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Back to the trails – Chipman Hill

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As the earlier than usual Spring seems to have arrived, the warm weather has cleared the snow off of the paths around town and opened up opportunities for the first trail runs of the season.  Mud will be a fact of life for the next few months, but some routes tend to dry out earlier than others.  With this in mind, I chose Chipman Hill for my first trail run of the season.   The primary trail over the summit was clearly open to vehicular traffic at some point in the not-too-distant past, but predates my arrival in Middlebury in 1986.  The fractured remaining pavement of the remaining road does make for good, dry footing, however.  I have enjoyed running and mountain biking on the hill for many years, and I have seen hunters (illegal, I am told) and evidence of picnic-ers, partiers, and yes, trysters on its many trails.  While the hill is crisscrossed by numerous trails, marked and unmarked, I stuck to the main trail over the summit on this warm Spring day.

The run started on village streets, from my locker at the College athletic facilities, through downtown, and crossing the street at the Congregational church.   A few yards north on Rt. 7, followed by a right turn onto Seminary Street, and a left on High St. brings one along the west flank of Chipman Hill, with great views across to the Adirondacks.  Immediately before High St merges back into Rt. 7, the obvious route veers to the right, where the climbing portion of the run begins in earnest.  After a minute or two of running uphill, the old ski jump hill is obvious on your left.  The hill remains from the era when Chipman Hill served as the college’s “earn your turns” (no ski lifts) ski area, most notably during World War II when gasoline rationing made trips to the Snow Bowl impossible.  It has also served the needs of more contemporary daredevil mountain bikers, including a former thesis student of mine who earned himself a trip to the emergency room as a result.

ski jump hill

ski jump hill

Shortly after this point, the trail passes another opening in the trees with great views to the north before switchbacking south back into the trees towards the hill’s twin summits.  A few modest snow patches remained in higher shady sections, and a cleared viewpoint complete with a park bench offered yet more views, this time back towards the Green Mts, to the east.

chipman hill vista

Continued running to the first summit, a short descent to the dimple between the peaks, and over the second, slightly higher summit bearing communications towers finishes the serious climbing.  After a fast descent, you pass a gate blocking the upper sections from motorized vehicles and join Springside Dr., the address of some very fortunate Middlebury landowners, who get to look out their windows at these exceptional views every day.  After the steep descent, taking any of the roads heading towards downtown eventually led back to my locker, making for a good early season run.  The route as described was 4.3 miles (back to the English system, since its not skiing any more!) with about 450 feet of climbing from the low point downtown to the summit.

chipman hill google earthGoogle Earth Projection of GPS track

chipman profile_001

Belden Dam on the TAM

Another gorgeous September Saturday goaded me into a long leisurely run.  Since Sunday will be the day of the TAM team trek, a fundraiser for the Trail Around Middlebury, and family commitments will keep me away from this event, it seemed like a good day to take on a long stretch of this convenient and pretty trail.  I chose to run on my favorite section, heading from town up the east bank of the Otter Creek to the Belden Dam in New Haven, returning through the forest and fields to the west.  After changing into my running gear at the College Fitness Center, I headed out Weybridge Street and took a right onto Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and then another right, over the Middlebury landmark, the Pulp Mill Bridge.

Pulp Mill Covered Bridge

Pulp Mill Covered Bridge

After enjoying the first of several attractive views of the Otter Creek on the day’s run, I immediately turned left as I came off the bridge.  This dead end road passes by the old Middlebury “stump dump” on the left, where for most of my life in Middlebury, you could bury your natural yard waste.  I have been told that in the more distant past, this also served as the general town dump, although this predates my experience.  Nature is slowly reclaiming this site, but it still has a long way to go.  At about the 2 mile point from the Fitness Center, the paved road ended, and I headed through a gate into Wright Park, the beginning of the trailed section of the TAM at this end of town.  For the next mile or so, the trail wound through the meadows, with a few limited views of the creek to the left.

Wright Park Meadows

Wright Park Meadows

About 10-15 years ago, these meadows were more open, but the inevitable reforestation seems to be slowly taking place with the growth of numerous small scrubby trees, and I suspect these river views will be consumed by the young forest in the next decade.  After about a mile on the trail, the trail forked – the left fork headed closer to the river, but had poorer footing, while the right trail stayed higher up.  I chose the right fork this time, but they do reconnect in the next mile.  After a mile of fairly level easy woods running, the trail emerged into a clearing by the Belden Falls hydroelectric station at the 4 mile mark.  A sharp left takes you to the two short suspension bridges which span the creek over the dam, providing great views upstream to the broad dammed up Otter Creek, and downstream to the much wilder Otter Creek which shoots through a flume into the gorge.

Gorge on Otter Creek

Gorge on Otter Creek

Continuing across the bridge, the trail continues through coniferous forest with soft needles underfoot, prior to passing into a farmer’s fields.  On a few past runs in previous years, I have had the pleasure of meeting up with a rather large sheepdog, who, just doing his job, let me know that my intrusion was not fully appreciated.  Reminding myself that he only ate coyotes, not people, I had no problem passing through this field despite his heckling.  As it turns out, he wasn’t out guarding his flock today, but as I approached the stile heading into the fields, there was a small herd of cows hanging out, who were just as startled to see me as I was them.  A few jumped to their feet as I approached, but I had to remind the ladies that it was not milking time as I bypassed them.

cowstiles

At the far end of the field, another stile led to Morgan Horse Farm Road (well north of the actual farm).  At this point, the run can be shortened by taking an immediate left, following the road back to Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and back into town.  This is not a bad choice either, actually, as it does pass by the Morgan Horse Farm, which is quite pastoral when the horses are in the fields.  I was feeling strong enough for a slightly longer run, however, and passed across the road, continuing on the trail.  The next segment is heavily forested before breaking into open fields and passing by a small pond surrounded by rushes.

Rush Encircled Pond

Rush Encircled Pond

The trail briefly turned right on Hamilton Road before a short steep downhill to the left, heading back into open farm meadows.  As the trail reentered forest shortly thereafter, the running got pretty slow due to the fact that it zigzagged up and down a long north-south esker (any geologists out there to agree on disagree on this?) ridge on the left, with some poor footing in several sections.  Finally, the trail segment of this run ended for me when I rejoined Weybridge St, just outside of town.  After a few short climbs and descents, the road entered town, and led me back to the fitness center, making for a 9 mile, mostly flat run (by Vermont standards at least) run on another perfect day.

Postscript:  As I author this post on a lazy rainy Sunday morning at home with my kids, I am thinking of all the people traveling this stretch of the TAM as part of Middlebury Area Land Trust’s big fundraiser for the Fall.  Although I was fortunate to enjoy my run on a much nicer day, I hope the weather didn’t dissuade too many people from participating in this event.

belden dam run