Rid­ing the rails

Bik­ing across Lake Cham­plain on an old rail cause­way

Cape Breton Post - - Classifieds/Travel - BY WIL­SON RING

Aban­doned rail lines have been con­verted into recre­ation paths all over the United States. But the Is­land Line Trail in Ver­mont is un­usual: It in­cludes a cause­way that runs across the open waters of Lake Cham­plain, from the Ver­mont main­land to the is­land com­mu­nity of South Hero. And that cause­way in­cludes a gap to al­low boats through.

So how do bik­ers and others get across the 61-me­tre gap, known as the cut? An in-sea­son ferry takes them from one side to the other.

It’s been more than a half-cen­tury since trains used the nar­row cause­way built on mar­ble and gran­ite blocks around the turn of the 20th cen­tury. A ro­tat­ing bridge once con­nected the cause­way’s two sec­tions, with the bridge open­ing up for the boats that now sail through the gap, but the bridge is long gone. The trip by ferry takes just a few min­utes.

The unique trail across the lake is open for walk­ing, run­ning and fish­ing, but it’s mostly used by bi­cy­clists, giv­ing them a chance to prac­ti­cally pedal across the wa­ter amid the sail­boats and mo­tor­boats. From one side of the cut, it’s more than five kilo­me­tres south to the main­land town of Colch­ester. From the other side it’s just a few hun­dred yards to South Hero.

New York’s Adiron­dack Moun­tains are to the west while Ver­mont’s Green Moun­tains stand to the east. On sunny sum­mer days plea­sure boats will dot the wa­ter on both sides of the cause­way.

“It’s ab­so­lutely gor­geous,’’ said Julie Lussier, who rode the cause­way while vis­it­ing the Burling­ton area for a re­cent week­end get­away from Montreal. “It’s bu­colic and I think that the land­scape is ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. I will rec­om­mend the trail, for sure, to my col­leagues here and in Montreal.’’

The trail can be nar­row in places and the sides steep down to the wa­ter, re­quir­ing pass­ing bi­cy­clists to show cour­tesy to one an­other. An­glers carry their tackle onto the rocks to cast their lines into what would oth­er­wise be the mid­dle of the lake.

The cause­way is part of the al­most22-km Is­land Line Trail, which starts at Burling­ton’s Oak Ledge Park and runs north along the Lake Cham­plain wa­ter­front at the edge of Burling­ton’s vi­brant down­town. A por­tion of the bike path in Burling­ton is un­der ren­o­va­tion this sum­mer, de­tour­ing rid­ers onto the city’s North Av­enue for about three kilo­me­tres.

The en­tire trail is owned by the city of Burling­ton, the town of Colch­ester and, north of the cut, the Ver­mont Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife. The non-profit group Lo­cal Mo­tion man­ages the trail and owns and man­ages the bike ferry, co-or­di­nat­ing to make sure peo­ple who use the trail “don’t even no­tice it has three dif­fer­ent own­er­ships,’’ said Lo­cal Mo­tion in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ja­son Van Dri­est.


Bi­cy­clists ride on the Is­land Line Trail bike path on an aban­doned rail­road cause­way from the Ver­mont main­land to the Lake Cham­plain is­lands. The sea­sonal ferry on the five-kilo­me­tre sec­tion of the Is­land Line Trail bike path car­ries cy­clists across the open­ing in the cause­way so they can reach the is­lands.

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