Words by Evan & Nate / Pics by Josh Harris a.k.a. @vtshreddr
QUICK SIDEBAR: if you are interested in checking out the Slate Valley Trails, we have a perfect opportunity. MTBVT will be co-hosting the first annual Meeting of the Grinds MTB/Gravel Festival on September 28th, 2021. Join us for MTB and gravel group rides and a big ol’ bike party after. Details and tickets can be found HERE. On with the show…
Some parts of Vermont just don’t get the love they deserve. Basically anyone who lives north of Route 4 will tell you that “it’s just better up here” in the northern reaches of the state; the riding is better, the mountains are bigger, the beer is danker (or whatever kids say these days). Lower Vermont, from up here on our high horse, might as well be Connecticut for all we care (no offense Connecticut). But the folks at Slate Valley Trails in Poultney, Vermont are on a mission to change that.
Well, that’s not exactly true; they’re on a mission to build a kickass trail network and revolutionize the community through shared trail access. And to say they’re off to a hell of a start would be grossly understating it.
Before we get into the trails though, how about a little back story?
Slate Valley Trails, or “SVT” was officially incorporated as a non-profit in 2015. That same year, trail construction began in earnest and by summer of 2016, the network was already beginning to take shape. Fast forward five years and SVT is now managing almost 40 miles of multi-use trails, most of which are purpose built single track. The network includes sections of public land as well as a large tract of private land known as Endless Brook. SVT also encompasses portions of rail trail, and a skills park at Poultney Elementary School. Hell yeah.
Thanks in part to a unique arrangement between Endless Brook, LLC (the landowner of the aforementioned private Endless Brook parcel) and Slate Valley Trails, this network is growing at a Bentonville-eque pace with fifteen-plus miles of new trail construction on the docket for 2021. But don’t conflate the amazing way in which this community has taken advantage of a really cool public / private partnership with SVT being gifted a bunch of “free” trails. Not even close.
Endless Brook, LLC’s provision of funding for a good chunk of the trail construction was a catalyst; Poultney, prior to the construction of trails, was not a community known for mountain biking in the way that say a Stowe, or a Killington is. As a result, the grassroots effort to build support for the trails and help the non-riding community understand the value of the trails, not only as a shared resource but also as an economic driver, has been an ongoing labor of love, and it’s paying off.
According to SVT’s Program Manager Silvia Cassano, “By the end of 2021, SVT will be managing and maintaining nearly 60 miles of trail, which is a huge responsibility. SVT is a super young organization, and is in the unique position to have developed a significant amount of trail over a very short period of time with the generous support of Endless Brook LLC.”
Historically the town of Poultney was largely dependent on the now defunct Green Mountain College to stimulate and stabilize the economy, so the timing of SVT’s prolific growth couldn’t have been better. Through good ol’ fashioned advocacy and fundraising efforts, the Slate Valley Trails are yet another example of the power of trails to build and bind a community.
An all-volunteer trail crew are responsible for management and maintenance of all trails once they’re built. No small feat given that we’re talking about almost 60 miles by the end of 2021. (60 freakin’ miles!). The sweat equity, the fund raising, and the toil are on par with that of any other chapter around Vermont or New England, albeit on a slightly expedited time horizon.
The trails themselves bear the fingerprints of one of the nation’s finest trail builders and a man who’s been featured many times on the digital pages of this fine publication. But he’s a man who shies away from the spotlight, so we’ll just say that Sustainable Trailworks have painted their masterpiece upon this canvas. This crew works where they live, and plays where they work, and as a result, they have an understanding of the terrain and topography that’s much more intimate than a hired out-of-town outfit. And that understanding has come through in the shape, feel, and flow of this network.
Looking at the timeline and how quickly this network has evolved, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that SVT is more of a hastily constructed maze of homogenous machine-built trails than that divine mix of hand- and machine-built we all crave. Thanks to the collective efforts of local landowners, volunteers, the on-site trail crew, and SVT’s crack management team, it’s the latter. And simply put: shit’s good.
The trails, the landscape, and the very topography on which it all sits, are so unique as to be almost un-Vermont. But not in a bad way, more like in a “this is wicked refreshing” way. Caitrin Maloney, former director of the Stowe Land Trust and now a non-profit consultant helping to build out SVT’s organizational infrastructure says, “Poultney is in a really interesting zone ecologically – and being relatively warm and on the edge of the Taconics we get some cool variations of Dry Oak woodlands / forests.” This, according to Maloney, contributes to the incredibly unique aesthetic you’ll find in the higher elevation forests throughout SVT.
