The large boulder that fell onto the road in the tight and twisty parts of Route 108 through Smugglers’ Notch on the last day of May severely damaged at least one comparatively tiny car.
Now, many, many shards of that rock are serving as buffers preventing cars from parking wherever they can fit, amid one of Vermont’s most popular outdoor attractions. State transportation workers brought up a massive jackhammer on June 4 to break up the boulder that had fallen into part of the road.
There are no signs up there that say “don’t park here,” but a bunch of big rocks in the way will do the trick.
“It made sense to start delineating those areas a bit, but it’s not the finished product,” said Seth Jensen, lead planner for the Lamoille County Planning Commission, who has been working with state agencies on reworking Notch parking to protect the environment.
Despite the rugged-looking nature of the area — sheer cliffs, huge boulders, gnarly and hardy trees — the area up there is fragile, with thin soil prone to compaction and runoff, and plants that thrive few other places outside the unique ecosystem of rock slides that give the Notch its identity. But it’s also popular, and although there are designated parking areas, people will typically just park wherever they can get all four tires off the blacktop.
“It’s difficult to quantify the informal parking areas,” Jensen said. “Sometimes you can get three cars in there.”
According to Jensen, there have long been plans to improve the parking in the Notch.
The area, particularly above the Big Spring/Hell Brook parking and hiking areas, has been identified since the 1990s as sensitive, when other minor rock slides opened little pathways that visitors just assumed were hiking trails, Jensen said. He said advanced users, like rock climbers who share information about the Notch, know to stay off the sensitive areas, but the same can’t be said by tourists, or even local visitors.
When things are finished, there will be a net gain of parking spaces, at least formal, marked spots. But it’s unclear how many of the “if it fits, it sits” variety will no longer be available. Witness the placement of reflective poles farther down Route 108 where the Long Trail southbound trailhead used to be — there could be dozens of cars there on a hot summer day, but now there are none, and cars are now required to park closer to the Stowe Mountain Resort entrance and the new trailhead.