BENNINGTON — The coronavirus epidemic has overwhelmed local issues for the time being, but advocates seeking an Appalachian Trail Community designation for Bennington have their application completed and ready for review.
In early March, a local advisory group that formed after an informational meeting in October, submitted the necessary detailed application for the designation to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. But at that point, the pandemic brought the application process to a temporary halt.
"A review with the ATC was originally scheduled for this weekend," Jonah Spivak, one of the group leaders, said in mid-March.
Spivak said he and others were planning to attend that meeting via teleconference, but added, "The ATC has asked to postpone that meeting due to issues they are having around the COVID-19 epidemic. They will instead review the application later, and request testimony from us at a later date to be determined."
Silvia Cassano, a group member and former town resident who has worked with other communities as they sought the designation, said the goal has been to receive the trail community approval by the fall.
She said the process normally is for conservancy staff members to review an application with the ATC Regional Partnership Committee chair, then get back to the community group with questions or suggested revisions — or pass it on to the regional partnership committee members, who would vote at their fall meeting.
"If revisions are needed, they will work with us on these areas and then send it to the voting members," Cassano said in an email.
Benefits of designation
There are about 40 designated trail communities along the 2,200-mile trail route from Georgia to Maine, which passes through 14 states. Among those in our area are Manchester and North Adams and Great Barrington in Berkshire County, Mass.
Among the benefits, the local advisory group said, are wider publicity for the town and recognition nationally in guidebooks, newsletters, other publications; social media sites and websites.
There are more than 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, which passes along the eastern side of town with a main access route off Route 9 near the Woodford line.
The application to become a designated community requires, among other tasks, organizing the information a hiker might need into a common internet resource and linking that to Appalachian Trail communication network.
Cassano has said primary features the conservancy would want to see are a map of all hiker-related services in the town and routes to and from the trail.
Communities also typically add signage promoting the trail or highlighting the town's designation.
Participation by local businesses offering services for hikers is another focus, and the application effort is being undertaken in cooperation with the town and Community Development Director Shannon Barsotti; the Better Bennington Corp., the downtown promotion organization, and its executive director, John Shannahan; the Green Mountain Club Bennington Section; the Appalachian Mountain Club, and other organizations and individuals.
The group's application lists a local celebration that would promote hiking and use of the trail. This includes a hiker appreciation day near the trail access on Route 9 in July or August, involving the Green Mountain Club, which has held similar events in the past.
Information for hikers would be provided, along with refreshments and a chance to meet other hikers.
Other events proposed include a Bennington Appalachian Trail Community Picnic in the downtown; a day for volunteers interested in spring trail cleanup events; a National Trail Day work party and hike in June; and future projects involving local elementary and middle school students that get them out on hiking trails, or a story night event concerning the trail.
The application also asks about efforts to protect the trail through local land-use plans, ordinances or guidelines. In this section, the group included language in the Bennington Town Plan and the Bennington County Regional Plan that stresses the importance of preserving and expanding such recreational opportunities and the positive effects on the local economy.
Services for hikers
The application also includes information on lodging, meals and supplies hikers can find in the downtown area, along with attractions like the Bennington Museum and the Bennington Battle Monument that are within easy walking distance.
In addition, the application lists numerous events throughout the summer and fall, such as Mayfest, the Farmer's Market; the Summer Homebrew Festival, the Garlic and Herb Festival, Bennington Food Truck Festival; Midnight Madness, along with the annual Battle Day and Fourth of July events.Close-by services include restaurants, convenience and grocery stores; laundromats; internet access at the Bennington Free Library; showers at the Recreation Center, and public restrooms and temporary storage for camping gear and the Downtown Welcome Center. There also are ATMs, local bus and other transportation options to and from the trail head, with connections to regional transportation hubs.
The application also lists a number of other hiking trail systems, such as the Bennington Area Trail System on Mount Anthony and the former Southern Vermont College campus or those of the Greenberg Headwaters Park, among others.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien