In 1910, James P. Taylor had a vision of a footpath through the wilderness and over the course of the ensuing decades, scores of volunteers, who became the founding members of the Green Mountain Club, cut what became the Long Trail. Since that time the trail corridor and treadway have been adjusted as land ownership changed, new routes were identified, or mother nature forced the trail to a new alignment. This work was done through re-locations and endless maintenance. However, since its founding, the Green Mountain Club has very rarely taken on the construction of an entirely new trail.
In 1998 the Champion International Paper company announced it planned to sell 132,000 acres of land in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Through a series of negotiations and complex partnerships, the land was acquired and divided into three parcels. One parcel each went to the State of Vermont and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, becoming the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area and Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge respectively. The third parcel remained in private hands as working forest land; however, a public access easement was put on the land allowing for dispersed public recreational use.
In 2001, the Green Mountain Club submitted a Hiking Trail Corridor Management Plan for the former Champion timberlands and became the official Corridor Manager for hiking trails there. The plan envisioned a network of foot trails connecting the existing paths on Bluff Mountain in Island Pond, Gore Mountain in Avery’s Gore, and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Brunswick via a backcountry path that traverses the remote and rugged working forestlands of northern Essex County.
On Saturday, June 22, 2019 – after nearly twenty years of visioning, planning, and construction – the 20-mile Kingdom Heritage Trail System will officially open.
The project represents an exhaustive partnership effort, led by the Green Mountain Club, the NorthWoods Stewardship Center, and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, in collaboration with Weyerhaeuser Timber, Sweet Tree LLC, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Town of Brighton, Vermont Land Trust, LandVest, and many others. The number of people involved in this effort has been broad and diverse. Over 120 local young people participated in the trail construction through their work at NorthWoods Stewardship Center. Dozens of local volunteers established the Northeast Kingdom Section of the Green Mountain Club and worked toward this project’s completion.
The coalescence of this amount of effort takes vision and leadership and that has been provided by two GMC members throughout the project. Jean Haigh, past GMC president, and Luke O’Brien, NEK Section member, past NorthWoods Director, and now Forest, Parks, and Rec employee, were two of the visionaries who helped bring this trail to fruition.
The completed trail highlights the unique natural features of the Northern Forest landscape, promotes quiet recreation and backcountry travel, honors the forest economy and logging culture of the region, and supports local economic development in communities such as Island Pond.
It is a rare event that the GMC opens an entirely new trail. Join members of the club, partner organizations, and local community members this Saturday in Island Pond for a grand opening celebration and guided hikes on the new Kingdom Heritage Trail.