Monthly Archives: September 2009

My horse Music

You can teach an old horse some new tricks

Music, left, and her pal Daisy.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Music, left, and her pal Daisy. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

September 25, 2009

by Bethany M. Dunbar

I have a horse named Music.  She is 24 years old and is retired, for the second time.

The first time came after a career in harness racing.  Music is a standardbred — a pacer.  She broke her front leg near the foot.

Her owner at the time, Stanwood “Doc” Churchill is a veterinarian.  He braced her leg up and hoped for the best.  The best is what he got because Music is a special animal.  She is smart, calm, and adaptable and figured out how to get up in a way that didn’t stress her leg too much.  She healed up just fine.

Of course she couldn’t race any more, but later she was bred and had some fast offspring for Doc.  A few years later is where I came in.  I needed a companion for my Morgan, and Doc said, well, why don’t you take Music for the summer.  If you like her, you can buy her (He practically gave her to me as it turned out).

Boy did I like her.  I have become a huge fan of the standardbred breed used for harness racing.

These horses are incredibly athletic, like thoroughbreds (the kind you see in the Kentucky Derby).  Yet they are sensible and calm and far from delicate.  Of course any horse trained for racing has been worked with every day for years.  Shoeing, veterinary work, trailering — all that is no problem for a former standardbred racehorse.

Music is incredible.  Some of us horse people use the term “bomb-proof” for a trail horse that will walk calmly along the side of the road while being passed by loud noisy trucks, dogs, and bicycles.   These angelic horses do not mind cows staring at them, balloons floating in mid-air, mailboxes, small children, or whatever else might be on the road with us.  It’s a rare trail horse that starts right out not minding these distractions, but Music had been to the race track where noise and fuss are the only constant.

The only thing she did not understand about her new owners was why we kept asking her to canter.  A canter is a three-beat gait, and it is more fun to ride than a pace, which sort of tosses the rider from one side to the other.  Harness racing horses are strictly forbidden from cantering and disqualified if they break into a canter.

When we asked Music to canter, she, no doubt, thought we were crazy.  She kept switching her ears back and forth and rolling her eyes as if to say, “I wish you humans would make up your minds!”

But once she got the idea that it was okay to canter, she liked it just fine.

Music had to be retired for a second time due to arthritis, which sometimes makes her stumble.  But she’s living a pretty happy retired life out in the pasture — a constant reminder to me that you can teach an old horse a new trick or two.

Standardbreds are a great breed that is not well known.  I write this to say to anyone who happens to read this — don’t overlook a former standardbred racehorse when you are looking for a horse for competitive sports or simply as a great reliable riding horse for the trails.

Kim Brooks at Roaring Brook Park (the Orleans County fairgrounds in Barton, Vermont) has devoted a lot of time to promoting the sport of harness racing.  She held a hands-on workshop for people who want to learn the sport (posted below).

Melanie and Fran Azur of Newport Center and Pennsylvania own 13 standardbred racehorses.  At this year’s county fair in August, the Azurs brought two of their top racehorses for a demonstration race and two top drivers to race them.  Their horse Noble Falcon broke the record for the state of Vermont that day.  For more about this event, see the Chronicle’s web site, under news, in the sports section.  Also in this section is a story from last year’s fair about harness racing.  The Orleans County Fair was named a Blue Ribbon Fair for its efforts to promote harness racing.

Do you have a horse story for me?  I’d love to hear it, post it here if you are so inclined.  Featured on the Chronicle’s web site this week is a horse story by Paul Lefebvre about using a horse to pull out a moose during moose hunting season.

This week makes four weeks of blogging for me.  So far I’m having a great time with it, and I hope you are too.

Racehorse workshop draws a dozen

Doc Churchill talks about veterinary issues of standardbred racehorses during a workshop.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Doc Churchill talks about veterinary issues of standardbred racehorses during a workshop. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

July 1, 2009 the Chronicle

by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — Rosa Caliente, a four-year-old mare, was getting a lot of attention at the fairgrounds on Friday.