The expansive Endless Brook property is dominated by chestnut oak, hophornbeam and shagbark hickory, with a mosaic of sedge punctuating the understory. What’s this all mean to you, the rider? No, not that your social feed will blow up with misty pics of SVT; it means when you ride SVT you should take some time to soak in the scenery, get caught up in the subtle aesthetic differences that make Vermont such an amazing place to ride bikes. Then after that you can get rad.
The Insider’s Guide to Slate Valley Trails
In an effort to help you maximize ride time and minimize the time spent trying to decipher TrailForks at every intersection, we’ve assembled the following insider’s guide to riding Slate Valley Trails. From full-pull, all day epics, to casual saunters with the family, MTBVT has your back.
We consulted with SVT local and long-time MTBVT contributor Nate Freund to get the inside scoop. “As my luck would have it, says Freund, “the Endless Brook trailhead at SVT is barely ten minutes from my home. Over the past few years I’ve logged hundreds of miles here and love sharing it with people.”
So we’ll pass the mic to Nate and let him take it from here…
SVT is composed of three different trail pods: Endless Brook, Fairgrounds, and Delaney Woods. As of the writing of this article (November, 2020), Endless Brook and Fairgrounds are now interconnected via singletrack; in the past, navigating the different pods required a few road miles, but these days it’s all dirt. One of the things I love about SVT is that each zone has a distinctly different feel, making an already vast trail network feel even more grand.
These two areas — Endless Brook and Fairgrounds — offer just about everything a mountain biker could want. If you’re looking for a heavier ride with some serious vertical, look no further. If you need a quick lunch loop, you’re covered. Even mellow laps with the family are an easy box to tick here. The trailbuilders have done an exceptional job of incorporating features that are accessible to an intermediate rider, but also fun for a more skilled rider.
Case in point: one of the new downhill trails/ jump lines at Endless Brook, aptly titled Hunker Down, incorporates some of the natural terrain (rock slabs, drops and roll overs) with some machine built, rollable doubles. Where other flow trails get a bad rap for being too easy and manicured, this one seems to strike a balance between technical and bike-parkey without being too predictable.
Riding the Endless Brook Pod
There are three separate parking lots for Endless Brook trailhead access: the main Endless Brook lot on Endless Brook Road, the Lake St Catherine State Park lot, and another lot at Lake St Catherine Country Club just down the road. The lot on Endless Brook road fills fast, but all of the parking lots give great access to the entire network. Should you decide to hit the country club for a post-ride beer, treat this as an exercise in cross-cultural relationship building: the golfers are unexpectedly interested in chatting about the trail network that extends out behind the golf course and generally welcome the mtb traffic.
Suggested Routes From Endless Brook Road
Start out on Franz’s Falls to Rusty Bucket Loop. Options abound here, but the most bang for your buck will take you up Hardy Hill followed by a mind-bending descent on Hunker Down. Hunker Down is the crown jewel of the directional trails at SVT and features a perfect combination of technical features, jumps, and berms, all woven into the natural landform.
Hunker Down is built for progression with rollers and drops that are all manageable and very smooth but still have a bit of edge to them. The top of the trail starts you off with two quick doubles followed by a couple large sweeping berms and a chunky little section of rock. After you cross the Shale Shifter Road, there’s a small rock slab roller followed by a short drop. This feature deserves a quick inspection before you hit it for the first time. It’s all rollable but immediately following the slab, the trail narrows a bit before spitting you onto a somewhat exposed piece of off camber bench cut trail. Good times.
Once you’ve cleaned the upper tech section it’s go time. Lower Hunker Down is mostly machine built and to quote C.S., one of the SVT’s intrepid board members, “it has more hits than a cheech and chong movie.” Speeds open up and there’s a bit more room for creative lines, side hits, and throwin’ ‘er sideways. Rock rolls, jumps, drops and doubles are the order of the day on lower Hunker Down and if this trail doesn’t make you smile, perhaps you should look into rollerblading.
If Franz’s to H.D. was just a warm up for you, your next move is to head up Lower Ledges to Upper Ledges (accessed from the bottom of Hunker Down). Heads up: the Ledges trails commingle with Shale Shifter Road, so keep an eye out for the bobs and weaves. These trails are relatively new and generally used to ascend, but they actually ride really well in both directions, so beware of two-way traffic. Offering a beautiful indirect route back up to the top of Endless Brook, you might be surprised at how long this climb is.
