Hikers kick up their heels at Rock Point’s newly restored trails in Burlington

Jenna O'Donnell of Burlington views Eagle Bay (and Juniper Island, beyond), from a newly installed resting spot on a Rock Point trail in Burlington on April 27, 2019. Conservation and trail upgrades by three contiguous property owners (the Episcopal Diocese, the City of Burlington and Burlington High School) were celebrated Sept. 29, 2020.

Gussied-up, fortified and perpetually conserved, the maze of trails that runs through 94 acres on Burlington’s Rock Point peninsula heralds more ambitious plans to get folks walking through urban woods.

What’s afoot: A well-maintained pathway from the shores of Lake Champlain to the Intervale, and then upstream along the Winooski River to Salmon Hole.

Rock Point’s trail upgrades, completed this year, set a high bar:

Once-dicey overlooks of Burlington Bay are now secured by stout railings. Steep, previously eroded sections of trail have been beefed up with stone stairs; boggy portions sport boardwalks.

Bicycles are locked at the Greenway entrance to the Rock Point trail network in Burlington on July 6, 2020.
Conservation and trail upgrades by three contiguous property owners (the Episcopal Diocese, the City of Burlington and Burlington High School) were celebrated Sept. 29, 2020.

A walking trail entrance to the property’s northern edge from Burlington’s shoreline bike path (the “Greenway”) now features a kiosk, bicycle parking and sturdier steps.

Safe public access to land owned by the Episcopal Church in Vermont confirms this remote corner of the city as a “sanctuary,” said Cindi Wight, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront.

Plans to expand that sanctuary are already underway.

Directly east of Rock Point, trails wend through the wooded, 30-acre Arms Forest, a city-owned parcel that also bounds Burlington High School.

Familiar to high school cross-country runners, the Arms Forest trails are in need of a long-term maintenance plan, Wight said, one that would promote public use as well as protect vulnerable plant and wildlife habitat.

Walk on the Wildways

Wight and other members of the aptly named Rock Point and Arms Forest Coalition — the group that ceremoniously opened the Diocese trails Tuesday — are also looking for an appealing way for nature-walkers to extend their reach.

A crossing of North Avenue followed by a short jog north brings pedestrians to Ethan Allen Park, Wight said.

From this part of the New North End, an upgraded trail system could hook up with centuries-old pathways that thread along the Winooski River and through the Intervale.

That riverine route loops in Zoe Richards, director of nonprofit Burlington Wildways. Richards spearheaded the collaboration between property owners that led to public access along what she calls “Burlington’s other coast.”

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Common goals drive Richards and Wight — and dozens of other stewards of Burlington’s open land land — to seek a reliable connection between Rock Point and the Wildways.

Stone stairs and a boardwalk fortify the Holy Trinity Trail at Rock Point in Burlington on Aug. 28, 2020.
Conservation and trail upgrades by three contiguous property owners (the Episcopal Diocese, the City of Burlington and Burlington High School) were celebrated Sept. 29, 2020.

Their joint agenda includes better design and maintenance of trails, improved signage, erosion control and keeping invasive plant species at bay.

Who chipped in at Rock Point

Burlington and the Episcopal Diocese are two of the five partners in the Rock Point and Arms Forest Coalition.

The group has worked together for about three years, pooling the efforts of city planners and land-preservation experts at the Lake Champlain Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

Volunteers, notably with the nonprofit Parks Foundation of Burlington, contributed time, money and labor to the project.

The trail’s ceremonial opening honored the late John Ewing, a Burlington businessman who devoted decades to local environmental and community projects.

From a ferry, from the northwest: Rock Point, which extends between Burlington and Appletree bays, is seen Sept. 21, 2017.
Conservation and trail upgrades by three contiguous property owners (the Episcopal Diocese, the City of Burlington and Burlington High School) were celebrated Sept. 29, 2020.

Before you hike in…

Hikers can contribute to the trails’ upkeep through any of the coalitions’ members, and by observing Rock Point’s rules:

  • A day-pass is required. It’s free, and can be downloaded at www.rockpintvt.org.
  • Parking is restricted. Check the above website for updates.
  • Dogs must be kept on a leash.
  • Belongings and trash must be packed out when you leave.
  • Carry-in/carry-out belongings and trash.
  • Dawn-to-dusk hiking only; swimming and bicycling not permitted.
  • Maintain healthy distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

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