Project Builds More Paths To Get Outside
In celebration of National Trails Day, over 40 runners gathered behind the Green Mountain National Forest ranger station in Rochester for the Sap Boiler trail race on June 2.
Named for the old stone foundation of a sap boiler found near the trail, the event was conceived as a free foot-race to introduce more locals to the recently completed Stage 1 leg of the Rochester Valley Trails, a partnership-driven wilderness trail system involving Rochester/ Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance, Vermont Mountain Bike Association, and the U.S. Forest Service, among many volunteers.
Joel Flewelling, who grew up in Rochester and now lives in Rutland, placed first in the 5K run/walk event with a time of 00:28:22.
Flewelling, who once ran for the cross-country team in Rochester and has been running year-round for 32 years, said the new machine-built multi-use hiking and biking trail was better for runners than some other wilderness trails in the area because it was really smooth.
“It’s nice to run a race where people know who you are and cheer you on,” he said.
Flewelling is a member of the Marble Valley Run Club and said he plans to come back and bring the club along for some of the travel runs that they do within a 45 minute radius of Rutland. “This would make a great travel run,” he said. Joel’s father, Bruce Flewelling is a former Forestry Technician and Winter Sports Administrator who worked for the forest service for 35 years. Bruce was the last to finish the 5k leg of the event, enjoying his time while taking in the trails as he walked.
“I’m glad to see ‘em,” said the elder Flewelling.
Bruce, who has years of experience working in the region’s wilderness and still recreates five days a week in the forest, said the trail design showed a “good use of native materials, rock water bars, and such,” while exhibiting rather organic traits for a machine-built trail system. Manzanita Sanz of Rochester ran the trails for the first time during Saturday’s race, coming in eighth with a time of 00:37:19. Sanz, who has run three times a week for the last four years, said she runs because, “it makes me feel good,” while circuiting local dirt roads in the forested hollows of Rochester. She said she planned to come back to run the new Sap Boiler trail system often.
“It was beautiful, very smooth,” with nice rock work, she said.
“I just feel lucky to be living in the Green Mountain National Forest, and to have easy access to local trails,” she said.
Junior Sap Boiler
The 5K race was preceeded by a shorter 1-mile race leg designed specifially for kids.
This field included 14 young runners, many of them from Rochester Elementary School, whose Finding Our Stride running club came to participate in the event. The school club is a running initiative sponsored by the Children’s Fund of the Upper Valley.
The 1-mile course included a much shorter and less rigorous section of the wilderness trail.
Porter McDonnell came across the finish line at 00:11:11 in the 1-mile leg, nearly five minutes ahead of the second-place runner.
Three Years Running
The idea for the trail system first came to fruition as wellness trails to help U.S. Forest Service employees better balance work-life stress.
According to Holly Knox, district recreation program manager for Rochester and Middlebury ranger forest service districts, employees had first initiated the idea for a wellness trail behind the Rochester Ranger Station.
The idea then quickly morphed into a larger publicly-accessible project that took a year and a half in its initial concept, then around a year of analysis, followed by periods of public comment, and professional peer review.
After the project was approved it took nearly two years for fundraising, partnership cultivation, trail siting and clearing, all ending in a professional machine-built trail finished by Tom Lepesquer of Lepesquer & Daughters Excavation and Trail Works.
“It quickly blossomed into, ‘If we’re going to start something behind our office, of course we want the public to use it,’” Knox said.
“We have a lot of people that come into our office and just say ‘I just want a quick hike with my dog, is there any place I can go?,’” she said.
Knox said that after the further development of the idea, the forest service sought outside partnerships and things grew into the larger Rochester Valley Trail concept that is currently under development, thanks in part to public demand for accessible trails in the forest, and a growing list of partners in the area.
“We’re very fortunate here, and I think it stems from the New England culture.
“We’re used to public meetings, and people being engaged from the ground level up, and movements starting because of a ground-swell of people saying that they want to see something happen,” Knox said while discussing the importance of partnerships in creating the new Rochester wilderness trails.
“It’s a great opportunity here that we have people at the ground level who are helping push things forward,” she said.