Trail of the Month: March 2003
Missisquoi Valley Rail-Trail, Vermont
For March, the spotlight is on the Missisquoi Valley Rail-Trail (MVRT), a rural, 26-mile trail nestled in the mountainous northwest corner of Vermont. The MVRT provides trail users - many of whom take to the crushed limestone trail on snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes this time of year - with direct access to the heart of northern Vermont's dairy country. As the MVRT winds its way northeast from St. Albans to Richford, just south of the Québec border, trail users enjoy picturesque views of Franklin County's farms, forests, fields and wetlands. The trail's original railroad right-of-way, the Central Vermont Railway's Richford Branch, never exceeds a grade of three percent, making it the perfect venue to spend a relaxing time enjoying the postcard images the trail offers.
A recent improvement to the MVRT that has greatly enhanced the experience for trail users is the fall 2002 opening of the restored bridge over the Missisquoi River at Sheldon Junction. Located about nine miles northeast of St. Albans, the bridge had been closed since a train derailment occurred in June of 1984. It was this derailment, in addition to an overall decline of rail traffic on the line, which contributed to the Richford Branch's eventual abandonment in the early 1990s. With the bridge now restored and open to the public, trail users no longer have to detour onto Route 105.
In addition to the many scenic vistas found along the trail, the MVRT also provides trail users with numerous opportunities to experience some of the quaint villages and towns of northwestern Vermont. St. Albans, at the trail's western end, offers restaurants, bicycling rentals and a historical museum. Housed in a renovated 1863 brick schoolhouse, the St. Albans Historical Museum features railroad memorabilia, antique maps and photographs of the area. About 11 miles further east, after taking in some gorgeous views of the nearby mountains, trail users come upon the Abbey Restaurant, which offers home cooked meals. The Abbey also provides trailside benches and a bike rack for trail users. A few miles later, the charming village of Enosburg Falls comes into view, often surprising trail users with its vibrant downtown. The final 10 miles of the MVRT take trail users past a snack bar in East Berkshire before leading to the MVRT's eastern end in Richford near the Jay Peak Ski Resort, which offers summertime road and mountain biking opportunities.
Bicyclists looking for a more extensive trip than simply riding the MVRT can hook up with a 1,187-mile network of bicycle routes known as Lake Champlain Bikeways including a 350-mile loop around Lake Champlain that can be accessed in St. Albans. The route takes bicyclists both on and off-road around beautiful Lake Champlain.