Petting, baths, carrots, praise — the beautiful dapple gray standardbred pacer took it all in stride as her due.  She and her colleagues — harness racing horses whose schedule is normally a bit more intense — were the stars of the show at a four-day harness racing workshop to raise money to restore and renovate the old barns.

“I watched it at the fair last year,” said Norine Phillips of Glover.  Then she saw an advertisement for the workshop that would give her a chance to try it herself.

“When I saw it, I said, I just have to do that.”

On Friday she was thrilled that she was taking the course.  She said she had experience with horses back when she was a teenager but none since.

Kim Brooks, who organized the event, said it surpassed all of her expectations.  Twelve people took the workshop for $100 apiece, and she said her goals were achieved — they had a great time, learned a lot, got rid of some misconceptions, and caught the spirit of excitement.

“The magic of the horses and the thrill of the sport won them over,” Ms. Brooks said.  She knows because everyone kept showing up a half an hour before the workshop started each morning and staying longer at the end of the day — just to be there.

Other clues were the grins on everyone’s faces and the fact that one of the local stores ran out of carrots as participants kept feeding them to their favorite horses.

The horses at the workshop belonged to Dale Allen of Brushton, New York.  Barb Stephenson is half-owner of two of them.

Workshop participants ranged from almost complete novices to experienced saddle horse owners who always wanted to try this particular horse activity.  There was a father-daughter combination and a mother-daughter pair.  On Friday, people were raving about how much fun it was, and a couple of participants were talking about the possibility of forming a partnership to buy a racehorse.

“The only thing I knew about horses was how to spell it,” said Mike Caruso, who divides him time between Citrus Springs, Florida, and West Glover.

Mr. Caruso took early retirement from IBM in Tampa, Florida, where he worked as a senior project manager in data networks.  In nearby Ocala, horse racing is huge and is only for the wealthy.  The owners and trainers won’t let the general public anywhere near the animals and would never stop to explain how to put on a harness.

Ms. Brooks has been wanting to do this kind of workshop for about ten years and actively planning it for the past three.  Getting insurance coverage turned out to be one of the hardest parts, as many companies won’t insure any activities involving racehorses.

Ironically, one of Ms. Brooks’ missions in life is to dispel myths that racehorses are drug-crazed, out-of-control, dangerous creatures anyone would be wise to avoid, and that they are routinely mistreated in the racing industry.

No doubt racehorses exist that are not treated well, but Ms. Brooks said in harness racing the judges are vigilant about drivers whipping too much, and drug testing makes sure that no one can get away with cheating in that way.

A chestnut mare named Ruby Red Slippers did her best the dispel any myths of crazy behavior on Friday as she stood quietly for two and a half hours on Friday afternoon while she was first used for a demonstration of shoeing and then for a demonstration of veterinary issues.

Participants learned the basics of day-to-day horse care, how to harness the horses, hitch them to the jog cart and drive them, a bit about the business of racing, and some basic information about veterinary care and horseshoeing.

John Simons of Sheffield showed participants what he looks for when shoeing.

“An awful lot of horses don’t have exactly the right conformation.  So it’s my job as horseshoer to line them up as much as possible, without putting undue stress on,” he said.  He measures the angle of the hoof to make sure those match and the length of the toes.  Various styles of shoes will help correct imperfections in the horse’s conformation or feet.

Dr. Stanwood Churchill, a veterinarian, raced standardbreds for many years.

“It’s pretty difficult to buy or find a perfect horse,” he said.  But he said there are some issues that raise red flags right away — a horse that toes in or out quite strongly is likely to interfere with himself — knocking his feet or legs together.

Dr. Churchill drew a diagram of a horse’s knee on a big piece of paper, and Ms. Brooks offered to be the easel and hold the pad, adding, “We will be auctioning this off at lunch.  The autograph will cost extra.”

