Bennington just got better in three ways

A far-reaching vista of the Green Mountains and Bennington, Vermont.
The view from Zaphod’s Run. All photos by Phill Holland unless otherwise noted.

May 30, 2023

Willow Park itself isn’t new, but the two recently opened playgrounds are, replacing old ones made of wood.

The Park occupies more than 100 beautiful green acres (with a Monument view) only a mile from downtown; Performance Drive (by the Nissan dealership) will take you to the parking area.

The upper playground is designed for toddlers to age 5, the lower for ages 6 and above. There are slides, swings, chutes, ladders, and other features, with plenty of room to frolic, as well as shade trees for parents and grandparents keeping an eye on the fun.

Two children playing at the new Willow Park playground.
One of the new playgrounds at Willow Park.

There’s plenty of room in the vicinity to toss a frisbee or chase a ball, too. It’s a happy scene, at which out-of-town families will feel welcome.

Railroads played an essential part in the development of 19th-century Bennington.

A small child riding a pink bike on the Bennington Rail Trail.
Enjoying the new rail trail. Photo by Jonah Spivak.

The tracks may be gone, but the level track beds remain, and Bennington has now joined other towns in the Northeast that have converted those beds into paved trails – rail trails – for cycling and walking.

The new section is less than a mile long, but it’s a key piece in a trail that now runs from downtown Bennington to North Bennington via the Ninja Trail bike path, created several years ago.

A woman holding a small dog on the Bennington Rail Trail.
Photo by Jonah Spivak

The new, tree-lined Rail Trail runs from River Street in town, just north of the old depot, to Northside Drive well apart from traffic. Designed to get you places, it’s also perfect for a casual spin or a stroll.

If level is not what you’re looking for, Zaphod’s Run, with a vertical rise of about 775 feet, may be the solution.

It’s the latest trail in the BATS network (BATS, as in Bennington Area Trails System). The BATS trails crisscross the eastern side of Mt. Anthony, whose 2,346-foot summit rises above the town. They’re open to the public for hiking and mountain biking; park at the former SVC fieldhouse off Mansion Drive in Old Bennington.

woodland path in Bennington.
The path leading to Zaphod’s Run.

The hike: first, take the mown path past the soccer field, and bear right when it divides; cross another field until you come to the woods; go straight ahead and continue to climb; stay on the path (the one with purple markers) at its junction with the “blue trail” on an up-and-down traverse across the face of the slope until you come to a cairn and a green marker; turn right there and you will soon see a handsome wooden sign for “Zaphod’s Run.”

Who is Zaphod? A character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, yes, but also the name of Jim Sullivan’s dog. Sullivan, recently retired as Director of the Bennington County Regional Commission, is the trail-maker behind Zaphod’s Run.

Follow the beaten path left when it leaves the old logging road you’ve been climbing; another sign will direct you at another trail junction, and a third sign will encourage you to forge on as you continue to climb.

In about half an hour (from your starting point in the parking lot), you’ll see a sign with the word you’ve been waiting for: Lookout.

Zaphod's Run Vista of the Green Mountains.
Zaphod’s Run Vista.

A short spur takes you to an exhilarating view east over Bennington and north up the Valley of Vermont. Rest on one of the puncheon benches and give thanks to the crew that cut the trees that opened up the view, and to the volunteers who cut the trail, fashioned the benches, and made the signs for you.

Afternoon, when the landscape is lit up from the west, is a good time to take it all in. The workout is its own reward, but the view is the cherry on top.

The lookout (at 1700 feet) is not from the top of the mountain, whose wooded summit is crowned with a cell phone tower, but if you want an even grander prospect, just wait.

This summer, Jim, Zaphod, and friends are blazing a trail that will lead to another shelf at 2100 feet with views to the south as well.

In the meantime, as you leave the current Lookout, you can either reverse course or complete the Run, which loops around to where it began at that first wooden sign.

Pownal resident Phil Holland writes a monthly post for Vermont Begins Here