By Phyl Newbeck
Published June 20, 2008
What does a California vineyard have to do with a cross-country ski trail that runs across the state of Vermont? If things go well for the Catamount Trail Association, the answer could be $50,000.
Through its “Greater Outdoors Project,” the Redwood Creek vineyard in Modesto, Calif., has launched an online contest that will result in sizable grants to two nonprofit programs. Almost a hundred organizations ranging from conservation groups to trail clubs submitted entries to the Greater Outdoors competition. Five finalists were selected by a panel comprising wine and outdoor enthusiasts.
The Catamount Trail Association is one of the five finalists. The association is a nonprofit, member-driven organization that builds, manages and conserves the Catamount Trail, a 300-mile public access ski trail covering the length of Vermont. Voting to decide which nonprofit should receive the $50,000 grant (the runner-up receives $10,000) is under way now online (www.redwoodcreek.com/greatoutdoors/voting.asp) through July.
Berne Broudy, a free-lance writer and photographer who serves on the CTA board, brought the contest to the attention of executive director Jim Fredericks. Fredericks was impressed with the notion of collaboration between the public and private sectors. He noted that as the economy gets tighter, people might be less willing to contribute to charitable organizations. Therefore, it is crucial that corporations and other entities pick up the slack. Only 210 of the Catamount Trail’s 300 miles are permanently conserved. It is imperative that CTA find ways to ensure the other miles will remain open to the public in perpetuity.
CTA is competing against two national organizations and two regional ones. One of the national organizations, American Forests, was founded in 1875 and has a goal of planting100 million trees by 2020. The other, NatureCorps, is of more recent vintage. Founded in 1987, NatureCorps is described as “the premier national network of volunteers dedicated to the preservation of America’s National Parks.” The two local organizations are Friends of the Cheat, which focuses on the Cheat River Watershed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the Southeast Wisconsin chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Fredericks is undaunted by the challenge of competing against national organizations, noting that the projects proposed by the four groups deal with small areas of land. “Because the 300-mile Catamount Trail traverses the entire state, I’m presenting the challenge to all Vermonters to vote as often as possible to protect the last 90 miles of the trail,” Fredericks said.
Richard Wiese, former president of The Explorers Club and host of PBS’ “Exploration with Richard Wiese,” was one of the judges who winnowed the applications to the final five. Wiese has skied on the Catamount Trail and is familiar with the issues facing local and regional trail organizations. He said he felt comfortable that any money given to the organization “would be money well spent.” Wiese praised Redwood Creek’s commitment to the environment and believes it is important to have nonprofit and for-profit companies band together for creative solutions.
In contrast to the Long Trail, which runs across the spine of the Green Mountains, the Catamount Trail typically crosses lower elevation land near the mountains, the same land that is coveted for vacation homes. Ten years ago, CTA negotiated with roughly 100 landowners for the right to cross their land. That number has almost doubled, with most located in the northern part of the state. Quite a few of these are second homes belonging to out-of-state residents with whom it might be harder to negotiate. Additionally, roughly 20 percent of the Catamount Trail follows the VAST trail. Fredericks would like to move off the VAST trail to terrain that is less accessible and more “back-country.” If CTA wins the contest, the money will go toward negotiating easements to preserve the unprotected portions of the trail.
Fredericks gave an example of the problems the organization faces. Every winter CTA organizes a weeklong tour of the trail. This year’s tour traveled from Morrisville to the Canadian border. The group had almost completed their trek when a landowner came out and barred them from crossing his land. Unbeknownst to CTA, the landowner with whom they had previously reached an agreement had sold his land and the new landowner would not honor that arrangement. One of the skiers knew of private land over which public access was allowed, and the group was able to finish the tour. CTA is negotiating with another landowner to relocate the trail.
Fredericks said Redwood Creek’s Greater Outdoors Project makes good business sense, noting that someone who might not otherwise try their wine might be impressed by their charitable initiative. “People have a good feeling for companies that do that,” he said. Fredericks hopes Vermonters will log on to the Web site and cast their votes for the Catamount Trail Association. “In general,” he said, “Vermonters care very much about their environment, and I think this is an opportunity to make a difference with very little effort.”