POULTNEY — One would think the town has everything to offer to anyone looking for a peaceful Vermont life: a quaint downtown, a vibrant mix of residents and the Green Mountain College community, and the scenic hiking and swimming available minutes from Main Street. Nevertheless, Poultney's population is decreasing. The 2000 census showed Poultney as having 3,523 people, and in 2016 that dropped to 3,340. But one group of adventurers is hoping to change that by creating more ways for people to enjoy one of the town's greatest and most affordable assets: the woods. "In 2015, there were zero mountain biking trails in the Poultney and Slate Valley area," said Bill Alexander, treasurer of the Slate Valley Trails Association. "We're changing that." On Sept. 1, 6 miles of new mountain biking and hiking trails, with skill levels ranging from beginner to expert, will be unveiled on Route 140 in East Poultney as a part of a 10-mile project slated to be completed this fall. Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels are invited to try out the new trails during an early soft-opening and presentation beginning at 1 p.m. that Saturday. "This can have a positive impact on the local economy,” said SVT board member Tammy Alexander, Bill's wife. "They'll come in to hike and bike, staying in town, eating, going to local shops — this will bring businesses to the area. It's a positive thing for everybody." In 2015, a group of hikers, mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts came together to form the Slate Valley Trails Association, a registered nonprofit group and chapter of the Vermont Mountain Biking Association with the goal of building and maintaining new hiking and biking trails in the Slate Valley, marketing the area as a recreational hub. The group started breaking trails in the Delaney Woods of Wells in 2016, building 3.5 miles of trails once the town acquired land for the project, and over 7 miles of trails on Endless Brook Road in Poultney. No wheels, no problem. Tim Johnson, president of SVT and owner of Johnson and Sons Bikeworks in Hampton, New York, will provide free bikes for people to use for the opening day, Tammy Alexander said. The trails are being built on a 200-acre parcel of privately owned land that has been anonymously donated for public use of the trails. The area is said to have been the original home to a country fair held in Poultney in the early 1900s, which inspired the new trail network's name: The Fairgrounds. "The trails will have themed names, like Bumper Cars and Cliffhanger," said Tammy Alexander. "It's a nod to Poultney's history." Hardy Avery, an avid mountain biker himself, started Sustainable Trailworks in 2007 when he realized he had the skills and know-how to provide a community need. He is building the Fairgrounds trail system with the help of his seasonal crew. "I'd been a bicycle shop owner and spent 10 years with Stowe Mountain Bike Club as trail volunteer," Avery said. "This is connecting people to the environment, getting them interested in being more pro-environment socially or politically." Avery said the group also hopes the new trail area — some of which is built specifically for children who are just learning how to ride a bike — becomes a place for elementary school gym classes and skill-building clinics for local youth. It's also for expert mountain bikers accustomed to "rake and ride" — more difficult terrain that requires picking your way through sections of trail. "We're going to build a small shelter with bathrooms at the trail head, and have kid-specific bike activities," Avery said. "We really want this to start with locals."
The trails didn't even have to be finished for one family to be swayed. During their time in Poultney, Avery said he and his wife Caitrin and their family grew fond of the town and are now considering relocating from their home in northern Vermont. "There's mountain biking here, and I love to mountain bike," Avery said. "We're thinking about it."