The Town is the newest Appalachian Trail Community 

The view through Split Rock on the Appalachian Trail in Bennington, VT.
The view through Split Rock on the Appalachian Trail

June 7, 2021

In the summer of 1900, a 21-year-old Harvard graduate named Benton MacKaye climbed a tree near the top of Vermont’s Stratton Mountain. He looked north and south at the summits of the Green Mountains and experienced what he called a “planetary feeling” as he envisioned a hiking trail that would run along the spine of the whole Appalachian range. Twenty-one years later, now a forester and a regional planner, he published his proposals for the Appalachian Trail to the world.

MacKaye sought to relocate populations away from the unwholesome life of cities and solve “the problem of living” by a new approach to labor and leisure. He envisioned recreational communities springing up along the trail. Most of MacKaye’s rather utopian schemes didn’t catch on, with the notable exception of his Maine to Georgia hiking trail. The Appalachian Trail was completed in 1937. It passes just five miles east of the center of Bennington.

Two hikers climb the stone steps toward Harmon Hill on the Appalachian Trail near Bennington.
Hikers climbing the trail to Harmon Hill near Bennington.

Vermonters had already given the trail a head start and a model. Another practical dreamer named James P. Taylor had founded the Green Mountain Club (GMC) in 1910 with the idea of establishing a recreational trail from one end of Vermont to the other along the summits of the Green Mountains.

Twenty years later, the 273-mile Long Trail, the first long-distance hiking trail in America, was complete from the Massachusetts/Vermont border all the way to Canada. The Appalachian Trail follows the Long Trail for 100 miles before branching off towards New Hampshire and Maine. The Bennington Section of the GMC maintains the joint trail and two shelters from Harmon Hill a mile and a half south of Route 9 to the summit of Glastenbury ten miles to the north.  

A man climbs steep steps on the Appalachian Trail near Bennington, Vermont.
Another steep climb!

It was in recognition of Bennington’s record of trail stewardship and the amenities and attractions it offers to hikers that led to the Town’s becoming one of the now 49 Appalachian Trail Communities along the 2,200-mile route of the AT.

Hikers can arrange for transportation to and from the trailhead, get a shower at the Bennington Rec Center (for a dollar), a good meal and a locally brewed beer, a loaner bicycle (free!) for in-town trips, and an inexpensive bed for the night, if they wish. They can also depend on a warm welcome by townspeople, many of whom get out on local trails themselves. Full details on hiker support are available at the Green Mountain Club Bennington Section.

The view from Harmon Hill in Bennington, Vermont
The view from Harmon Hill.

Visitors don’t have to arrive via the Long Trail/AT to enjoy hikes and walks in the area. A walking tour of Old Bennington involves gentle slopes and a lot of history in a village with many colonial-era homes. A network of hiking trails threads through the protected flanks of Mt. Anthony overlooking the town. Downtown, a signposted river walk leads you beside the Walloomsac, which powered Bennington’s mills in the 19th century.

Two beautiful trails beckon in North Bennington: the Mile Around Woods behind the Park-McCullough Governor’s Mansion and the Robert Frost Trail that runs along the northern edge of Lake Paran.

Read more: Recreating Responsibly in Bennington this Summer

Phil Holland, of Pownal, writes about subjects of local interest.