The many miles of dirt road were the first thing I noticed about Craftsbury. The second was the complete absence of cell service. We’re not talking about spotty cell service. You can drive around all you like – it won’t do you any good.
Because of these two things and my lack of foresight, I was over an hour late meeting my host in Craftsbury, Phil Lovely. After finally catching up with him at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, I asked him if he’d gotten my voicemail explaining that I was hopelessly lost. “This must be your first time in the Kingdom,” he replied.
Phil and his wife, Belinda, raise horses on a gorgeous property nearby. They’ve been in the area for upwards of 30 years, he tells me, and have hosted Catamount Trail and Outdoor Center skiers on their portion of trail since the beginning. One of their favorite pastimes in the winter is sitting on the porch of their house, a beautiful converted barn, watching skiers go by, sometimes stopping to feed carrots to the horses.
Phil graciously agreed to show me around Craftsbury. First, we walked around the Outdoor Center, originally a boarding school and now a not-for-profit recreation center. It’s a pretty busy place in the summer: in addition to the mountain bikers using the Nordic trails, they host several nationally-recognized sculling camps and are in the midst of construction. But they seem to keep busy in the winter as well, maintaining around 85 km of Nordic trails that reach throughout the town. Between providing free skiing for locals and Vermont high school teams, hosting the Green Team – some of the most talented recently-graduated skiers in the US -, and offering adult education programs, the Center supports nearly every level of skiing imaginable. They’re also instrumental in the conservation of many of the forest and fields that give Craftsbury its distinctive look and feel.
Next, we headed into the village of Craftsbury. Phil showed me the construction site for an inn that’s being built, right on a trail that leads to the Outdoor Center. I guess it’s caused some excitement because the inn will also have a bar, something Craftsbury’s never had before.
Finally, we headed to Craftsbury Common, all the while following Nordic trails. First we stopped at Craftsbury Public Library, built in 2003 due to some valiant community fundraising efforsts. We then made a stop at Craftsbury Academy, the oldest high school in Vermont. Phil has worn many hats here, including school counselor, Nordic ski coach, and soccer coach. The Academy has a new gym, Phil tells me. The gym was a real community effort – the wood floors came from the backyards of the students who go there and community members that support them. Everywhere we went, Phil seemed to know at least half of the people in the room, even the Chinese exchange students in the gym who’d only been in Craftsbury for two weeks. Perhaps this has to do with how small the town is. But I get the impression that it has to do with Phil’s warm and outgoing personality as well. As we headed back to the Outdoor Center, Phil showed me the trails that he used to ski on to the Academy.
The two hours I spent with Phil were only a taste of the many great things happening in Craftsbury. But nevertheless, Phil left me with the strong impression that the many trails throughout the town knit together a close network of skiers and Craftsbury residents, meaning the Outdoor Center provides for not only some of the best skiing in the east, but a unique community to go along with that. As I pulled away in my car, I was already planning my next trip up there for this ski season.