BENNINGTON — The town’s initial in-person Trailfest last July as a designated Appalachian Trail Community drew a surprising number of visitors and thru-hikers to the event. Volunteers are planning an even bigger celebration this year.
Members of the Bennington A.T. Community steering committee and interested residents held a meeting Tuesday to discuss planning for the event and hear an overview of the town’s involvement with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy program.
“We were really pleased with the turnout last year,” said town Community Development Director Shannon Barsotti, who is a member of the local steering committee.
It was also encouraging, she said, to see about 20 area residents attend the planning and information session this week to discuss options for the upcoming event.
ACCEPTED IN 2021
Bennington was accepted in June 2021 as the 49th designated community along the 2,193-mile, 14-state hiking trail. The town’s first annual Trailfest was held virtually because of the pandemic.
One of the requirements of a trail community is to hold an annual event that celebrates and promotes hiking and outdoor recreation and the preservation of trail environments.
JULY 29 EVENT
The 2023 Trailfest is scheduled for Saturday, July 29, from noon to 3 p.m. on the Bennington Recreation Center grounds off Gage Street.
The free event will include food, entertainment and exhibits; information related to hiking and the outdoors, as well as offer an opportunity to talk to experienced and knowledgeable enthusiasts.
Last July, the Trailfest drew about 200 people, including about 60 thru-hikers.
Among the hikers taking a break from the trail, about two dozen stayed in a temporary camping site. Volunteers said the camping option will be available again this year, in a field behind the Blue Benn Diner on North Street.
Representatives from kindred organizations and agencies, including the Green Mountain Club, which is a partner in the effort; the trail conservancy, which acts as a steward for the Appalachian Trail; the Green Mountain National Forest; and the U.S. Forest Service also attended the first Trailfest.
Barsotti said one planned change is an expansion of the food options beyond the hamburgers and hot dogs served up last year.
The plan is to add “more greens” and other new items to the menu, which will be provided by volunteers.
Volunteers are being sought by the committee for a range of tasks, such as helping with outreach and promotion of the event; assisting with food preparation; setting up and afterward cleaning up the site; and placing notices online and along the trail in the area.
Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Silvia Cassano, co-chairperson of the local A.T. Community committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year, internet posts on the Green Mountain Club and conservancy websites and other hiking networks, and notices placed at trail access sites in the region provided Trailfest information to inform thru-hikers.
Volunteers also offered shuttle rides to and from trailheads north and south of Bennington.
Ideas discussed Tuesday also included reaching out to students, local businesses and civic groups to help with the Trailfest.
Graphic arts students in Betsy Kane’s classes at Southwest Tech are again developing designs for Trailfest 2023 posters, buttons, vinyl stickers and other promotional materials, she told the group.
One of the key benefits of being a designated A.T. Community is that it lets hikers around the country know a town is open to hikers and will strive to provide services and information, Barsotti said.
For instance, the effort has a number of business sponsors, she said, and the hope is thru-hikers will explore the town during their breaks from the trail.
An online map of Bennington with information on services, restaurants, lodging, recreation areas, local hiking trails and other information can be downloaded through the town website.
GREEN MT. CLUB
Ann and Billy Martin of the Green Mountain Club spoke Tuesday about the group’s role in maintaining and promoting Vermont’s Long Trail, which follows the same path in the Bennington area until the trails diverge about 100 miles from the Massachusetts border. The Appalachian Trail heads east into New Hampshire on the way to Maine, while the Long Trail leads north to an end point at the Canadian border.
They said many GMC events planned by the group are open to the public.
Billy Martin said the club has put an increased emphasis on outreach, including to other recreation-oriented groups like the Bennington Bike Hub and Bennington Area Trail System.
Information on the club, hiking topics and events, along with trail maps and other information is available on the GMC website, which Ann Martin oversees.
The other designated A.T Communities in Vermont are Manchester and Norwich. There are four others in nearby Berkshire County, Mass.