Karen Rosemark of Sheffield has a saddle horse, and her daughter is in 4-H.  She decided to take the workshop as a way to learn about a form of horsemanship she had not tried.  She has logged with draft horses and owns a riding horse and owned miniatures in the past.  She said she was interested to see how different and streamlined these animals are.  Even pacers are different from trotters, she said.  Both are types of standardbred race horses — with different gaits.

She said she was surprised at how easygoing the workshop was since it was about racing.

“I thought it was going to be a little more edgy,” she said.  She said the race horse owners and trainers are clearly crazy about their animals and take extremely good care of them.

“I hope everybody supports the fairgrounds because boy, this should stay here,” she said.

“Any horse person in Orleans County really needs to check this out,” she said.  She’s hoping that there could be a workshop specifically geared to 4-H clubs for children to learn more.

Ms. Brooks said harness racing has been at the fairgrounds for 143 years and she sees these workshops as a way to keep the interest alive.  She hopes to put on workshops on a regular basis, hopefully more often than annually.

“I want to expand the program in any way that people want to participate,” she said.  “I want to promote the sport.”

It’s an American tradition, Ms. Brooks said, and she hopes to keep it alive.


Safe Choices

by Bethany M. Dunbar

September 18, 2009

Every week working journalists make decisions about what they will spend their time on, how much, and how to pursue a story.  As money gets tighter, so does our time.

This year the Chronicle made an extraordinary decision to pursue a story about a program called Safe Choices.  It turned into a series of articles, and it took a lot of work.  Huge amounts of work.  No one has asked me, personally, why we decided to do this.  In fact we have had a number of phone calls and conversations from people who did not want to be named in the articles but appreciated our extra efforts.

When it came time to enter the annual New England-wide newspaper contest this year, we decided the Safe Choices series was the one piece of work we ought to at least submit (despite our tight budget for anything — such as contests — beyond the newsroom).  Our publisher, Chris Braithwaite, wrote a letter putting the series into context.  I thought this might be a good opportunity to sort of put that thought out there into the world.  Here is a copy of the letter Chris wrote.  You can read the entire series at the Chronicle’s web site:

I hope you will check it out, if you haven’t already.  Let us know what you think.  Thanks again for reading.

The Judges

2009 Better Newspaper Contest

Dear People,

In October last year, in a plain brown envelope with no return address, we received a document from Orleans County Probate Court — the one, of all the courts we cover, that generates the least news.

The document was a protective order in which the judge, in strong and direct language, ordered the state and its agents not to do a long list of unpleasant things to a man named George St. Francis who, on the state’s authority, was in a program called Safe Choices.

We had heard complaints about the program before, but had never found a way into the story.  Mr. St. Francis, like everyone in Safe Choices, had not only been found to be mentally retarded as a legal matter, but was also suspected of being sexually dangerous.

An underlying theme in this series is the habit of the state and its agents, when accused of mistreating its most vulnerable citizens, of taking refuge behind the privacy rights of the very people who are complaining about the state’s behavior.  In this case the Office of the Public Guardian, which controlled every aspect of George’s life, decided very quickly that it would not be in George’s best interest to talk to us.  As I write this, we are still trying to arrange our first face-to-face meeting with him.  [The meeting finally was arranged and is written up as part of the series on the Chronicle’s web site.  The tenth story in the series includes Mr. St. Francis’ wedding photo.]

Nevertheless, the fact that we had the order in our hands over a judge’s signature, provided a foundation on which we could start to build a series of stories…

When we started the series the focus of the state’s media and politics was very much on protecting children from sexual predators, in the aftermath of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl.  Whatever our reasons for devoting so much of our very limited time and space to the rights of this neglected and almost invisible group of men, climbing aboard the bandwagon of popular opinion was not among them.

That may explain why our story has never developed legs; was never picked up by our colleagues in the media.  The public response has also been muted.  People call to tell us we are on the right track, urge us to keep working, but rarely give us their names.

We kept going because we kept finding evidence that a necessary program, operating with great authority in almost total obscurity, had run off the rails.  George St. Francis said, in our first article, that he wanted the public to know about the way he was being treated.  The public knows at least something of that, ten months later, and George’s life has changed in some profound ways.

