Vermont’s Landsharing Tradition
Like many rural states, Vermont has a land sharing culture. We appreciate rural life and outdoor recreation. Whether we are natives or transplants, we care about the future and health of the rural landscape. The laws of the state support this longstanding tradition, providing substantial protection for the landowner who chooses to share the land for recreational use. If you have not read the statute, you may be surprised at how much protection you have as a landowner
Why share your trails?
- The law is on your side
- By and large, land users in Vermont are respectful, careful and appreciative
- You are doing your part to preserve a rural way of life
- Ultimately, it enhances the character and value of your community
A Unique Legacy of Equestrian Trails
For almost a century, GMHA and landowners have been working together to nurture equestrian trails. The scenery and lifestyle that we all find so appealing depends upon our mutual respect and cooperation. We work hard to earn and keep your trust.
Landowners matter – a lot. We at GMHA recognize and appreciate your generosity. We thank you for sharing your trails. We will make every effort to be good stewards of the privilege.
GMHA does not use trails without documented permission to do so. For clarity and mutual protection, we prefer a signed written permission that stays in effect as long as you own the property but is revocable by you at any time. This form specifies the trail(s) to be used and is customizable to your wishes. For a copy of our permission form, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Through a straightforward and flexible process, you can donate a trail or trails to GMHA, giving us a legal easement that runs with the land in perpetuity. This option ensures equestrian use of the trail for the future. Learn more about easements here.
GMHA holds liability insurance that covers members, employees, event participants and volunteers when they are on the trails. We will also obtain a certificate naming a landowner as additionally insured upon request. All event participants sign a waiver of liability which names landowners.
Each spring, all landowners with permissions in place receive written notification of the dates and specific trails requested for use by GMHA during that year. Ample time is given for response and any adjustments desired by the landowner.
GMHA is happy to help maintain and even improve your trails with your permission. We will not perform any maintenance without your permission. We rely upon the generosity of donors to our trail fund for the resources to improve trails throughout the network. To learn more about our latest maintenance projects, visit the Latest Dirt on the Trails.
GMHA supports multiple uses and trail user cooperation according to landowner wishes. We work together with all of the local trail using organizations and continually strive to improve communication for the betterment of all. We are landowners ourselves, holding a multi-use trail easement on our own property.
GMHA makes every effort to identify any safety concerns on the trails and bring them to your attention. We will close a trail and re-route as needed, always keeping you informed.
You as the landowner always have the right to close a trail if conditions become unsafe or detrimental to the trail. We appreciate notification as early as possible so we can plan accordingly.
In general, we do not use trails before Memorial Day weekend and after November 1. Some maintenance and marking may take place in those times if conditions are stable.
With your permission, we can install GMHA trail signs with trail names at our expense. This is optional. We also provide “No Horses” signs to mark trails that you do not wish horses to use. If you give permission for a Member’s Trail, there will be permanent white arrows with the trail number stapled to trees to mark the trail. Our event-specific markers are colored plastic cards with arrows and the GMHA logo accompanied by matching color streamers. These are affixed to trees and other fixtures by staples and removed when the event is over. We make every effort to remove event markers within the week after the event.
We use GPS to mark and document trail routes. It is enormously helpful in determining even mileage and course planning. We do not share the data without your permission. If you have concerns about use of GPS on your property, please let us know.
All GMHA landowners who are not GMHA members are given the option to become GMHA subscribers. This gives you access to our calendar of events, magazines, e-newsletters and other announcements so that you can stay informed.
All GMHA landowners are assigned a Land Ambassador, who is either a volunteer in your neighborhood or a member of GMHA staff. That person is your contact for all questions, concerns, and general correspondence.
Appreciation from our riders!
Quotes taken from our surveys:
“Thanks to GMHA and the landowners for sharing!”
“Awesome. Best trail ride ever.”
“Looking forward to returning as soon as possible!”
Meet your neighbors who share their trails:
Dick Webster of Coon Club Road in West Windsor is a seventh generation Vermonter with 16 grandchildren. Through his service in the Navy and career as a technical instructor for Bosch, Dick has travelled to many countries and retired four years ago, moving back to the family home. His parents bought the house and 40-acre property in 1951, when the house did not have electric, plumbing or telephone. And—as any local trail rider can affirm—the land offers a breath-taking view of Mount Ascutney when emerging from the woods.
From seven years of age, Dick has been drawn to the property’s wooded areas and that of the surrounding neighbors. And in those days it all felt like one with few signs barring entrance for hunting or hiking or horseback riding. He spent hours and hours playing there until he heard the “ah-oo-gah” of the Klaxon horn his father electrified and mounted on the house to call him home.
As a teenager, Dick would often spend overnights in the woods, taking only a knife, some string and matches. He caught his own food and slept under the stars with just the clothes he wore to keep warm. He has always thrilled at the sight of wildlife in his wanderings, most especially the bear, deer and turkeys. It is fair to say that he became totally in tune with the land, its seasonal transformations and its feathered and furry inhabitants.
Today, even with compromised health, Dick continues to enjoy his lifelong passion of being in the woods as much as possible working on the many trails to keep them open. He also hunts deer to fill his freezer. Because he requires an ATV to get around, neighbors have given him exclusive permission to access their trails, which he care-takes as an exchange. His ATV is fully-equipped with chains, rope, peavey, axe, pulley, chainsaw, first-aid kit and a special skidder to move larger logs. Hawk and owl feathers he finds along the way sprout from the handle bars.
