Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series and the first one in 2017. Every month we will feature an article about a trail running city that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature the city of Montpelier, Vermont.
Montpelier, Vermont (not to be confused with Montpellier, France) might be the least populous capital city in the United States, but what it lacks for in size, it makes up for in character. It is a place where Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cabot Cheese, maple syrup and some of the best beer in the world are passionate commodities and where presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, can be spotted strolling through the streets or in Capital Grounds Coffee Shop picking up a house-roasted “Bernie’s Beans”. With a population normally under 8,000, the daytime numbers swell to 21,000 due to the large number of state employee jobs within the city limits. The largest and more well known city, Burlington, is just a 35 mile drive north and gives easy access to the Burlington International Airport. This quaint New England town is connected by of two main streets, with Main Street being one of them and State Street being the other, are lined with historical brick buildings, beautiful spired and stone-built churches, bridges over the Winooski River and highlighted by the awe-inspiring, Greek Revival architecture state house with a huge green space that hosts festivals, markets and protests, in addition to an ice rink in the winter months. Home to The New England Culinary Institute and The Vermont College of Fine Arts, so you can guarantee that the arts and restaurant scene are top notch.
When in town, you can look over the majestic, gold-domed State House and see high up on the hill, the small but heavily networked group of trails known as Hubbard Park. This inclusive park is connected by two Shelter Pavilions, a historical stone tower, and area known as Seven Fireplaces for camp fires and grilling, including picnic areas in the summer and sledding hills, snowshoeing and cross country skiing during the winter. With approximately 250 feet of elevation gain and 3.5 miles of a main loop trails, you can easily add on to the abundant offshoot trails or make it a long run by connecting to the North Branch Park on the north side of town. Another nearby connection to these trail systems is Sparrow Farm, a single track climb or descent of approximately 3 miles. Be sure to share these trail and mind the traffic, as this trail is maintained and heavily trafficked by mountain bikers. Multiple non-profit trail organizations are collaborating to create and connect the Cross Vermont Trail. This project, that will connect trails the width of Vermont, cross through East Montpelier, just a few miles outside of downtown Montpelier. See a map here.
If you are looking for additional trails, you only have to travel a little ways to Irish Hill in adjacent town, Berlin, a tough 6 mile, 1,500-foot up-and-back single-track. Vermont’s “big” mountains–Spruce Mountain, Hunger Mountain and Mount Mansfield, the highest point in the state at 4,393 feet—are all easily accessible from Montpelier by a short car ride. If you want to avoid the car and stay on dirt, you can take North Street out of town and will soon merge into one of the numerous dirt roads that cover over 8,600 miles of the Green Mountain state. You heard that right. That many dirt roads is about the diameter of planet earth!
Parking & Transit:
Montpelier is a very small town, which means you can park your car at the trail head at Hubbard Park, run the trails then stroll into town for a wood oven pizza at Positive Pie or a beer at Three Penny Taproom (see Food and Beer below). To connect to trails within the area, the Capital District, and also state-wide, the Green Mountain Transit can take you there. The Montpelier Circulator is free of charge while local routes and between towns range from $1 to $2. Most of the trailheads listed provide free parking so you can spend more time enjoying than worrying about getting a parking ticket.
With an abundance of community events–weekly Summer Farmer’s Markets, year-round festivals, local races–you will always find something in Montpelier to celebrate. In January, you can indulge in Spice on Snow Winter Music Festival, which is a four-day, city-wide celebration highlighting the sounds and food of Cajun and Oldtime Stringband music, culture and cuisine from Louisiana and Southern Appalachia. In the summer, you can attend the Brown Bag Summer Concert Series, Art Walks and the classic hometown Independence Day Festival, which include a parade, fireworks and a 1 Mile Road Race in front of thousands of parade goers. You can also say hi to national celebrities like Senator Bernie Sanders along the parade route and lifelong Batman fan, Senator Patrick Lahey, who has made five cameo appearances in Batman movies and is remembered for standing up to The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’. In search of a running partner? All you need to do it hook up with the Central Vermont Runners on one of their group runs or join one of the many running, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, cross country skiing events put on by Onion River Sports. The community is tight-knit and welcoming! In fact, in a local race you might be rubbing shoulders with Vermonter Kasie Enman, 2011 World Mountain Running champion and trail race director (see Competition below).
