The Molly Stark Trail Scenic Byway

By Tordis Isselhardt

It’s official! Route 9, spanning Vermont from the New York State line west of Bennington to the New Hampshire State line east of Brattleboro at the Connecticut River, has been certified as “scenic” with things to see and do all along the way — something generations of travelers have known for years!

Back in September 1936 this stretch of road was dedicated as the Molly Stark Trail, with an historical pageant in Wilmington and cavalcade of cars from Bennington and Brattleboro over “forty miles of hard surfaced road, mud free and dust free, over hills and through valleys that were once a menace and a discouragement to the traveler.” It was already a favorite recreational excursion for the motoring public and the heavily traveled southernmost route across the Green Mountains.

In July 2003, Route 9 – by now re-engineered and resurfaced and relocated a number of times – was designated by the Vermont Transportation Board as the state’s third officially designated Scenic Byway, joining the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain Byways.

It was a long process. A citizen steering committee representing communities along the Byway met to discuss their mutual interest in seeking Byway designation with open meetings to resolve conflicting points of view. Representatives from the Bennington County and Windham County Regional Commissions provided staff support. An independent consulting firm prepared a comprehensive Nomination Package documenting that Molly Stark Trail Scenic Byway possesses all six possible intrinsic qualities: scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archeological, and natural.

“From the New York State border, the byway traverses an agricultural landscape in the Valley of Vermont with stunning views of the Taconic and Green Mountain Ranges. Traveling east from Bennington, the Molly Stark Trail climbs into the Green Mountain National Forest.

After ascending nearly 2,000 vertical feet and passing through the scenic mountain towns of Woodford and Searsburg, the byway drops down into the Deerfield River Valley, home to the Harriman and Somerset Reservoirs, and the historic town of Wilmington.

Continuing to the east, the highway passes Molly Stark State Park and then reaches the breathtaking overlook at Hogback Mountain. A final winding descent out of the mountains leads through the hill farms and forest of Marlboro and into Brattleboro, where the Molly Stark Trail meets the CT River Byway.”
Brattleboro provides access to the CT River Byway – and historic buildings put to new uses. Historic postcard courtesy of Images From The Past.

Brattleboro provides access to the CT River Byway - and historic buildings put to new uses.

The consultants also prepared a mandatory Corridor Management Plan outlining how the resources will be protected, enhanced, promoted, and made available to the public, and every five years each Vermont Byway is reviewed to ensure that the intrinsic qualities that were used as justification for the original designation remain intact.

The Vermont Byways Program mirrors the national program to enable qualified byways to seek national designation as either an All-American Road or a National Scenic Byway. In 2005 the CT River Byway – 500 miles of roads on both the New Hampshire and Vermont sides of the river, just re-designated at the state level – submitted an application to become a National Scenic Byway. If successful, they will be assured national marketing exposure on maps and other publications, and on the National Scenic Byways web site at www.byways.org.

Once designated, state byways can apply for grants to pay for improvements along the corridor that will benefit and sustain the byway. The Molly Stark Trail Byway Council, successor to the initial steering committee, was awarded $138,573 in state enhancement grant funding in 2004. Once the appropriation bill is passed in Washington, money will flow to Vermont, and then to the Council.

One enhancement is already in place,. A bronze statue of Molly Stark, wife of the Revolutionary War General, John Stark, was dedicated in downtown Wilmington in June 2004, thanks to the generosity of a direct descendant.

Soon, travelers along the Molly Stark Trail Scenic Byways can look forward to a series of interpretive kiosks at sites in Bennington, Woodford, Wilmington, Marlboro, and Brattleboro; a brochure locating and describing byway highlights; a website; and distinctive byway signs to make their trip even more enjoyable and memorable!

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Historic postcard courtesy of Images From The Past

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