One of the great developments for trail runners over the last year has been the emergence of a running group, organized through the Meetup site, called the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts. This group of runners of which I am an active member gets together with member-organized runs a few times per week in the summer. We even got a little free publicity earlier in the spring with a great article in the Addison Independent. The centerpiece of this group has been the weekly Tuesday evening runs, leaving from Waterfront Park in front of Noonie’s in the Marble Works, at 6 pm. While the group is encouraging runners of all abilities to organize and lead runs, this particular run typically covers 6-7 miles in around an hour, with most runners proceeding at a pace which encourages conversation. One of the other really cool things about these runs has been the tremendous age diversity among the runners – it is not at all uncommon to have a 40 year age difference between the youngest and oldest runner (and no, I am an not the oldest regular participant), with a pretty uniform distribution of the generations in between. How many other organizations in town can boast diversity of this sort? And yes, there are both men and women among the participants.
For this run, we had a great turnout – about 10 runners. I have the sneaky suspicion that the great turnout was influenced in part by the fact that one of the organizers mentioned the possibility of heading out for a beer afterwards. So, for this run we decided to head north through Wright Park to the northernmost loop of the TAM. For the start of this run, we headed out the back of the Marble Works, up Seymour St., past the Pulp Mill Bridge, until we reached Wright Park, and underused gem overlooking the east bank of Otter Creek just north of the village.
Some beginning trail enthusiasts can be overwhelmed by the complexity of trail systems, out of concerns about getting lost. The easy way to overcome this is to follow the “out and back” rule – take note of your surroundings and come back the way you headed out. Then, with time, you will learn the trails, and be able to be a little more adventurous in your trail selection. I am saying this because the trails between Wright Park and Belden Dam, about 2 miles to the north can be pretty complex, but there are two pretty straightforward ways to go – the high trail, which is very broad and suitable for mountain bikes as well as runners, and the low trail, which hugs the shore of Otter Creek. We chose to head north on the high trail, until we reached the hydroelectric plant at Belden Dam.
At this point, we knew that if we returned, it would be about a 6 mile round trip, but a member of the group suggested a short loop on the opposite side of the river, which would supposedly add about a mile, and even though I (and at least one other member of the group!) had just run the Middlebury Maple Run Half Marathon just two days previously, I voted enthusiastically for this little loop, so off the group went. The loop on the west side goes a little bit further to the north than what most people include in the TAM when they are just attempting to circle the village, but it is a lovely section, especially when it dips down to the shores of the Otter Creek in its gorge. BUT, it ended up being a little more than a mile- more like 2 and a quarter miles, making this a marginally longer run than planned.
Returning to the Belden dam, and crossing back to the east side, we chose to return by the lower trail, which is well marked by a trail sign near to the eastern terminus of the suspension bridges. My favorite part of this section is the unexpected bluff, christened “The Cliffs of Insanity” by Josh, one of the regulars. This rather substantial outcropping is pretty much invisible until all of a sudden, you are directly below it, adding to its drama.
From here, our path quickly rejoined the more civilized sections of Wright Park, and we retraced out steps back to the Marble Works. And yeah, a few of us decided to go visit our favorite bartender, Kim, at American Flatbread for a round before calling it a night. Now if I could just get them to have Shed Mountain Ale on tap…..
By the time we had finished, this ended up being a longer than planned, but still manageable 8.25 miler. I don’t want to scare away newcomers, so I promise this one was longer than we usually do, at least early in the summer as people get their legs back! While there aren’t any true “hill climbs” at least by Vermont standards, this run is far from flat, with a lot of interesting, and in places, rather beautiful terrain.