For a detour on your way back up to the top of Endless Brook, or to access some other parts of the SVT network, jump onto the Porcupine Trail, found at the top of the Ledges trail. Porcupine was constructed in 2020 and aside from being a super fun multi-directional trail, it allows riders to access the connector to the Fairgrounds pod, mitigating the need to shuttle or move cars.
Riding Porcupine from tip to tail will reward riders with a winding tour that’s as fun as it is scenic. If you’re looking for a rowdier descent option, take Porcupine to Maple Run. Even if you’re out hunting K.O.M.’s, make sure you build in enough time at the top of Porcupine to soak in the views of Lake St. Catherine before reaping the rewards of your hard earned climb. Knock down a few calories, breath deep, and brace yourself for a raucous descent. Your destination from here is Birdie, another downhill specific trail on par with Hunker down, accessed from the Porcupine Trail viewpoint via the Maple Run double track.
Birdie lures you in with some sneaky rolling single track that belies its true intentions, which you’ll discover below. The beginning of the trail tiptoes over rock outcroppings and narrow fins, in a slow speed dance which again, takes supreme advantage of the natural terrain features at hand. Birdie then turns into a fast, flowy bench cut scorcher, leading you through doubles and drops, and ultimately culminating in a “pick your poison” drop garden. Drop options abound with two- and three-footers a-plenty leading into a legit seven- or eight-footer. If you’re inclined to keep the rubber close to terra firma, each drop offers a b-line, allowing you to post up below and photo your crew sans gravity defiance.
After slaying the deceptively named Birdie you’ve got multiple options at your disposal. Still got gas in the tank? Climb back up Porcupine to the top of Endless Brook and descend Rocky Ridge, Hunker Down (yep, it’s good enough to do twice), Hardy Hill or Ledges. After that, jump on Rusty Bucket in either direction to Franz Falls and you’ll be back at the main Endless Brook parking area. This ride, all in, will be about 2,500 vertical feet of climbing and ten-plus miles, spanning two to two and a half hours depending on your pace.
No matter how you choose to navigate the Endless Brook side of the trail network, you’ll find that there’s a common theme: these trails are clearly built for mountain bikers by mountain bikers. Trails are laid out with intention with very few intersections, giving you the ability to link up both long and short rides. The crew here did it right.
Endless Brook Preferred loops:
Endless Brook Cliff Notes: for a quick-hit fast DH lap, climb Franz’s Falls to Rusty Bucket to Hardy Hill, then head to Hunker Down and let gravity take over.
From the Endless Brook Road Parking lot:
Going HAM :
Franz Falls to Rusty Bucket (either direction)
Hardy Hill to Hunker Down to Ledges to Porcupine to Maple Run to Birdie to Porcupine (up) to top of Rocky Ridge to top of Endless Brook to Rocky Ridge to Rusty Bucket (either way) to Franz Falls and out.
Stats: ~ 2500 vertical feet climbing, 10ish miles, 2 – 2.5 hours ride time
Franz Falls to Rusty Bucket (either direction) to Hardy Hill to Ledges down to Rusty Bucket (either direction) to Franz Falls and out.
Stats: ~ 1000 vertical feet climbing, 6 – 7 miles, 1 – 1.5 hours ride time
Franz Falls to Rusty Bucket to Rocky Ridge up to High Roller over to midway up Hardy Hill and down Hardy Hill to Rusty Bucket (either way) to Franz Falls and out.
Stats: ~ 500 vertical feet of climbing, 45 min to an hour ride time, 4 – 5 miles
Next up: Fairgrounds
The Fairgrounds section of Slate Valley Trails is the yin to Endless Brook’s yang. Composed of two different pods — the East Side and the West Side — Fairgrounds is the perfect place for a warm up, a rip with the kiddos, or to knock out some hardtail mileage. The slightly mellower vibe over at Fairgrounds is the perfect complement to Endless Brook’s more challenging terrain (although rumor has it there may be some rowdy DH trails on the docket at Fairgrounds in the near future).
To access the Fairgrounds trails, park at the lot on Town Farm Rd just off of Route 140. This lot has plenty of parking, and thanks to its central location between the East and West sides it’s the perfect jumping-off point for a ride at SVT.
