On the Trails: Volunteers work to repair Upper Valley trails damaged by storms

Written by Liz Sauchelli

WOODSTOCK — The Ottauquechee River Trail averaged around 500 visitors a week during peak months until last July’s flooding, which left behind debris along the trail, which begins at East End Park off Route 4.

The roughly 3-mile trail in downtown Woodstock, which opened in 2020, is a project supported by the Woodstock Community Trust, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the quality of life of the town’s residents.

Around three-quarters of a mile of the trail is built to Americans with Disabilities Act specifications — flat and wide enough for people in wheelchairs to use — and the parts that are not are relatively flat. The landscape along the floodplain surrounding the Ottauquechee River is part of the trail’s appeal.

“It’s amazing what you see down here,” Wendy Jackson, a member of the Ottaquechee River Trail Committee, said as she walked along the trail last week, citing kestrels and bald eagles, among other birds. “It’s so pretty and it’s right next to the river.”

While the location is part of the trail’s appeal, it’s also a vulnerability.

That’s true too with the trails that surround Thetford’s Union Village Dam, which is in the Ompomanoosuc River’s floodplain, which were similarly damaged by last July’s rains. While the damage to trails built in floodplains tends to be more extreme, no recreational trail is immune from adverse weather events such as floods and windstorms. Those who work and volunteer in recreation say such events are getting worse and more frequent.

“We know the 100-year flood is now a 10-year flood,” said Russell Hirschler, executive director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, a Norwich-based nonprofit organization that works on projects throughout the region. “Moving forward, the greater question here is climate change is happening, weather events are getting more extreme so we’re rethinking the way we do things and making sure the hardware that we use to keep our structures intact can handle a flooding event.”

It could, at times, seem futile to continue to put effort into trails that are bound to be covered in water over the years. But there is value in doing that work, particularly with trail systems that are already well-established like Union Village Dam.