
Harrington added that the long term goal is to transform Southern Vermont into a world-wide destination for carefully crafted home and nano-brews and spirits.
“We think this festival will help celebrate that and encourage future brewers,” Harrington said. “It may be the end of winter, but it’ll be plenty warm at the homebrew fest.”
SOUTHERN VERMONT WINGS AND WINTER HOMEBREW FESTIVAL
When: Saturday, March 18, noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Masonic Temple, 504 Main St. Bennington, Vt.
Full event information: 802-447-3311
Website and tickets: www.bennington.com/calendar