The Sustainable Trailworks crew just installed a nice little piece of singletrack leading riders from the parking lot directly to the trailhead. Previously, the dirt road was the only way to access the trailhead. This is just one of the perks of having a conscious and engaged local trail crew putting all the right touches on the network.
Even though these trails are slightly less technical than their Endless Brook counterparts, don’t mistake that for less fun. The East side boasts a variety of beginner and intermediate terrain but also steps up with a few steep and fast technical trails.
Looking for a place to bring your kiddos? Look no further than the Bumper Cars loop. With an assortment of teeter-totters, doubles, mini drops and skinnies it’s a great flow trail for riders looking to progress or cut their teeth on some skill building features. The next step up for the intermediate rider is Merry-go-Round. The rollers on Merry-go-Round have a pseudo pump track vibe, laid beautifully into a maple sugarbush. Pro-tip: bring the hardtail (lower trails are even fun with a gravel bike!) to up the fun factor over here on Fairgrounds.
If you’re looking for a bit more challenge, head across the large open field at the bottom of the Bumper Cars trail, climb up Cliff Hanger — a short but stout ascent — to Freefall which is a steep, loose descent that joins back up with the second half of Cliff Hanger where you’ll enjoy some fast sweeping berms and killer views. There’s a great lookout on the top and some fun fast exposed lines going down in both directions.
Fairgrounds Preferred Loops
Start with a warm up on the Bumper Cars loop. From Bumper Cars take Merry Go Round, bearing right to loop around to Midway. Take a right turn on Midway and head up Cliffhanger to the Loop-the-Loop trail and head down Freefall, joining up with Cliffhanger. Jump back onto Merry Go Round and head back through the field and down to Maple Sugar. Follow Maple Sugar to Ringmaster and cross Route 140 where you’ll join up with Cotton Candy and then connect to Clown Shoes. Take Clown Shoes up Big Top, and then to Carnie. Follow Carnie over to Ringmaster and then back to Clown Shoes, connecting to Cotton Candy and back across Route 140 to the parking lot.
For extra credit: do a quick out and back by dropping down Scrambler and then climbing back up. Or…climb it back to Carnie on the way out for bonus points.
Stats: This is a big ride. ~ 2000 – 2500 ft climbing, 12 – 15miles, 2.5 – 3.5 hours duration depending on pace
Start on Maple Sugar and then head over to Bumper Cars. Cross Route 140 where you’ll pick up Ringmaster, connect to Cotton Candy and then dip into Clown Shoes. Take Ringmaster out to Big top, connecting to Scrambler, retracing your steps back to the parking lot.
Stats: ~ 1000 ft climb, 6 – 9miles, 1 – 1.5hrs
Once again, start out on Maple Sugar to Bumper Cars. Head back to Maple Sugar and across Route 140 through the red gate (be sure to look both ways). Then ride Ringmaster to Cotton Candy (taking the Tightrope loop for extra credit) back over to Clown Shoes. Finish up with Ringmaster and then backtrack your way home. This is a great ride for the kiddos, beginners, or families with riders of differing abilities.
Stats: ~ 500 feet vertical, 6 – 7 miles
There’s no better way to end a ride on a hot summer day than with a quick dip in the swimming hole on Route 140 across from Morse Hollow Road. There are a few nice jumping rocks and waterfalls to check out.
Post ride eats:
After your ride, you gotta top off the tank. For a truly quintessential Vermont country store experience, replete with amazing grub and small town vibe, you’ve got not one, but two different options: Otto’s Cones Point General Store and the East Poultney General Store. Otto’s is closer to Endless Brook (ottosconespoint.com) and East Poultney General Store is on the way back from Fairgrounds. East Poultney is also currently under new ownership and boasts a great deli and excellent beer selection.
On the weekends, try Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs (sissyskitchen.com) Don’t miss the rum balls! If you’re looking for a sit-down meal in Poultney, check out the Taco Experiment and Taps Tavern. Both offer a great bar and casual sit down environment.
Believe it or not, this little diatribe just barely scratches the surface of this area. SVT is rife with potential for all day epics as well as the perfect first-timer rides. Add in some swimming holes and a few choice apres spots, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect day of mountain biking. In short, put Slate Valley Trails at the top of your list for 2021. Want to learn more? Check ‘em out and give ‘em some love: https://slatevalleytrails.org/