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Budget Shortage Threatens Work on Recreational Trail

A series of natural disasters has drained the bank account of an organization charged with overseeing construction.

Fri May 31, 2013 - Northeast Edition
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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (AP) Work is set to resume this year on the first sections of a recreation trail on an abandoned railroad bed that runs 96 mi. from St. Johnsbury to Swanton, but a shortage of money means it’s unclear how much work will get done.

The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) began work on the trail in 2007, but the statewide snowmobile organization that agreed to develop a four-season recreation trail had to spend $300,000 and take two years to get the permits needed for construction.

Work is expected to begin this season on the two ends of the trail and a middle section in Lamoille County.

“So the first thing that we hope to accomplish this summer is the construction of two bridges, one in St. Johnsbury and one in Danville. And then from there we’re going to start the actual construction work on the Morrisville to Cambridge section, which requires the least amount of actual ground work on the trail,’’ Said VAST Executive Director Alexis Nelson.

The Lamoille Valley Railroad ceased operations in 1994. The right-of-way is controlled by the state, which charged VAST with turning it into a recreation trail.

Project Engineer Alan Robertson said VAST needed to put up some of its own money to qualify for federal money, and the organization’s money is almost gone.

VAST’s money was spent on permitting and making emergency storm and flood related repairs.

“It’s questionable, right now, whether we’ll get much more trail done before the money runs out,’’ Robertson told Vermont Public Radio. “VAST has had a couple of bad years and they sunk a lot of money into this trail last year after Hurricane Irene and, to a certain extent Hurricane Sandy, and the floods from the spring of 2012. And they’re out of money.’’

VAST’s Lamoille Valley Rail Trail Committee is raising money and VAST is appealing to the federal government to either reimburse the money spent on storm damage, or at least consider that money part of the matching funds needed to free up federal grant money.

“Without that ability to recoup the money that we lost on that trail to fix the storm damage, we really don’t have enough funding to go ahead and do the eastern portion of phase one. We have plenty of federal money to do quite a bit more trail, but we don’t have the matching’’ funds, Robertson said.

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