Summertime in Vermont: Bike Trails and Arts Tours
Vermonters are often said to have a way of being “unique,” from their one-of-a-kind politics and rock bands to the spelling of the state’s favorite sweet treat — Maple Creemees. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the state’s world-class outdoors and arts scenes are unprecedented in their access and offerings. In Vermont, you don’t have to travel far to see a biking trailhead or arts venue, and most often, they’re within close range of each other. Additionally, the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) have forged their own paths to best serve their communities, including deeply-rooted partnerships with dozens of regional arts and biking organizations.
Why is this unique? Vermont and its towns perennially make national Top Ten lists for mountain biking. A lesser-known fact is that while in Vermont, you’re often in the company of artists. Vermont ranks third in the nation for artists as a percentage of its workforce, second for writers, and eighth for both musicians and photographers. The abundance of towns with stunning vistas, unrushed roads and hidden art gems provide an immersive “arts and outdoors” experience. You can experience Vermont’s natural beauty along hundreds of miles of biking trails, and enjoy galleries, concerts and arts festivals when not clipped in.
How are these organizations unique? The Vermont Arts Council is the state’s primary provider of funding, advocacy, and information for the arts in Vermont and it is the only designated state arts agency in the United States that’s also an independent, nonprofit membership organization. VMBA, also a nonprofit, comprises 27 chapters and serves as the backbone of Vermont’s singletrack and riding culture. The partnership between VMBA and its chapters is the only of its kind in the nation; when you join a chapter, you get VMBA membership and access to statewide member benefits.
To help fuse love for the arts with enthusiasm for the outdoors, VMBA and the Vermont Arts Council have partnered to create a “tandem” tour for Vermonters and visitors to explore this summer. The following hubs provide immersive arts and superb singletrack:
A. ( … for Art …) In Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom, unexpected delights await. Head to Bread & Puppet Theater to see one of the nation’s oldest, self-supporting theatrical companies and its 140-year-old hay barn-turned-museum. Visit Dog Mountain, home of the Stephen Huneck Gallery. Set on 150 acres, the grounds are always open to people and their dogs. Nearby the Kingdom, in Enosburg, tour more than 50 massive and masterful sculptures by David Stromeyer amid meadows and hay fields at Cold Hollow Sculpture Park. Additional arts destinations include Mountain Fiber Folk, Memphremagog Arts Collaborative, Now Playing Newport, Catamount Arts, the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild and the Wooden Horse Arts Guild.
B. (… for Bike …) In the Northeast Kingdom, explore two mountain bike associations and their corresponding trail networks. Riders will want to keep trucking on with Grateful Treads, a mountain bike club and advocacy group maintaining trails in the villages of Montgomery, Jay and Westfield. In Lyndonville and Burke, Kingdom Trails is one of the state’s most revered networks, with extensive trails created through partnership with more than 50 local landowners and businesses. Here, Burke Mountain also offers up lift-served downhill mountain biking.
Mad River Valley
A. The Mad River Valley is home to several arts spaces, including The Bundy Modern. Featuring the clean lines of the International Movement, the Bundy is positioned on a natural plateau with incredible views of the mountainside – the perfect backdrop for its contemporary art exhibits. Nearby, Mad River Antler offers “naturally shed antler artistry” in the form of chandeliers, lamps, wine holders and more rustic home decor. Other options to explore include the Artisan’s Gallery, Mad River Glass Gallery, Walker Contemporary Gallery, Luminosity Studios, and Waitsfield Pottery. Waitsfield is also the headquarters of Vermont Festival of the Arts, which takes place in August, and its year-round gallery space.
B. The Mad River Riders build and maintain trails in a network along the river of its name’s origin. Trails vary from challenging climbs and steep descents in the hills and mountains in Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren to smooth, family-friendly rides along the valley floor. Here, Sugarbush Resort is a superb base for lift-accessed downhill mountain biking and in July, the resort will host the annual Vermont Mountain Bike Festival.
A. Visitors to Montpelier are always welcome to stop in at the Vermont Arts Council on State Street and explore the Spotlight Gallery with ever-changing exhibitions and the Council’s year-round outdoor sculpture garden. A walk around downtown Montpelier will reveal several new arts initiatives, like the murals and art installations along the buildings, bridges, and sidewalks of Langdon Street. Also, the Granite From the He(ART) of Vermont Trail is situated here and in neighboring town Barre, the “Granite Center of the World.” Home to Rock of Ages Quarry, you’ll see several world-class — and some quirky — sculptures planted throughout downtown locations and at the revered Hope Cemetery. On Main Street, Studio Place Arts can provide an arts stroll map to guide you to these sculptures.
