What do the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST), Kingdom Trail Association (KTA), Catamount Trail Association (CTA), Green Mountain Club (GMC), and Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) all have in common? We love outdoor recreation, we love our community, and we all rely on access to private land.
Vermont landowners who make our sports possible include farmers, business owners, town park commissions, conservancies, and individual home and property owners. At 25 years young, VMBA now stewards over 1600 miles of trail in Vermont and we depend on private landowners for the overwhelming majority – three quarters – of our recreational access. Kingdom Trails exists from the generosity of 100 private landowners to host 100+ miles of recreational trails. Sixty percent of the Catamount trail crosses private land in order to provide world-class backcountry ski terrain, Eighty percent of VAST’s statewide network of trails is on private land with more than 9,000 landowner agreements in place, and even Vermont’s beloved Long Trail, overseen by GMC, criss-crosses private land extensively.
So what’s the big deal? VMBA, along with each of these recreational organizations, have worked for years to build and maintain strong relationships with private landowners so that our communities can continue to have recreational access. In our advocacy efforts, the cornerstone of our work is to protect undue regulation from private landowners. Our Chapters work constantly with private landowners to ensure the sustainability of our trails through private landowner protection and appreciation.
Each and every time a landowner agrees to allow bikers, hikers, skiers, runners, etc., on their property, they are agreeing not only to open their land to public use, but also to allow and often support the ongoing maintenance and stewardship of any well-loved trail. This gift of access comes with no direct benefit to a landowner and is no small commitment. As a community, our only means of repaying landowners’ generosity is to wholeheartedly and continually show our gratitude for their gift. Respect the land you’re on, contribute to its protection and upkeep, and find ways to show the landowners how much you appreciate them.
The Vermont landowners who make our sport possible are part of our thriving outdoor community. It’s even possible some of your neighbors have made arrangements with your local VMBA Chapter that allow you to ride on or through their land. Next time you see a landowner out on the trail, stop and say hi, offer thanks, and remain grateful for them and all they’ve done for mountain biking in Vermont. If we continue to be good stewards of the land, building goodwill and positive relationships with landowners, our next 25 years should be just as fruitful.
Lastly, any conversation about land ownership should acknowledge the indigenous peoples who have inhabited this region for thousands of years. These tribes, including those of the Abenaki Nation and Wabanaki Confederacy, are the original stewards of these lands, and we as a community must extend our respect and appreciation to these communities as well.