RUTLAND-Pine Hill Park: There really isn't a city park like it within 100 miles. Located within the city limits of Rutland, Pine Hill Park is a 300-acre preserve dedicated especially for mountain bikers, joggers, snowshoers, and a variety of ramblers.
If you talk to veteran mountain bikers like P.J. Ewanos and Aaron Mouton of Killington, Pine Hill Park is a treasure the City of Rutland doesn't do a whole lot to promote.
"The word of mouth is spreading about Pine Hill," said Ewanos. "If you're on the New England-New York mountain bike circuit, you've probably hear about."
Ewanos and Mouton had just completed a 10-mile circuit of a portion of the Rutland city park before a heavy downpour of rain found them back in the parking lot.
"It's an awesome park," said Mouton. "It has easy access, well-maintained trails with lots of jumps, banked turns, and more. There's nothing like it anywhere near here."
Vermont's other well-known bike parks-Millstone inBarre and Kingdom Trails in the far north-are fine, but they're commercial and not inexpensive to use on a regular basis. Pine Hill Park is different-it's free. There's also a bike shop on site if you need technical help or just like to browse.
Thanks to the hard work of the non-profit volunteer organization Pine Hill Partnership, the 300-acre Sherwood Forest-like preserve will serve today's, and future generations, of bikers and hikers.
"Through the cooperation of the Rutland Recreation Department, the organization has brought about the transformation seen throughout the park," said Mark Gibeault of Clarendon, a former long-time Rutland resident, jogger, and now frequent user of the Pine Hill Park.
"The Pine Hill Partnership has painstakingly crafted the park's beautiful 16-mile trail system," he said. "You really have to take a walk and see it. For all the bad things you hear about Rutland, this defies it-it's one of the jewels in the city's crown."
Gibeault, who is a frequent user of the park's mazelike trail system, recalls the old days when Rutlanders enjoyed skiing and swimming at Pine Hill.
"Young people don't know this, but this was a Rutland municipal downhill ski area well into the 1940s," he said. "And Rocky Pond-inside the park-was a popular city swimming beach into the 1960s. But there's no skiing or swimming here now. Now, it's just nature and trails. I think the park land is more beautiful than it was years ago."
According to Gibeault, tens of thousands of back-breaking man-hours created the undulating "singlet" track trails.
Gibeault praised the efforts of Rutland resident and outdoorsman Michael Smith for his long-time involvement with Pine Hill. Smith, he noted, is also spearheading the new Creek Path that will traverse Pine Hill to the campus of St. Joseph's College.
"All the pickaxing, shoveling, bridge building, and signage has been entirely donated by volunteers coordinated through and by the Pine Hill Partnership," Gibeault said.
Inside the park, trails are occasionally connected via a network of unusual bridges including a miniature "Golden Gate" suspension bridge, an hourglass wooden span, a twisting seeping-ledge structure, a Middle Earth-like arched bridge (hobbits will love it), and several others that break up a long jog or bike trek.
No matter what the season or outdoor passion-walking, hiking, jogging, biking-Rutland's Pine Hill Park will satisfy your yen to trek.
Check It Out: Pine Hill Park is located within the City of Rutland. The park is open Wednesday-Friday, noon-6 p.m. and weekends, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The trailhead is located at the Giorgetti Athletic Complex, 2 Oak St. Extension, in Rutland. For more details, call 775-7980.