Thoughts On The Out-Of-Doors: Millstone Trails Are Ideal For Exercise, History And Scenic Views

Linda Moore and statue of Hephaestus holding an anvil. (Courtesy photo)

I had heard about the carvings in granite, the columns and sculptures but seeing them for the first time left me wanting to see more. Add to that the spectacular views looking down on Barre City and off to distant mountains and closer villages on a sunny and clear day made the experience even more memorable and one I wanted to share with Linda.

Don Kollisch, Pat Glowa, their dog Belle and I were in Barre Town, exploring a small portion of the Millstone Trails. The day was 73 degrees, unseasonably warm for mid-November and we soon had to doff our jackets and vests to be comfortable.

The Millstone Trails are a network of multi-use trails traversing the historic quarry lands of Millstone Hill. The trails wind around towering piles of waste granite called grout and abandoned quarries now filled with water. Everywhere you look are relics from the old quarrying days. The toppled booms and Blondin derricks, rusting steel cables and iron pipe used to pump water from the quarries, tell the story of the once-thriving industrial site.

We parked at the Town Forest parking lot in Websterville and set off for the Grand Lookout, the many carvings and sculptures along the way. We soon reached two pillars erected to look as if they had been part of an arch.

A short distance further, we saw the sculptures carved by local Barre artists and the interpretive signs with old photos describing historic quarrying techniques and equipment.

At the terminus of the trail is the Grand Lookout that provides views stretching from Lincoln Gap in the south to Jay Peak in the north, with Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield in the middle.

The trail is not long and is wide and not very steep making it an easy hike. It offers much for relatively little effort and can be experienced by most.

As Saturday was the Vermont deer season-opening, I knew Friday would have to be the day to show Linda or wait until spring. The weather was forty degrees colder, far more like November when Linda and I returned three days later. The clouds were low and visibility limited, preventing us from even seeing Camels Hump, let alone the mountains much further away we had seen so clearly Tuesday.

The Millstone Trails are a network of multi-use trails traversing the historic quarry lands of Millstone Hill. The trail to the Grand Lookout is but one of many that crisscross the 1,500 acres of terrain among historic quarries.

A hundred years ago, Millstone Hill had 75 active granite quarries that employed thousands of men in the dangerous and arduous work of getting the granite out of the quarries and transporting it to finishing sheds. As I hike the trails, I am reminded of how difficult life was for the average worker a century ago.

The Millstone trail network is divided into three sections. Each provides different recreational and scenic opportunities. The Barre Town Forest is home to the oldest of the Millstone Trails. Gnome Man’s Land has trails purposely built for adventurous mountain biking. The Canyonlands have the quietest and most contemplative feel. All of these areas are connected and can be accessed with short road crossings.

The trails are made possible because of the generous recreational access offered by the Town of Barre and Rock of Ages quarry corporation and many volunteers who make it all function.

Mountain biking is the draw for many, with trails of all levels of difficulty. However, it is the hiking trails that interest me. Come spring Linda, Pat, Don, and I will be back to explore more of the network and learn more about the quarries’ history and the granite industry so important to central Vermont.

Hiking the trails is free, but mountain bikers must have a day pass or a membership. For information on the trails go to www.MillstoneTrails.com.

Bits and Pieces

Mark Breen reports in the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium’s Skywatch Almanac that on November 16, 1927: “While cleaning up from the tremendous flooding of the 4th, Vermonter’s welcomed a spell of Indian Summer. Burlington reaching 67, and St. Johnsbury recorded 69.”

He also reminds us that on November 17, 2019: “Bitter cold swept into the region on this date last year, sending the mercury to –2°F in St. Johnsbury, the earliest below zero on record.”

On November 19, 1986: “The first of two coastal storms struck southern Vermont and New Hampshire with a foot of snow in Readsboro and Vernon, VT, and thunderstorms near Mt. Monadnock, NH.”

Parting Shots

Four Seasons in Vermont, can be purchased at local stores such as Caplan’s, Green Mountain Books, Copies and More, Littleton Bookstore, Galaxy Bookshop, Bear Pond Books, Norwich Bookstore, Chapman’s and LL Cote.

A signed copy can be ordered by sending $17.95 to cover postage and handling to: Gary W Moore, Box 454, Bradford, VT 05033.

Syndicated columnist Gary W. Moore may be reached by email at gwmoore1946@icloud.com or at Box 454, Bradford, VT 05033.

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