Chris Braithwaite

Ancient roads September 11, 2009

Ancient roads

by Bethany M. Dunbar

September 11, 2009

Not all those who wander are lost.

The same could be said of the ancient roads of Vermont.  Some of them are pretty darn close to lost, but if you look into the puckerbrush sometimes you can see where a log skidder scraped the bark off a big old tree down by the roots ten or 20 (or more) years ago, and there’s a mark knee-high because the tree has grown taller since then.

Ancient roads, Class IV roads, legal trails, paths and logging roads are wonderful for the places they lead to — sometimes just the middle of the woods.  It’s usually a place where the overwhelming sound is crows gathering to migrate, or the humming crickets this time of year, and if you are lucky you might see a moose, a deer or a bear.  The old roads are great for people who like hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and riding ATVs because there is little traffic but lots to see.

Ancient roads are troublesome for property owners who are trying to figure out if they own their land completely or if there is a right-of-way.  This is particularly a problem if they want to sell their land.  The state of Vermont has passed a law with a deadline for the ancient roads.  Many of them are in the news more often these days.

According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns newsletter, towns must add all ancient roads to town highway maps as Class IV roads or they might be reclassified as “unidentified corridors.”

If that happens, it becomes more difficult for the town to add an old road back to the map as a town highway.  A hearing must be held, and affected property owners must be notified in writing 45 days in advance.

In Craftsbury recently, the selectmen decided they wanted to keep an old road despite an offer from a landowner — a controversial survivalist group called Mission New England — to swap the right-of-way for a large parcel of land, 83 acres.

An old road behind Norton Pond is the subject of a court case filed by someone who wants to be able to get to his house by driving over the old road instead of across the water.

I have posted two stories about these roads from the Chronicle below.  Let me know your thoughts on these in the comment space.  I have been wondering if towns are really going to be able to meet the deadline, if people are actually spending time of the town maps or old roads, and what is happening in various towns.  If you have information, please let me know.

If you are reading from outside Vermont and plan to visit with a low-slung car, don’t trust your GPS.  It might just send you out on a virtually non-existent ancient road and you will tear off your muffler.

But if you have the time to get out and walk, the old roads and trails are a wonderful way to get lost, or just to wander.

Hurricane Road                                                     Photo by Paul Lefebvre

Hurricane Road Photo by Paul Lefebvre

The road home might be the Hurricane Road

by Paul Lefebvre

the Chronicle September 2, 2009

NORTON POND — A right of way issue that appeared to be resolved by a 2006 Supreme Court decision is turning into a protracted legal battle between the state and a homeowner here over what road he should be permitted to take home.

For the homeowner, the latest turn in the road battle across state land appears to be wearing thin.

“Everyone has the right to use the Hurricane Road except for me,” says David Berge, who maintains a year-round residence on the west side of the pond.

“I’m the only person they’re trying to stop from getting home,” he says, noting that hikers, bird watchers and sportsmen can come and go as they please.

Where they come and go to recreate is a large, and remote stretch of wilderness — 10,000 plus acres — known as the Bill Sladyk Wildlife Management Area.  Off Route 114 about eight miles north of Island Pond, the area “ranges from Norton Pond northwest to the Canadian Border just north of Holland Pond,” according to a description from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state department that manages the property.

The state acquired the land, initially 7,001 acres, in 1959 from Florence Davis.  At the time of the sale, she reserved roughly 38 acres on the west side of the pond, an area that came to be known as the Norton Pond Exclusion.  The land changed hands again by the time Mr. Berge purchased two lots in 1997.

He accessed his property using the Hurricane Road, and for awhile, everything went along without any hassle.  Then the state gated the road, denying him access across the WMA on grounds he could reach his property by water.  A suit was filed, and a judge in Washington County Superior Court ruled in favor of the state, saying that because Mr. Berge had access to his property over water — Norton Pond — he could not claim he was entitled by necessity to have a right-of-access over the Sladyk WMA.