B. In Montpelier and Barre, bikers and lithophiles (stone lovers!) can visit Millstone Trails. Situated on land with 50 historic quarry sites, some trails even feature sculptures carved into the landscape by famed public art maker Chris Miller. Both Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association and Rochester-Randolph Area Sports Trails Alliance have devoted followings of local mountain bikers and land stewards, making for impressively maintained trails and festive annual rides, sports festivals and volunteer days.
A. There are several arts opportunities in Bennington and more yet heading eastward into the mountains along Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway. See the defining collection of 19th-century Bennington Pottery and the largest collection of paintings by great American folk artist, Grandma Moses at Bennington Museum. Additional options include Oldcastle Theater, Robert Frost’s memorial and the Bennington Center for the Arts. In Wilmington, population 1800, visitors may be surprised to find Jim McGrath Gallery and Studio, Ann Coleman Gallery, Quaigh Design Centre, and Gallery Wright: Sticks & Stones Studio.
B. Mount Snow Resort has been putting smiles on dirt-covered faces for 30 years and hosts dozens of major events including the recent USA Cycling National Championships. The Wilmington and Dover area is served by Hoot, Toot & Whistle, a mountain bike association that’s as fun as it sounds! Plus, Bennington Area Trail System is a new organization that has already established more than 10 regional mountain biking trails and has ambitious plans to expand this summer season.
A. The arts are in abundance in the college town of Burlington. The Flynn Center for Performing Arts and Burlington City Arts may be the organizational “headliners” of the city arts scene, but a gallery and live music tour will have you pedaling across the city’s many neighborhoods for dozens of venues and exquisite spaces. A consummate crowd-pleaser, Church Street Marketplace has public art pieces as well as Made-in-Vermont galleries and shops along its pedestrian-only street.
B. The Fellowship of the Wheel and nearby Richmond Mountain Trails maintain more than 100 miles of singletrack trails. Ranging from beginner to expert, there is no shortage of options for riders of all abilities within a short distance of Burlington.
A. In Stowe, catch national acts at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center or tour the latest exhibits at Helen Day Arts Center in the heart of Stowe village. Enjoy the West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park, a contemplative place to stretch your legs after a day of riding. Some of the several additional galleries and studios to explore include Ziemke Glassblowing Studio, Seminary Art Center, Stowe Craft Gallery, Green Mountain Fine Art, Robert Paul Galleries and Little River Hot Glass Studio.
B. Trapp Family Lodge has become a destination for mountain bikers near and far as well as for its new trailside Austrian-style bierhall. In this region, Stowe Mountain Bike Club and Waterbury Area Trails Alliance maintain a network of trails from technical to “flow,” and there’s even a new pump track. Head to Little River State Park to ride the region’s latest trails built specifically for mountain bikes. These beginner-friendly trails take bikers on a terrain-induced roller coaster experience with little pedaling and braking necessary, and are thus called “flow” trails.
A. Tour Rutland’s extensive arts scene, featuring Chaffee Art Center and Paramount Theatre, an exquisitely restored 1912 opera house. Also along Route 4, the Crossroad of Vermont Byway, and situated at an historic marble quarry, The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland offers residencies, exhibits, workshops and public arts events. Additional arts options include West Rutland Art Park and Castleton Downtown Art Gallery. Rutland’s several downtown murals are also a delight for unexpecting travelers.
B. The northeast’s largest ski resort and surrounding region is also home to a thriving mountain biking scene. Killington Resort is well-known for its downhill mountain biking, and savvy riders also explore the breadth of terrain available in the surrounding Killington Valley, including singletrack maintained by Killington Mountain Bike Club, Green Mountain Trails and Slate Valley Trails. Lifts also spin at nearby Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow for family-friendly downhill mountain biking options.
A. The Upper Valley Arts Alliance serves as a regional hub for the many artists and organizations in this area of Vermont and New Hampshire. Destinations include the Barrette Center for the Arts, with its performances by professional theater company Northern Stage, and the Center for Cartoon Studies, which offers MFA programs and summer workshops. From its selection of contemporary graphic novels to rare, out-of-print gag cartoons and newspaper strips, the Center’s Schulz Library is a dream come true for the cartoonist bibliophile. Nearby, the towns of Quechee and Woodstock are teeming with galleries and Made-in-Vermont shopping opportunities. Here, you’ll see pop-up art exhibits and music jams happening as fluidly as the very Connecticut River that geographically separates, yet naturally bonds these two states.
B. The Upper Valley is a key hub for mountain bikers along Central Vermont’s Connecticut River and heading west into the Green Mountains. Trail stewards include Woodstock Area Mountain Bike Association, Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association, and Sports Trails of the Ascutney Basin.
If Vermont’s arts and outdoors have piqued your interest, visit VermontArtsCouncil.org and vmba.org. Media are invited to please contact [email protected] if interested in exploring or learning more about Vermont arts and mountain biking destinations.
— top left image: mountain bike racing at Ascutney Trails. Photo by C. Michael Bell.