Chief's Honor Awards 2017: Honorable Mention — Brandon Gap Backcountry Access Project

2018 Chief's Awards: Delivering Benefits to the Public - Honorable Mention

WASHINGTON — With more than 2 million visitors to the Green Mountain National Forest each year, recreation provides a conduit for connecting people to nature, enhancing their understanding of their natural and cultural environment and catalyzing their participation in caring for public land. Developed to meet increasing demands for backcountry skiing and snowboarding opportunities in Vermont, the Brandon Gap Backcountry Access Project is the first collaborative effort between state, local and federal government representatives, nonprofit organizations, volunteers, and local businesses to develop a managed backcountry ski/snowboard zone in the Eastern Region. Representing a new approach to backcountry management, this four year effort addressed the lack of publicly managed opportunities for alpine-oriented backcountry skiing and snowboarding and aided in the restoration of natural forest conditions by attempting to reduce incidents of unregulated tree-cutting.

Brandon Gap Backcountry Access Project ethics poster.

Collaborating with multiple land managers (such as the state of Vermont, Adirondack Park Agency and other national forests), GMNF leadership found limited standardized protocols available, particularly for projects emphasizing ecological restoration, to assess existing tree- skiing management techniques and monitoring protocols. Compiling information from graduate research students; ski area managers; federal, state and community foresters; and other public land managers, project staff developed a model management plan to guide project implementation and received grant funding for a professional trail builder to design and oversee implementation of a backcountry “glade” network of trails. The much publicized and sought-after 210-acre backcountry recreation area includes 26 ski lines following a braided design with vertical drops of 1,300 feet. Volunteers contributed 1,800 hours of service to complete construction of the design.

Partnership efforts between the Forest Service and the Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (created a groundswell of momentum that spurred backcountry enthusiasts to unify their voices and develop two statewide advocacy groups. Spearheaded by RASTA and Catamount Trail Association, like-minded skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts joined forces to develop the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, as well as the Vermont Huts Association. Together with the Forest Service, these groups developed a glade management handbook, released Backcountry Ethics based on the Leave No Trace principles (see image), and are working to connect state and federal lands for a hut-to-hut experience in Vermont. In addition, the partnership efforts trained more than 230 volunteers on responsible backcountry ski management and ethical behavior. The Forest Service has also collaborated with Dartmouth College to develop a monitoring protocol that will assess the ecological and social impacts of this project over time. These partnership efforts have served as a model for developing backcountry areas on federal, state and private lands in New York, New Hampshire and Vermont and have provided positive Forest Service media attention in outlets such as National Public Radio; Powder, Backcountry, Outside, Skiing and Freeskier magazines; Vermont Sports; and Vermont Outdoor Journal.

Additionally, this project developed management strategies and outreach materials that are being used as a model for designing backcountry ski projects on the White Mountain National Forest, Adirondack Park in New York and state of Vermont lands. This project was able to:

  • Address a currently unmanaged recreation activity
  • Reduce impacts to natural processes and communities from unauthorized vegetation cutting
  • Foster the development of new partnerships
  • Increase education and awareness
  • Design vegetation management techniques that enhance access while restoring naturally occurring uneven-aged forest conditions

The Brandon Gap Project brought national, regional, state, and local attention to the Forest Service, its partnership efforts, and recreation opportunities surrounding this site. For examples, click here.

Brandon Gap Backcountry Access map