AMC Outdoors, January/February 2002
Stroll by a wide, open field with views into the hills of New York and stop to feed horses some hay. Snowshoe by a handsome farm and watch the cattle eating or enter a maple grove and see the taps in the trees for syrup.
The Merck Forest and Farmland Center in southern Vermont is located on 3,130 acres of hilltop forestland and working farm and is an environmental-education organization in the Taconic Range. Recreational and educational programs abound on its 28 miles of trails. The nonprofit organization looks to the community for support and welcomes memberships and donations, but there is no charge to use the trails. In winter, you can romp through the snow-covered fields and forests and, back at the farm, take programs ranging from mammal tracking to snowshoe making. Check out the nature displays at the visitor center and in the farmhouse on Old Town Road — it is fairly easy to get around the property. Full-moon snowshoeing and a maple sugaring celebration are offered during winter. Or spend a day indoors learning how to make a packbasket to use on future trips while your family members head out on the trails.
The signs are easy to read, though the distances aren’t marked on them as they would be in national forests. This might prove worrisome if you’re new to the outdoors. If that is the case, just ask at the visitor center for the trails that have seen recent use and thus are packed down and easy to follow.
This 3.5-mile loop will give you a good taste of what’s out there. But once you’ve gotten going, you should feel free to explore a side trail, particularly after a fresh snow.
One of these, Old Town Road, is a wide, unplowed road that goes through the heart of the property. Remember, this is a working farm. Thick wheels from farm equipment make good tracks. Leave from the visitor center on Old Town Road as it opens up into a stunning vista of farm, hills, and horses. Once you’ve stopped to feed the horses, turn right with Old Town Road as it climbs steadily along a vista of the Taconics. At the height of land, continue straight on Old Town as a road to a lodge diverges left and the one to Mount Antone leaves right. Old Town Road will descend quickly here and pass alongside a maple grove. In late February, the maples are tapped with a line that stretches from tree to tree.
Near the 1.5-mile mark, look for a sign pointing to Birch Pond. An excellent diversion is to return along the same way. But to make the loop, turn right by the sign to Birch Pond, a small pond set among the hills. Clark’s Clearing Trail ascends up the forested hill. Don’t hold your breath for a sign on the trail. But you will see one for Schenk Road, which leads to Clark’s Clearing Trail. The trail has a few steep grades as it climbs upwards along the flanks of Mount Antone, eventually reaching the small Clark’s Clearing cabin.
A number of trails intersect here. Just turn right at the cabin on Antone Road and head out into the clearing for a beautiful vista. Antone Road slopes downward to join up with Old Town Road. Bear left on Old Town Road — this junction should look familiar — and follow it back down to the visitor center. Happy winter trails.
How to get there: From Manchester, travel on West Road 3.5 miles and turn left on Route 30 north to Dorset. Travel 5.5 miles and turn left on Route 315 for about 3 miles. Turn left at the Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert.
—Marty Basch is the author of several books, including the 1999 National Outdoor Book Award Honorable Mention winner Winter Trails, Vermont and New Hampshire and Winter Trails, Maine. This article was adapted from the two guides.