All you need to do is walk through town to see what a vibrant culture Montpelier has to offer. Artwork and art installations cover the city in the form of community benches, street art, and buildings draped in photos of athletes. You will find a cider doughnut stand out in front of Town Hall, “Eat More Kale” memorabilia in the local shops and stop by Bagitos for a traditional Irish music jam session every Saturday 2:00-5:00 pm by local musicians Hilari Farrington-Koehler, Benedict Koehler, and Sarah Blair. The fall brings a burst of natural color with the changing of the foliage and is a perfect time for ‘Leaf Peeping’. High above town, from Hubbard Park, you can take in the patchwork of the vibrant orange, red and yellow changing of the leaves. During the winter, the lawn of the state house is used as an ice rink. Neighboring town, Barre, has a rich granite culture and has supplied this local equivalent of gold to some of the most famous structures, statues and memorials all around the world. Started in 2012, an event called RockFire was created and is a unique combination of art, music and fire on an epic scale, celebrating Central Vermont’s historical granite heritage at Millstone Hill quarry. And then there is the Beer Culture, that has it’s own category (see Beer section below).
You will not find a Starbucks in Montpelier. Instead you will find local coffee shops that support local roasters like Vermont Coffee Company or roast the beans themselves. Capitol Grounds is a cafe and gathering place on State Street that is self-described as a “place for both locals and visitors to pause, relax, and experience the character and appeal of the city.” They roast their own coffee right in East Montpelier and even donate 20% of an environmentally sustainable, arabica grown roast known as Bernie’s Beans to the Vermont Veterans Fund. For the best pastry coffee/pastry pairing, visit La Brioche while watching the students from New England Culinary Institute creating these sweet treats in the European-style bakery and café classroom. If you want to enjoy a cup of joe in a classic diner setting, swing by Coffee Corner Diner. You can’t miss it, it’s on the corner of Main and State Streets! In true Green Mountain fashion, Carrier Roasting Co. states, “In Vermont, if we can’t buy what we like, we make it ourselves.”, This micro-roaster and coffee CSA was created in the spririt of Vermont’s rich agriculture tradition and freshly roasted in a post and beam barn in Central Vermont. Seek out Carrier Coffee at select local markets like Uncommon Market and online through their website. You might just become a coffee connoisseur!
Now if the trails are’t enough to draw you, the beer culture will be, as it is World Class in Montpelier! After you get through connecting the numerous trails in the area, head to Three Penny Taproom, a perennial ‘American’s Best 100 Beer Bar’ according to Draft Magazine known as a “craft beer mecca”, for a can of the highest ranked Double IPA in the world from nearby brewery The Alchemist named Heady Topper. Or choose an Abner Double IPA, served in the appropriate glassware, from Hill Farmstead which was again named the ‘Best Brewery in the World for 2016‘ to go along with their 2013 and 2015 ‘Best Brewery in the World’ titles. In fact, the beer list would make any beer geek’s head spin with some of the top beers and breweries in the state, country and world. You might even get to chatting with a bartender and find out that not only is he the manager, but also a fellow trail runner. Kevin Kerner, brother with owner and Carrier Coffee founder, Scott Kerner, discussed how he has linked the network of dirt roads and trails from Montpelier to surrounding mountains and breweries. Right across the street at The Skinny Pancake, you can find more great beer on tap, like Burlington’s Zero Gravity Craft Brewery Conehead IPA along with sweet or savory crepes. Positive Pie II is another popular beer bar with local and national brews to pair with your wood oven pizza. Other popular locations to find the local liquid gold is The Mad Taco, Bagitos Bagel and Burrito Cafe and If you are searching for a dive bar, you will find it at “World Famous” Charlie-O’s along with live music, comedy, karaoke, a dance floor and maybe even some craft beer…maybe.