Dick attributes his energy and sense of purpose to working on the trails. In his own words, “Because I spent a lot of my time on these wooded trails as a kid, they mean something to me. They give back to me in ways that are emotional, spiritual and physical.” There is one thing that makes Dick’s heart sink, however. Recently he had been out on his ATV, came home and put it away, when…
“Three ladies on horses rode up the road, turned into my upper driveway, stopped to avail themselves my fruitful apple tree, rode on north on the trail and were gone. As I stood there in plain sight, there was no wave or attempt at conversation or ‘Hi, Mr. Webster’ or any indication that they were happy for the trail privileges. Now that I think about it, not one horseback rider in the four years I’ve been retired has ever stopped to say, ‘Thanks for the trail.’ As a landowner, it rather feels like being used, that permissions are presumed and they are entitled.”
It is amazing what a sincere smile, wave, brief conversation or simple “thank you” can ultimately mean in the grand scheme of things. Please let our landowners know that YOU know what it means…
Victoria Thrane’s farm in Hartland has been a gateway to a rich network of trails since before she came to own it twenty-one years ago. Located at the end of a peaceful road tucked into the hills where South Woodstock and Hartland meet, it is a familiar spot at the end of the Upwey Farm Trail. Victoria is a lifetime horsewoman who is happy to be a part of GMHA’s trail riding tradition. “I just love the sound and sight of the horses and riders,” says Victoria. “It’s nice to see them enjoying the trails.”
These days, Victoria shares her farm with a donkey and a pony, who also enjoy being part of the welcoming committee. She has always loved horses, and grew up as a “wild cowgirl, riding the wildest horses.” After a few brushes with mortality, she has come to favor the companionship of slower, steadier equines. Her farm is quintessential Vermont – a quiet and sturdy complement to the landscape. It is a timeless reminder of the treasure we have in our network of trails, and the welcoming spirit of the land owners who make it possible.
One of the highlights of our Fall Foliage Rides this year was the Friday lunch stop at the top of a rolling field in Hartland with a spectacular view of Mt. Ascutney. That field, and the 200 acre farm that surrounds it, is gladly shared with GMHA riders by Gayle Davis and Kraig Murphy of Lull Brook Farm. Gayle has been a life member of GMHA since the 1980’s. “This has been my stomping ground for the past 30 years,” says Gayle as she describes GMHA. She is an active competitor in Eventing, and also enjoys riding with the North Country Hounds and hacking through the beautiful trails on her property and throughout the GMHA network.
Gayle has lived across the river in Cornish, New Hampshire for most of her adult life, and hadn’t planned to move to Hartland, but fate intervened. “My good friend, who lives nearby, encouraged me to look at Lull Brook Farm. Peggy Cummings owned it at the time, and was in ill health. I fell in love with the place. After I heard that Peggy was giving her blessing for us to buy it, I knew that I would be moving to Hartland,” said Gayle. “We moved just days after Hurricane Irene blew through the area in Fall of 2011.”
Lull Brook Farm has a well-established trail system that has been used by the local horse community and by GMHA for the past century. Gayle and Craig consider themselves stewards of the land and the trails, and have improved and maintained them each year. “We have a little piece of heaven here, and we want to share it,” she says. The farm consists of an amazing brick farmhouse that was completely restored from the ground up in 1997, a barn, and both indoor and outdoor arenas. Along with sharing her trails, Gayle hosts hunts, hunter paces, and clinics from the facility.
At the top of Town Hill Road in Reading there is an oasis called High Meadows Farm. George and Harriet Wiswell’s 300 acres began as a rustic winter retreat for their family. After discovering the pure fun of skiing at Suicide Six in the 1960’s, they purchased 150 acres of raw land with the help of their new friend, Roger Maher, a GMHA founding father. They plunked a cabin on the land and retreated there from their home in Connecticut for winter recreation. As their 3 sons grew, so did the house. Years later, they purchased the neighboring farm, doubling the size of their property and moving into the 100 year-old farmhouse. The old Stage Road, now known as Rich Trail, runs down the property boundary. It is a major artery for equestrian travel and a part of the GMHA 100-mile trail.
Since owning the property, the Wiswell’s have added a network of trails through their fields and forests that connect to a system of neighborhood riding trails. “We’re not horse people,” says George Wiswell. “We just enjoy seeing them and we have so many neighbors and friends who are horse people. Horseback riding and GMHA are part of the fabric of life up here. We never want to see it end.” The trails through the Wiswell’s farm began when one of their sons took up Nordic skiing in high school. George made the trails for his son and his classmates and then he and Harriet took up Nordic skiing as well. “At that time,” says Harriet. “We had a period of very snowy winters. We would pack a lunch and ski all the way to South Woodstock and back. We had snowmobiles as well, and we would travel all over the hills with our friends.” George recounted tales of sledding parties that ran straight down Town Hill Road with a snowmobile-powered tow to the top.
Through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, High Meadows Farm was rented to horse people in the summer as the Wiswell’s chose to spend their summers sailing off the North Shore of Massachusetts. “At that time, many of our friends from Glastonbury, Connecticut participated in Pony Club. GMHA was their summer headquarters, so the hills were filled with kids and their ponies,” says Harriet.
As their sons grew, George and Harriet became more interested in living and learning in rural Vermont, spending more time at High Meadows. One son learned about sugaring while at Middlebury College, and George began helping out at the neighboring Jenne Farm. Soon they had a sugarhouse and a few hundred tapped trees. Now, their sugaring operation has 10,000 taps and is managed by Green Mountain Sugar House. There was a foray into sheep farming, but that only lasted a few years. Most of the Wiswell’s land is productive managed forest. They have enjoyed learning about forest stewardship and managing the resources of the forest, including the trails.
Although their sons are grown and have children and now grandchildren of their own, High Meadow Farm continues to be their oasis. Every year, they enjoy Thanksgiving together at the farm. George and Harriet spend more time here in the summers now, in the midst of the place where they have so many rich memories of family, neighbors, and friends. When health permits, they enjoy venturing out to see the horses, meet new faces, and learn something new.