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Members of the Green Mountain Club cross the Winooski River Footbridge on June 12, 2015. The 224-foot suspension bridge connects the north and south ends of Vermont’s Long Trail and allows hikers to skip a section of trail that formerly followed a local road. // Photo by Lindsay J. Westley
Daan Zwick, a longtime member of the Green Mountain Club, paints the first blaze on a new 224-foot suspension bridge that spans the Winooski River on Vermont’s Long Trail. // Photo by Jocelyn Hebert
The first time Daan Zwick crossed the Winooski River to get to his job as a Long Trail hut caretaker, he paid a local farmer $.25 to ferry him across in an old rowboat. He was 14 years old. Today, at 92, Zwick crossed the river again — this time on a 224-foot suspension bridge that finally connects the two halves of Vermont’s Long Trail.
Long Trail’s New Bridge a Long Time Coming
The completion of the steel-cable bridge has been in the works for more than 100 years. The Long Trail—a rooty, rocky long-distance trail that traverses the spine of the Green Mountains for 273 miles—is the oldest long-distance trail in the country, but at no point in its 105-year existence have trail crews been satisfied with this section of trail in the Winooski Valley.
It’s one of the lowest sections on a trail that blasts up cliffs and across the rugged Green Mountains, but until today, you had only two options: trudge into town to cross the road bridge, or pay Mrs. May to ferry you across. (And in the mid-60s, the Mays docked their rowboat for good.) When I got there in 2011, my only choice was to walk 3-plus miles along a busy road that passed under two interstates. Not exactly what the trail’s founding fathers had in mind.
Roads, Interstates, and Railroads to Cross
The Winooski River wasn’t the only obstacle Green Mountain Club trail builders had to overcome. The trail was rerouted in the 1980s at the request of landowners, forcing GMC leaders to rethink the “built on a handshake” trail traversing public and private lands.
“We needed a higher level of protection for the land the trail was built on,” says Mike DeBonis, executive director of the Green Mountain Club. “We needed to buy the land outright.”
It took 20 years to build the matrix of land ownership, permits, easements and conserved acres that the new trail traverses, making it “a bigger project than building the bridge,” notes DeBonis. It was also expensive, sucking up the remainder of the $2.3 million project budget (the bridge itself cost $1.5 million). The Green Mountain Club received $500,000 from the state of Vermont for land acquisition, but raised the remaining funds largely with the help of 1,400 individual donors.
And the bridge’s largest donor, at $250,000? Daan Zwick, who today painted the official white blaze that marks the Long Trail on the side of the bridge, then crossed it, beaming, with the help of two trekking poles.
“It feels great—and it’s much bigger than I’d envisioned,” Zwick says from the other side of the bridge. “Sure beats the time I tried to wade across. All that did was get my backpack soaking wet.”