The Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers was formed in October 2016 to resurrect the trails at the old Dutch Hill ski area, in the Heartwellville area of Readsboro. The group was formed after a new forest management plan for the area south of Route 9 was issued by the US Forest Service. The plan called for, among other things, increased recreation in the region. That includes bringing back the Dutch Hill trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and backcountry skiing.
The ski hill, founded in the 1940s, was a popular draw of local skiers for four decades until it closed in 1985. Dutch Hill has been dormant for the past three decades, save for some snowmobile and ATV riders who have used an old town trail across the slopes.
Readsboro resident Tom Boudreau spent a lot of time in his youth skiing at Dutch Hill and is now an active member of DHASH. He is spearheading the public relations effort to get the word out about Dutch Hill’s rebirth.
“The driving forces are Jeff Nugent, Bill Beattie, and a few others who grew up skiing Dutch Hill. We’re all from the North Adams area.”
Dutch Hill will not see a return to lift-operated skiing. Instead, trails are being cleared with the goal of non-motorized, four-season use. Hiking in the spring, summer, and fall, and skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing when snow covers the ground.
According to Boudreau, a handful of trails have been cleared to varying degrees and are ready for winter use. “Yankee Doodle, Dutch Meadows, the connector between Yankee Doodle and Dike, and the Meadows Extension have all had clearing,” he said. “We need one more trail the day after hunting season to finish clearing brush.”
Boudreau added that the Forest Service had given DHASH permission to clear the trails to their historic width, from 50 feet to 100 feet or more, depending on the trail.
“We’ve put in over 400 man hours this fall,” said Boudreau.
When asked who was doing most of the work, he said volunteers have come from Albany, NY, and Massachusetts, but mostly there is a core of 15 to 20 volunteers.
“The main group are backcountry skiers,” said Boudreau. “but it’s a mix, too. There is a snowshoer, a few cross-country skiers, and we also had some who are hikers, looking at the summer aspect. Generally speaking, though, it’s an older group of people doing the work. We’ve been joking that we are ‘in the gray area.’”
Emily Lauderdale, of the Forest Service’s Manchester office, said they like to partner with outside groups for recreation projects.
We encouraged the group to form,” said Lauderdale. “We developed a volunteer agreement with DHASH to detail how their work would coincide with wildlife and also developed a maintenance plan that went further into details for the process. That includes things like tailgate workday meetings, tracking hours, and training.
She also was impressed with the amount of work done this year.
“We have some partners that work very quickly, some slower,” said Luderdale. “DHASH has shown a lot of progress in a short amount of time.”
Last week, on Tuesday, November 14, DHASH and the Forest Service held an information meeting at the Readsboro Central School, to update the community about the work being done and to address any concerns people might have. Boudreau said there were issues raised by residents who use Dutch Hill to run snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. The Forest Service doesn’t want to allow motorized access on the hill, expect for use of the old road that traverses the hill.
“The story goes that in the mid- to late-1800s there was a group of Dutch settlers who, because of an influenza epidemic, moved to high ground,” he said. “The road traversed the mountain north to south. Today it’s still a legal road, so the Forest Service can’t keep the snowmobilers off it.
“Snowmobilers have had the run of it since the mountain closed in ‘85. The town owned it to 1999, then sold it to the Forest Service. Since ‘85 nobody has done anything with it, nobody has posted it or anything. We intend to meet with them, and we absolutely understand their position. It is about how can we coexist. That is the question. The National Forest land is non-motorized. That may be the biggest challenge.”
Boudreau also noted that Dutch Hill is owned by the Forest Service, which has the final say. For this year, there will be signs telling motorized users to stay on the road. Eventually, according to Boudreau, more signs will be added at the bottom of Dutch Hill explaining the recreation opportunities and restrictions.
Lauderdale said the Forest Service is working with ATV enthusiasts to develop and open trails for motorized use in the area.
Aside from working with motorized users, DHASH also hopes to connect with other groups and projects working to open up and connect more Forest Service land for recreational use. Among those mentioned were Prospect Mountain, the Hogback Mountain Conservation Association, the Catamount Trail Association, and the Thunderbolt Ski Club of North Adams.
Ultimately, though, the effort is a labor of love for those in DHASH. For Boudreau, it’s a chance to revisit trails he skied in his youth, although this time in a different way.
“I’m planning on snowshoeing,” Boudreau said. “But, the first thing is snow. We’ve got to get some snow.”
For more information contact DHASH at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see the schedule for volunteer work days or to become a member of DHASH go to dhash4vt.org.