Mr. Berge appealed and the state Supreme Court heard the case during its March term in 2006.  In what was regarded as a landmark decision — the high court ruled that when it comes to a right of way, water is no substitute for land.  Writing for the majority, Justice John Dooley said that a right of way by water only is no right of way at all.

“We depend on roads and automobiles for transporting not only our family and friends, but all our basic necessities to and from our homes, and it is a quaint but ultimately pointless fiction to pretend that water — much less ice — represents a sufficient substitute.”

Justice Dooley went on to write that in today’s world people “think in terms of driving rather than rowing to work, home, or market.”

The decision was not unanimous.  In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice C. J. Reiber said the majority decision flew in the face of “our traditional adherence to necessity.”

After noting the remote location of the property, the chief justice argued that “water access may be very nearly as practical as the best reasonably available access by land.

“As plaintiff himself concedes,” Justice Reiber continued, “even his access via the claimed easement is highly weather-dependent and is not generally possible between late November and the time the Access Road becomes passable in the spring.”

But on the strength of the majority conclusion that “access to navigable water is generally not legally sufficient, standing alone, to defeat a finding of necessity,”  the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court, where it has taken another tortuous turn.

On its web page, the Department of Fish and Wildlife  says that the Sladyk WMA can be accessed either from the southeast on the Hurricane Brook Road or from the west on the Holland Pond Road.  It’s an assertion that makes Mr. Berge’s blood boil.

When it comes to a passable right of way, he says, the Holland Pond Road is no option at all.  The road has grown over so thickly, he adds, that not even a bicycle rider can get through.

The state begs to differ.

“We think Mr. Berge walked a route that we are not proposing,” says Jacob Humbert, the lawyer with the attorney general’s office who argued the department’s case before the Supreme Court.

The route of choice for Mr. Berge is the Hurricane Brook Road.  It’s the road he was using before the gate went up, and it’s the road most frequently taken by people who drive into the Sladyk WMA.

“This is how the general public, of which the Plaintiff is a part, gets to and from the WMA,” writes Robert Gensburg, the St. Johnsbury attorney who represents Mr. Berge.  “That is why the State acquired the right of way over Hurricane Road — so that the public could get to the WMA.”

The state’s signs along the road amplify the department’s intent in managing the WMA.  “Camping allowed in designated areas only,’’ says one; another says camping is only allowed during hunting season.  Clusters of black-eyed susans crowd either shoulder of the road, and every once in awhile a motorist can spot large, logging-size culverts that have been pulled and left unattended in an area honeycombed with roads, some barely passable.

A notice on an enclosed bulletin board proudly proclaims: “This Wildlife Management Area has been purchased with the goal of conserving wildlife and their habitat.”  At the designated camping areas, there are outhouses wrapped in plastic coated wire to prevent bears and raccoons from clawing or chewing their way inside.  A single fire pit circled with rocks suggests that few but the serious are inclined to camp here.

It may be that the state is relying on the high wilderness profile of the area to convince the court that the Hurricane Road should not exist as a private driveway for someone’s residence.  From the beginning, the state and Mr. Berge have been at opposite, head-butting ends.

In an affidavit, dated in April, Mr. Berge says he has been using the Hurricane Road to access his property for 13 years.  At some point, when the gate went up, he says he followed the instructions on the attached sign and applied for a key.  The state, he recalls, said nothing doing.

Fish and Wildlife administrator Tom Decker provides a different account in an affidavit he submitted to the court in May.  Mr. Decker, who wears the title, chief of operations for the department, says the gate was installed in 2000 after someone had dumped trash and stolen gravel from a gravel pit, along with disturbing a barrier that prevents beaver from plugging a culvert.  Parties using the road were given 30 days to contact the department, and nothing more was done.

“The gate has been unlocked since that time and remains unlocked today,” he writes in his affidavit.

