Rainy weather puts damper on Summer activities

Written by Liz Sauchelli and published in the Valley News 07/16/2023

Endurance athletes had already started arriving in the area for the Vermont 100 race when the flooding hit the state.

There were 450 runners from around the world and around 80 equestrians who signed up for the 100-mile trek, which was scheduled to take place this weekend, race director Amy Rusiecki said. More than 500 volunteers were also on track to host aid stations and prepare food for participants, among other tasks.

But as the rain continued to fall and the damage to the Green Mountain State became apparent, race organizers made the decision to cancel the annual event, which typically raises $150,000 to $200,000 for Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sport. The 100-mile route goes through Woodstock, Reading and West Windsor, among other towns.

“The community wasn’t going to be able to support the event even if the course itself was fine or even if we could have put together an alternative course to avoid the washouts,” Rusiecki said in a Thursday phone interview. Organizers also did not want to put more stress on the state’s emergency services.

Instead, volunteers and athletes are planning to spend the weekend volunteering to help communities clean up after the storm, Rusiecki said. The $25,000 worth of food the group purchased will be distributed to hard-hit Vermont communities, such as Reading, Ludlow and Cavendish.

The race will not be rescheduled and instead will take place next summer, Rusiecki said. It had been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before resuming in 2022.

“It’s not as easy as hitting the pause button and trying to wait a month,” she said.

The cancellation of the Vermont 100 speaks to a larger trend — and effect — that this summer’s rainy weather has had on recreational activities in the Upper Valley. Trail projects have been put on hold and adult softball games have been cancelled, not to mention numerous other activities for people of all ages.

“I don’t remember having nearly as many rainouts in any previous year,” Keriann Niles, who has been part of the Lebanon Recreation, Arts and Parks Department’s adult softball league for five years, wrote in an email.

Niles is both a team captain and an umpire in the league. After her team played their first game on June 12, they’ve had four games postponed and have only played one other.

The softball season runs from mid-June through mid-August and has access to two fields in the city.

“The league really wants us to get the games in when they’re scheduled because getting the fields, teams and umpires together for makeup games can be logistically challenging,” Niles wrote.

The teams try to play through the rain if conditions allow it, but it is not always possible.

“If the field gets so wet that players are slipping in the grass, slipping on the bases or throwing their bats, then we might need to delay the game and let the weather system pass through,” Niles wrote. “But more often than not, the systems haven’t really been passing through. They’re just coming and going in waves.”

The wet ground also has affected the region’s mountain biking trails. The roughly 45-mile trail system in West Windsor on Mount Ascutney managed by the Ascutney Trails Association has held up relatively well, said Erik Schutz, president of the board of directors for the nonprofit trails organization. Over the years, crews have worked on drainage systems and put gravel down in spots that draw more water.

“Stream crossings mid-July that are typically trickling, those are at spring levels,” Schutz said in a Friday phone interview. “Places we don’t typically see water, we’re seeing water.”

Volunteers and riders alike have continued to monitor conditions and report problematic spots. While people are still using the trails despite the rain, the weather has made planning events and outings more difficult, he said.

“It’s definitely hard to schedule group rides or schedule a ride with a friend, so typically I think people are getting out when they can. If they know there’s going to be a window, they head out,” Schutz said. “It’s sort of like the snow season. You have to go skiing when it snows.”

Kaitie Eddington, program director for the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, said the organization has advised hikers to check trail and weather conditions even more carefully before heading out. If they encounter a puddle, they should walk through it instead of going off trail to avoid it, which can cause erosion.

“The trails are very muddy, so it’s almost like mud season in some ways,” Eddington said in a Thursday phone interview.

The Norwich-based nonprofit organization runs two trail work programs for youth: the Upper Valley High School Trail Corps and the Summer Trail Stewards, new this year. The trail corps started working to build an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible trail at the Chaffee Wildlife Sanctuary in Lyme earlier this month, as well as a series of bridges on another property.

“They both require a lot of heavy machinery in order to move the materials, and you can’t move really heavy materials with heavy machinery when the ground is wet, or else you’ll destroy everything,” Eddington said.

Crews have been able to build a ramp and put down stone on trails.

“We’re making progress, but it’s really slow going compare to how it normally goes,” she said.

They also had been planning to build trails at Union Village Dam in Thetford; lumber to build a set of stairs down to the beach had already been delivered to the site when the rains hit this week. Now the site is underwater.

“We’re pretty positive that all of the lumber we staged there has been washed down the river somewhere,” Eddington said.

The project is on hold until the water recedes and staff can assess the site.

In Hanover, crews have been working on creating trails and installing a snowmaking system at Oak Hill to improve Nordic skiing at the site. Similar to delays experienced by the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, the prolonged period of rain has meant delays in parts of the project that use heavy machinery, said Peter Milliken, president of the Friends of Oak Hill, which is working to raise money for the improvements.

“People who work in New England expect some rain,” Milliken said in a Thursday phone interview. “This is not new to us, but what we’re seeing now is pretty unprecedented.”

Since the ground is already so saturated, it takes longer to dry out and work pauses for a longer amount of time. The snowmaking system and trails are still on schedule to be completed for the upcoming ski season, but if the rainy weather continues into August, the work could run into some difficulties, he said. Planners built in “several weeks” of buffer time due to concerns that supply chain difficulties could make getting materials more challenging. That time is now being eaten up by rain delays.

“Ironically, we’re having very little trouble getting materials. That was yesterday’s problem,” Milliken said. “It’s the weather that’s going to eat up our cushion.”