Northrop: Long Trail Reprise

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Following the spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains from
Massachusetts to Canada, the Long Trail was the brain child of James P.
Taylor, associate principal of Vermont Academy, who conceived the idea,
as the story goes, on a misty day atop Stratton Mountain.

The Long Trail took its first step from dream to reality on March 11, 1910,
at a meeting of 23 people in Burlington, when the Green Mountain Club
was formed. Work began on Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield, reaching Jay
Peak in 1927, with the final link to Canada achieved in 1930. Trail
completion was ce1ebrated by the lighting of flares from mountain top to
mountain top.

This foot path in the wilderness, the oldest long
distance hiking trail in the USA, was inspiration for the Appalachian
Trail, from Georgia to Maine, which coincides with the Long Trail from
Williamstown, Mass. to Sherburne Pass, Route 4, just north of Pico Peak.

sounds like a perfect story, but not so fast. Vermont was in the depths
of the Great Depression of the l930’s. There was much poverty and
unemployment. Vermont was money poor, so a plan emerged to take
advantage of the Long Trail, draw federal money to Vermont and put
Vermonters to work on a paved auto parkway stretching from Massachusetts
to Canada, right along the spine of the Green Mountain peaks; a Vermont
copy of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway.

Ironically, one
of the prime movers of this idea was none other than the same James P.
Taylor, father of the Long Trail. It may be difficult for us to
understand how a man who envisioned a "Foot Path in the Wilderness,"
could, a few years later, promote a skyline motor highway with all the
necessary feeder roads that would have been required.

as Taylor put it: "The mountains have not proved to be blessings. They
have inevitably been a hindrance to the state of Vermont. Unclimbed,
they have made a commonwealth of valley dwellers, complacent and
provincial." Taylor believed that if Vermonters would not hike the
mountains, at least they could get there by car.

Taylor’s goals
may have seemed worthy enough at the time, for some 60 years ago not
everyone understood what environmental devastation a skyline drive would
bring. Still, it was a big issue even then and the state was polarized.

issue went to the Vermont State Legislature where it was debated and
defeated by 15 votes. But the governor wanted to be sure so he brought
the issue to the March Town Meetings in 1936. More than 74,000 people
voted and the parkway was defeated by a margin of just over 1,400 votes.

The conflict between the bucolic nature of our state and unchecked development was as keenly felt in the 1930’s as it is today.
Fortunately for all of us, James P. Taylor’s vision of a "Foot Path in
the Wilderness" has survived and the scenic parkways remain in the
valleys and the lowlands.

This is Bob Northrop from Underhill.

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