While the gate may no longer be an issue, the state’s resistance to Mr. Berge’s use of the Hurricane Road as a year-round access to his home has stiffened.  At the core of its objection is an assertion that the road passes over property that is owned by a third party, and that is encumbered with a conservation easement that says the property cannot be used for non-forest purposes.

The third property owner goes by the name of Heartwood Forest Fund IV Limited Partnership.  It acquired the property from the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and that may be the only point where Mr. Berge and the state can find agreement.  In the filings before the court, both sides have argued whether drafting errors occurred as the property went through changes of ownership from 1918 to the present, and whether a conservation easement has any bearing on the issue.

Mr. Humbert, the assistant attorney general who is arguing the case for the department, says that an easement from the Brown Paper Company in 1972 prevents any use of the road beyond recreational purposes in the WMA.

“Like the general public, Mr. Berge can continue to use the Hurricane Road to access the WMA for recreational purposes,” writes Mr. Humbert.

“But it does not follow that he can also be granted a private right of way along that route for year-round residential access to his property beyond the WMA.”

That logic has proven nettlesome to Mr. Berge and his attorney, who note that the third party, Heartwood, has agreed to grant the homeowner access over the road as long, that is, as the state agrees.

“There is no apparent reason, other than the State’s unreasonable (not to say obdurate) refusal to agree to a right of way from Heartwood, why the Plaintiff should not be able to drive his to home across the Hurricane Road if all the rest of the world can,” writes his attorney.

Perhaps because the issue is a legal one, there is no mention made of how much either access would cost, if either would be open to year-round travel.  Each party says the other should bear the costs.  Mr. Gensburg argues that the state’s proposed route, beginning at the western end of the WMA, would be a “redeveloped six-mile long road” that, he adds, would be “contrary to public policy.”

And he goes on to accuse the state of “using its monopolistic position to defeat the Plaintiff by locating the way of necessity on a route that can never provide practical access,” and would amount to a “disproportionately large amount of money” for his client.

“The state should not be allowed to do that,” writes Mr. Gensburg in his closing argument to the court.

In the state’s eyes, those arguments hold no weight when measured against protecting the land as a wildlife management unit.

“Heartwood’s grant of a right of way to Mr. Berge would constitute an exercise of development rights and a conversion to non-forest uses that extend beyond the allowable public access for dispersed recreational activities,” writes Mr. Humbert.

There is a fear, from the state’s point of view, that giving Mr. Berge access to his home over the Hurricane Road would upset the applecart of a conservation easement, and feasibly cost the state money to legally recover the damages.

An affidavit from Michael Fraysier, who is the head land administrator for the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, says that allowing Mr. Berge to use the Hurricane Road to access his property would require amending an easement on roughly 31,000 acres that includes five towns and gores in northern Essex County.

“This is not a simple, straightforward action and is not something to be taken lightly,” say Mr. Fraysier, who warns that amending an easement would be costly, and might pave the way for other property owners following in Mr. Berge’s footsteps.

“The costs could be increased,” he writes if 15 other seasonal camp owners along the road, “want to increase their limited use to include year-round residential use.”

The state argues that it “has proceeded in good faith,” to explore other options with Mr. Berge.  Options that the homeowner charges are useless.

“The proposed route will be unusable by vehicles throughout the spring, fall, and winter,” he says in his affidavit, characterizing the route as “an old, long-unused logging road.”

It’s a protest that falls on unsympathetic ears.

“The State should not be punished for the area’s existing geography between Mr. Berge’s property and the Holland town highway system,” notes Mr. Humbert.

A ruling  on the dispute could come down as early as this month.  Last week, according to Mr. Humbert, the court paid a site visit to the area.

Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Colburn Hill Road gate can stay

by Chris Braithwaite

the Chronicle, September 2, 2009

CRAFTSBURY — Mission New England can keep its gate at the end of Coburn Hill Road as long as remains unlocked, and people who open it and drive or walk another hundred yards or so are treated decently.

