by Francesca Kitch
HARDWICK – The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is a 93-mile stretch of asphalt and gravel trail that extends from St. Johnsbury to Swanton. Two months ago, the section of trail that runs through Hardwick was completed and, as the town looks forward to its official opening this weekend, local businesses already see clear opportunities for economic growth.
Sue Holmes, owner of the Kimball House Bed & Breakfast, is a huge supporter of the rail trail. Her first guests at the bed and breakfast in 2003 were two men walking a path through Vermont, and at any given time she’ll have a few bikers in the upstairs rooms. Holmes said that she has already seen a huge increase in business in the last few months – more than a typical summer season – and understands that with more people staying over as they use the path, they will also be looking for places to eat dinner and service their bikes in town.
A manager at Positive Pie in downtown Hardwick was not convinced that the number of customers had increased beyond the usual spike that comes in the summer months. Milo Tandy of Birdsong Beer & Wine echoed this but added that it will be interesting to see how the snowmobile traffic might affect his business in the winter. With places to stay, travelers with time to kill will “shop around” and might even find some new places they want to come back to.
A few of the business owners across the street from the Village Restaurant reported seeing “lots of bikers around”, many of them filing into the restaurant. A classic American-style diner right at the entrance of town, it’s the perfect quick and easy stop for people traveling along the trail. Owner Lynn Delaricheliere says that she definitely has seen an increase in business from cyclists in the last few months. She often asks her customers where they’re coming from and notes that more and more have been saying they’ve been following the rail trail. “It will only go up from here,” Delaricheliere said.
Tobin Myers Porter, owner of Front Seat Coffee, says “I love that the rail trail is there” but “new things take a long time for people to get in the habit of. I think we’ll probably see the impact of the rail trail not this year, but next year once people know it exists.” He added that with the increase in bike traffic, the town needs the infrastructure to direct trail users towards downtown and provide places for bikes and snowmobiles to be accommodated. Porter remarked that “there’s going to be traffic coming through and it’s just whether or not we can entice them in.”
The town and its businesses look forward to word of the trail spreading and for its visitors to enjoy what Hardwick has to offer. The opening celebration for the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, originally scheduled for this Saturday, has been canceled due to storm damage.