BOLTON -- The 300-mile Catamount Trail moved one step closer Friday to becoming fully protected from development or other land-use changes after representatives from Bolton Valley Resort and the trail association signed an easement preserving a section of trail that runs through the resort property.

The easement, which will conserve a 3.5-mile section of the Catamount Trail that runs between Bolton Valley and the Trapp Family Lodge, is one of many gained over the years by the association to ensure that the trail for backcountry skiers, snowshoers and hikers exists in perpetuity.

Although the route of the trail, which runs from the Canadian border near Jay to the Massachusetts border near Readsboro, is complete, about 90 miles of the trail is still unprotected. Jim Fredericks, executive director of the Catamount Trail Association, said ideally the organization would like to have the entire trail protected in the next 10 years.

"We're trying to get as many easements as possible so the trail will be permanently preserved," Fredericks said.

Friday morning during a light snowfall that clogged the trails with heavy, moist snow, Fredericks nailed a blue trail marker into a tree on part of the trail that runs through Bolton Valley's Nordic skiing area. The section of trail that is being preserved, he said, is one of the most widely traveled of the entire network. It's also the highest elevation on the Catamount Trail and full of postcard-perfect views.

"Everything is just so caked with snow up there that it's just a different world," Fredericks said. "It's pristine; it's very magical; and it shows the protected beauty of Vermont."

The idea of the Catamount Trail was conceived in 1984 and grew to become the nation's longest backcountry ski trail. It's divided into 31 sections, many of which run through public lands and are automatically protected. The rest of the trail that runs through private or commercial property is what the association is trying to protect.

The association has conserved nearly 76 miles through easements. Many of those easements were paid for by the association to the property owners, but a number of them were free, as was the Bolton Valley easement. Doug Nedde, co-owner of the ski area, said the trail was an asset to Bolton Valley and needed to be preserved.

"We thought it was important because it's quite an amenity," Nedde said.

This move is just the latest by Bolton Valley to establish itself as a true community ski area. With after-work race leagues to $10 early season lift tickets, Bolton is working on attracting the local crowd to the mountain. Nedde says the easement reflects the resort's desire to "deepen ties with the community."

It makes sense that a resort with 62 miles of Nordic trails would want to support the Catamount Trail. The trail is growing in popularity, and many of the associations' nearly 2,000 members are from out of state.

As more development occurs in Vermont, it is essential to preserve what is becoming a true winter attraction, said Tara Hamilton, trail protection director for the association.

"The whole trail protection component is really critical if we want the trail to be around in the future," Hamilton said.

Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or lober@bfp.burlingtonfreepress .com