If you are a foodie, you will have many options in Montpelier. Postivie Pie II does not only have a full beer list, but serves up many salads, pastas and multiple varieties of piping hot pizza straight out of the wood-fire oven. Who would not want pizza after a long trail run!? As the name implies, The Skinny Pancake is a Creperie with the Yin and Yang of ingredients, ranging from the savory, like the Localvore’s Dream–Vermont Chicken breast, housemade cran-apple chutney, organic baby spinach, and Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue cheese in a whole wheat crepe shell—to the sweet, think Pure an Simple–Cabot butter and granulated sugar with pure local maple syrup. The Mad Taco boasts some of the finest, authentic Mexican fare in all of Vermont, working closely with farmers to source fresh, local ingredients and in-house smoked meats. If you are looking for a higher-end meal in a classy atmosphere, look for the black door. La Puerta Negra “unifies a cacophony of culture. Latin cuisine developed from scratch and supported by some of Vermont’s best local agriculture along with the finest fair trade international ingredients.” Yes, it is worth the long and steep stairway up! And you can find Hill Farmstead’s flagship pale ale, Edward, on tap. The Three Penny Taproom has already been mentioned for the exquisite craft beer, but they also tout one of the best menus in town. Appetizers include a Ploughman’s Board with local cheeses and charcuterie, picked vegetables and eggs to your classic pub burger and not-so-classic falafel burger. If you are a one of those people who would rather purchase and assemble their own food, check out the Hunger Mountain Coop where you can find locally made kombucha on tap, locally baked bread from The Manghi’s Bread and those sought after yellow cans of Sip of Sunshine Double IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids. Hey, that is just liquid bread, isn’t it?. For a modern twist, try Down Home Kitchen specializing in homemade, southern-inspired cooking for breakfast and lunch. Think biscuits and gravy, omelets pancake, friend chicken and the occasional pop-up oyster bar on special occasions. For a full list of food and restaurants in Montpelier check out this web page.
Inside knowledge of the local trails will be found at Onion River Sports (ORS). The official Outdoor Ambassador, Tristan Von Duntz, who lives the store’s motto “Muscles Not Motors” and whose job description states, “Expert in…get your ass outside!” You can join ORS for the free, unique and festive snowshoe event at the beginning of February called the Snowshoe Romp, where snowshoes demos are available to explore a lantern-lit snowshoe trail in Hubbard Park. Warm fire, hot chocolate, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream provided to all-ages. Central Vermont Runners (CVR) is the local running club with legend Donna Smyers at helm. You can join them for their weekly Summer Fun Runs. If you don’t know where to find a trail or are a loner, ask a member. “We have an endless array of trail runs in Central Vermont, especially for those of us who strut out alone” states club member, Dot Helling. Newton Baker is another area runner and CVR member who you can find in one of his usual haunts, Capital Grounds Coffee. Newton participated in Race Across America, and covered over 3,000 miles in 4.5 months, in 2015 along with an international team of athletes with the intended goal of inspiring youth to avoid obesity by getting fit. He has the knowledge, and you know where to find him! If it is beer + running knowledge that you seek, Kevin Kerner from Three Penny Taproom can tell you which trails will connect you to the area’s great breweries.
As you are coming to find out, you can access an abundance of trail systems that are shared with mountain bikers, snowshoers, skiers and fat tire bikers alike. The cooperation of the community members and connectivity has given rise to both local and state-wide trails, such as The Long Trail, which extend the whole 272-mile north-to-south length of the state with 185 miles of side trails and the new Cross Vermont Trail, connecting the far east to the far west of the state. It’s a dream that is realized only when fully implemented. Tristan Von Duntz of Onion River Sports has personally carved out dozens of miles of trails during the snowy months and has a vision for his outdoor community when he eloquently stated, “You have the choice of moving to a [fitness-oriented] scene or create the scene where you are.”
What would all this trail running be worth if there were no competition!? You will locally find the Onion River 8K Trail Race at North Branch Nature Center, the Paul Mailman 10 Mile, Berlin Pond 5 Miler and even the 21st annual Mutt Strutt, for those who run with their canines. For other events nearby, check out World Champion Kasie Enman’s races, Sleepy Hallow Mountain Race on April 30th and the new, upcoming Salomon Snowcross Relays on February 11th, which combines cross country skiing and running in either a solo or team format. You have the potential to win some Vermont maple syrup! If you are not into the organized races, there are always a large number of fat ass events…just ask the locals to find out more!