That was the gist of a motion passed by the Craftsbury Selectmen at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

It reversed an earlier decision, made after an ugly confrontation between mission members and a group of dirt bikers, to order the mission to take the gate down.

The selectmen made their decision over the strenuous objects of one of the dirt bikers, Jeff D’Amico of Wolcott.  His objections were so strenuous, indeed, that at one point the board’s chairman, Bruce Urie, threatened to throw him out of Craftsbury’s town hall.

“The discussion is over,” Mr. Urie told Mr. D’Amico, banging his fist on the table.  “If you open our mouth again, we’re asking you to leave.”

That came after Mr. D’Amico said he would exercise his right to use the public trail through the mission’s property by going up there every weekend and riding up and down the road past the gate four or five times.

“There’s a pissing match going on there,” said a disgusted Mr. Urie.

For his part, Mr. D’Amico said there should be no question that the gate must be removed and the town trail through the mission’s property marked for public use.

“You have a bunch of delusional people blocking off a road,” he said.

The mission was represented at the meeting by Roy Ward and R.C. Kirk, who let their lawyer, Steve Adler, do most of the talking for them.

They and the selectmen were able to agree that, at present, no one can exercise the right to use the right of way through the mission’s property, because nobody knows where it is.

Coburn Hill Road approaches the mission property from the south, and after it goes through the gate and runs a few hundred yards to the group’s collection of houses and barns, it disappears.  The road was wiped out by floods in 1997, Mr. Urie said.  But he has a clear memory of the old road, he added.  “When I was a teenager we snowmobiled through there.”

The selectmen agreed to find out how much it would cost to have the old right of way surveyed, so it could be marked for the people who wanted to use it.  Wayne Mutrux, a local surveyor who has made a study of old town records on the road, is willing to do the job, Mr. Urie added.

Besides Mr. D’Amico, two Craftsbury residents came to the meeting to say they would like to use the right of way.

“I used to ride my horse through there 20 years ago,” said Stacy Burke.  Last summer, she said, she rode up to the gate, assumed it was locked, and turned around.

She met one of the group’s leaders, John Maniatti, on the way down Coburn Hill Road, she said.  “He was very cordial.  I said I would like to ride through.  He told me the road had washed out.  I said I’d like to try to go through.

“I would like to see it surveyed and kept open,” Ms. Burke told the selectmen.  “It would be a good route for a lot of recreation — walking, riding horses, dirt bikes, anything.”

Ray Adams Jr. said the trail would provide a link to other dirt bike trails that go all the way to Lowell, via the Bayley-Hazen Road.

But until the trail is surveyed and marked, Mr. Adams told the selectmen, “there is no point in us being up there.”

“As a board,” said Selectman Susan Houston, “we should postpone any decision until we have the price and feasibility of the survey.”

In moving that the gate be permitted to stay, Selectman Jim Jones said his brother had received a cordial reception when he walked past the gate last week.

However, he said, “we have heard some complaints in the past about townspeople, including elected officials, getting harassed.

As part of his motion, Mr. Jones said the town would post a sign at the point where the town trail disappears, to the effect that the town is unsure where the right of way is, and visitors should please turn around.

The mission has tried for years to resolve the problem by having the town abandon the town trail once Coburn Hill Road crosses its property line.  Its spokesmen asked about the mission’s offer to deed more than 84 acres of its property to the town, if it would throw up the trial.

That would be up to the voters, the selectmen said.

“You need to get five percent of the voters to sign a petition,” Mr. Jones said, to put the proposed deal on the Town Meeting warning.

Before the mission did that, Mr. Ward said, “we’d want to know if you’d be willing to support it.”

“The general feeling we got is that people do not like to give up rights of way,” Mr. Urie said.

If the mission sought the voters’ support, Mr. Jones added, “you’d have your work cut out for you.”

The selectmen did accept Mission New England’s invitation to hike the area of the lost right of way and the land that is on offer.

“It’s a nice hike,” said Mr. Ward.  “Bring your boots.”

For more about this story, please check the Chronicle web site at