To Kingdom Come: A new backcountry organization forms in Vermont

In recent years, Vermont has been a breeding ground for backcountry community efforts and growth in the form of nonprofit aid with governance and access to skiable landscapes. The formation of the Vermont Backcountry Alliance has empowered backcountry communities and coalitions to unite across the state, and one of the most recent communities to jump on the backcountry bandwagon is based in the fabled northernmost part of the state, the Northeast Kingdom.

To learn more about the latest addition to the touring scene, we caught up with Michael Moriarty, council member for the Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition (NEKBC). Here is what he had to say.

Mike Moriarty breathes in the cold smoke in Vermont Hardwoods. [Photo] Courtesy NEKBC

Mike Moriarty breathes in the cold smoke in Vermont hardwoods. [Photo] Courtesy NEKBC

Backcountry Magazine: How long has NEKBC been a chapter of the Vermont Backcountry Alliance?

Michael Moriarty: Becoming an official chapter happened a few months ago—more or less while we were becoming a pilot chapter through the Catamount Trail Association (CTA) and the Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC). We started the process for a proposal in the Willoughby State Forest area, particularly on Mt. Hor, so we just got word that we can go ahead with the project. We are organizing a work group and we will be starting to cut the ski lines that we have flagged out either this weekend or next weekend.

BCM: Why did NEKBC decide to organize? 

MM: The Northeast Kingdom has a lot of terrain that people ski, and considering some of the stuff that has happened around illegal cutting, we saw that as something that was taking away from the potential of being able to ski in our area legally, so we wanted to help keep things above board.

When RASTA got off the ground and the CTA started to really consider the creation of the VTBC and ways that they could be involved, that was when our group started to think about how we could participate in this new community—especially considering all of the areas that we have out here to ski.

BCM: What role do you have with the organization?

I am on the NEKBC council. Technically my role is—along with being one of the council members—the secretary, and I am also in charge of communications. Right now we don’t have a chairperson. The person who was in that role moved out of state. Our vice chair is Knight Ide, who is big into the mountain bike scene and big into the backcountry ski scene, as well. He was one of the original guys who was interested in starting this organization. We also have Vivian Buckley who works at Burke Mountain Academy. She is our treasurer and on the council, and then we have a couple other local folks on the council. Ben Mirkin is on the council, and he is a professor of Mountain Recreational Management at Lyndon State College, which has been a great connection to have.

Eric McHugh makes a deep slash near Lake Willoughby, Vermont. [Photo] Courtesy NEKBC

Eric McHugh makes a deep slash near Lake Willoughby, Vermont. [Photo] Courtesy NEKBC

BCM: How has the community responded to the founding of this organization?

MM: It took us a while to get off the ground and running, given trying to figure out the chapter status with the CTA. It took well over a year, but while it was happening, the CTA helped us set up affiliation membership and so we saw a pretty good spike in member numbers initially, but we were in limbo for a while. Since then, we have been pushing harder and faster and getting the Willoughby State Forest project off the ground. We probably have over 50 people who are following us through Twitter and through our backcountry site on Facebook. At last count, we have 40-ish members who were affiliated with us when they signed up for CTA membership. That is pretty good considering the short amount of time that we have been advertising who we are and what we are about.

BCM: Is the work for the Willoughby project the first organized trail work you have led as an organization?

MM: We have two other projects that we have been working on that are on private land. One we are calling the Thompson Zone in Kirby, on the Kirby Mountain Road. There is a family who owns a fair amount of the ridge; there is a big piece of land out there, and they have always been interested in putting in some glades and some ski lines. So we did that last November, but we didn’t get any snow so we never actually skied it, so that is more or less ready to go. Just recently, another private landowner approached us to do a project out in East Haven, Vermont, which is northeast of East Burke. That happened last weekend.

BCM: How many people on average show up to trail work days?

MM: That is obviously based on availability, but I want to say on average about a dozen people. The great thing about having Ben running the outdoor program at Lyndon State is that he can weave trail work into his curriculum. He develops his courses, which are all experiential, and students come out to help us with the work.

BCM: What kind of clearing do you have to do?

MM: We do use some power tools for blowdowns and brush cutters or hand tools, but as far as cutting of live stuff we are super conservative and we follow the CTA and forester guidelines developed down in Rochester by RASTA.

BCM: What is exciting about the new Willoughby project?

MM: The great thing about Willoughby that really got us excited is that the infrastructure is already there. If you think about taking trips up to the Chic-Chocs, you can access stuff right from the road. With the Willoughby State Forest, particularly Mt. Bartlett and Mt. Hor, in the wintertime, a cross-country network doubles as backcountry access, and that is all right there. People can park down low and then ski up what will eventually be ski lines off Mt. Hor and Mt. Bartlett. You will be able to skin up a road that in the winter is groomed for cross-country skiing, hit up the Herbert Hawks trail that goes to the summit of Mt. Hor and be able to ski lines off of that. Once you get back down to the cross-country ski track there will be other lines to access, as well. All of that will be around 1,500 vertical feet of ski descent.

BCM: What are some of the key partnerships that have helped this process along?

MM: The Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation is doing work on infrastructure with putting in new facilities. There will be a bigger parking lot and bathroom facilities; that work will be happening this winter. There are a lot of moving parts, but it will be a lot of fun. And David Goodman’s book has a little blurb in there about Mt. Hor and some of the stuff you can ski is already there, so that is a good start.

If you don’t like being outside in the Northeast Kingdom in the winter then you are in the wrong place, and I think people are excited to have more opportunities to get out and ski locally in the wintertime.

I think that the partnership with Parks and Rec, using their guidance, using their resources and having an open dialogue with them helps to build this backcountry community. The guys we are working with are very concerned with making sure that everything is done right and done well. We have just been following that guidance and moving forward.

Learn more about the Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition at

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