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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After all these years of living in the area, I realized that I had never run up to the top of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, so it seemed like a fun thing to do on a perfect Sunday afternoon. Starting in the Snow Bowl parking lot, I headed up the dirt road just to the left of the ski patrol cabin. I figured, correctly, that this would ascend on the Voter trail, which was after all the easiest way to ski down from the summit, and should make for an easy climb. Note to self: those bunny trails which are so easy in the winter, can be very steep from the runner’s perspective! Readers who ski this trail in the winter can probably form a mental picture of the steeper pitches. While the pitch of the trail never got so severe that it forced me to walk, there were many sustained steep sections which provided plenty of challenges. Nonetheless, I persevered, and made it to the top of the Bailey Falls chairlift.
Bailey Falls Liftline Perspective
The GPS showed me that I had only covered a little over a mile, so I chose to continue along the Long Trail, the state’s beloved long distance hiking path. At this point, I figured that the true summit of Worth Mt., further south along the ridgeline would make a fun goal for the day’s run. The trail was pretty flat at the start, with excellent footing, and a short climb brought me to the first of many false summits in a few minutes. Looking further south, I noticed a significantly higher point, so I aimed for that. The trail started to get – well – more “traily”, and in a few sections I had to slow to a fast walk due to issues with the footing. After a few more minutes, and at about the 2 mile mark, I reached a quiet wooded high point, and figured that this HAD to be the true summit. So I took a short breather and retraced my steps back towards the Snow Bowl trails. Alas, when you look at the Google Earth shot of my run, you will understand the title of this blog. I probably still had another mile or so, and god knows how many more false summits to ascend before I would have actually stood on the summit! Oh well, an excuse for another run, another day.
When I returned to the Bailey Falls lift, instead of retracing my ascent on Voter, I turned left towards the Worth Mountain Chair to descend by a different route. This also provided for a once in a lifetime opportunity – the chance to look down the Worth Mt Chairlift line – with no chairs or even lift towers. Hopefully they will have the new chair up in time for the ski season, but since the leaves haven’t even gotten serious yet about turning, I am not going to sweat it.
Chairless Lift Line and Shadow Self Portrait
After peering over the edge of the lift line towards Lake Pleiad, I backtracked and completed my descent by heading down Procter, the ski trail furthest over on runners’ left. While there was no beaten summer path on this trail, there was a lot of soft grass which had clearly been mowed at some point during the summer, making for a pleasant, leisurely descent. This run clocked in at almost exactly 4 miles, but the nearly 1200 ft of vertical climb made it another good workout with some great views to provide motivation.
There! Did that title grab your attention? I love running in September – the days are cooler, the skies are sunnier, and I am starting to reap the benefits of running through the hot, sticky days of midsummer. It is a great time to take on some longer runs, and with that in mind, I will be describing a 9+ mile run which very few people other than me know about. If you look to the east of Middlebury at the first ridge of the Green Mts. – thats where this one goes! This run, while easy to follow, passes deep into the national forest in sections which don’t see much foot traffic, except in hunting season.
This run starts in East Middlebury. To get to my starting point, head south of Middlebury on Rt. 7, take a left turn onto Rt. 125, and look for the left hand turn on Schoolhouse Hill Road shortly before the well-known Waybury Inn. Immediately after turning north on Schoolhouse Hill Road, turn into the playground parking lot on your right, loosen up, and start the run. The first mile and a half of warm up on this run are on pavement. Start your run up the short steep hill on Schoolhouse Hill Rd., and follow this quiet country road which runs behind Middlebury International Airport for a mile and a half. Run through the 4-way stop sign, and turn onto the obvious dirt track on your right shortly thereafter. You will be following this double track, which is maintained for winter use by VAST (Vermont Area Snow Travellers – aka snowmowbilers) for the next few miles. As you might guess, I don’t have a lot of interest in motorized sports, but I do enjoy skiing and running on the well-maintained trails which make up the VAST network, and have found snowmobilers courteous and friendly. This trail parallels a residential street for a short distance before angling to the north. At this point, the climbing gets pretty brutal – the trail climbs 1200 ft in the next 1.7 miles. Fortunately, the run is never so steep that you can’t at least jog up it, but one one particularly steep section I did note that the GPS showed me running at a 25 min/mile rate for a short section! Following the trail is pretty easy, except for one spot near the top, where the trail forks, and I took the right turn, rather than going straight. If you miss the turn, its not a big deal, as the trail will boomerang back to the right in a few hundred yards, meeting up with the track I am describing. I have frequently seen bear scat along this trail, and once saw “the scatter” himself, but fortunately, he was more scared of the sweaty plodding runner than the runner was of him.
Soon after the fork, the trail breaks out to a far more open semi-abandoned logging road. This logging road was still actively used when I first explored here in the mid-90’s, but there has been no sign of logging activity or traffic for many years. Take a right here and follow this undulating and partially overgrown forest service road for the next mile and a quarter, passing under a perpetually closed green gate shortly before joining into Dragon Road (dirt), which is open to, but little used by vehicular traffic. A left turn at this point will bring you to the Robert Frost Mt Trailhead, but that brings the day’s mileage up a little high for me, so I took the right turn. The next mile or so is gorgeous, passing first through deciduous forest punctuated by boggy clearings as is often seen in the Green Mts. at this altitude.
- Trailside Bog
This trail also passes by a glorious lone hilltop home with amazing views to the main ridge of the Green Mts. further to the east. I am not including a picture to protect the privacy of its inhabitants. The descending dirt road passes through dense forest, with occasional larger homes, smaller homes and hunting camps. Years ago there was one curious site along Dragon Road – a yard full of rusted cars, not an uncommon site in rural Vermont. What made this small dump noteworthy was that all of the vehicles appeared to be the remnants of Subaru “Brats”. This landmark, I am afraid, has been removed, but I kind of miss it. Dragon Road eventually joins the North Branch Road, another dirt road which sees a little more traffic, but still has a very woodsy feel to it. The curious system of guard rails used on one very steep dropoff at the edge of the road seems to indicate that this road is not likely to see significant “improvement” at any time in the near future.
Hay Bale Guardrail
The very steep descent leads eventually to a short paved series of switchbacks indicating that you are coming into East Middlebury. When you get to the last switchback to the right, instead of sprinting to the finish (hah!) at your car , take a short detour on the trail heading into the woods to your left. This short spur trail will take you into the Middlebury Gorge where it is visited by the occasional fisherman or white water kayaker (in high water season)
After taking second to enjoy the scenery, retrace your steps on this path back to the road, and continue on, rejoining Rt. 125 in a few yards at the bridge over the gorge, the site of a popular midsummer swimming hole. In another half mile or so you will return to your vehicle to complete this challenging loop. My quads are always complaining for a few days after this run, which covers 9.5 miles, and includes about 1500 ft of climbing, with the ups and downs.
The perspective in this shot is that of an airplane to the west. Thus the left edge of the the Google Earth projection is north.