The state budget working its way through the Vermont Senate includes full funding and annual maintenance for the 93-mile Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.
Last year, before the pandemic upended the state and changed the Legislature’s priorities, Gov. Phil Scott proposed $2.8 million as part of a federal-state match that would leverage $11.3 million more in federal money to complete the trail.
“This is a big deal for a region that feels disconnected,” Scott said last year.
The capital bill that includes the authorization to fully fund the trail is currently in the Senate Transportation Committee.
When finished, the trail will run 93 miles across the northern third of the state, between St. Johnsbury and Swanton. So far, two sections are completed — a 16-mile section between St. Johnsbury and Danville, and a 17-mile section between Morrisville and Jeffersonville.
The rail trail runs along the old St. Johnsbury and Lamoille County Railroad, which was in operation from 1948 until the mid-1990s, when it gradually slowed to a halt. The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers acquired the right of way, and was responsible for converting the railway into a trail.
Last year, the state took over responsibility for building — and funding — the rest of the trail.
Rep. Dan Noyes, at a local legislative forum March 29, said the finished trail will be a boon to businesses in the 18 towns it runs through. That includes five Lamoille County towns — Cambridge, Johnson, Hyde Park, Morristown and Wolcott.
“That's not a direct payment to businesses, but it definitely is not going to hurt having that as a way to bring people to places outside of our tourism destination of Stowe,” Noyes said.
In order to finish and maintain the trail, the proposed capital bill includes authorization to maintain and repair all the bridges along the trail, which has been a major hurdle, particularly in the Wolcott stretch.
It calls for maintenance and repair of fencing and culverts and any “large-scale surface maintenance” needed in dangerous areas or places where the rail bed’s structural integrity is compromised.
The state would also shoulder the annual cost of maintaining the trail, with the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation responsible for the work.