What is a Trail Easement?
Trail easements are legally enforceable agreements between a landowner and a trail organization or local or state agency through which the owner of land promises to preserve a linear corridor in its natural state and keep it substantially free of future development. This action is often referred to as “removing the development rights” from a given piece of land, or in the case of trail easements – from a specific linear corridor that travels across a piece of land.
For trail purposes, such an agreement should include language stipulating public access for trail use. Such a restriction constitutes an “interest in land” that runs with the land and is binding on future owners. The trail corridor remains the property of the owner and can be sold or disposed of but the trail easement is in perpetuity.
This agreement to preserve a strip of land and allow public access along the trail can be donated or sold for its appraised value to a trail group, town, or public agency.
A trail access easement is much like a right-of-way, except that CTA’s easements are seasonal only — from November through April. Our easements usually consist of a linear corridor 25- to 50-feet wide. The actual trail is cleared of brush and is just 4- to 8-feet wide depending on terrain. We strive to protect a wider corridor beyond the trail “tread” so that a buffer exists between skiers and other uses of the land, ensuring a safer and better quality ski experience. The easement assures connectivity for the Trail from one side of the property to the other as it passes onto neighboring properties.
CTA’s easements usually contain a provision for the relocation of the Trail, whether permanently or temporarily, at the landowner’s request. In this case, CTA will work with the landowner to relocate in a way that maintains connectivity and accommodates both a quality skiing experience and individual land-management needs.
Trail easements are the best tool for permanent trail protection, short of outright acquisition of the property by a non-profit or government agency. They are permanent and appear on the title of the property.
What types of easements does the Catamount Trail Association hold?
Permanent Easements Held by CTA Alone:
The CTA first began holding easements on its own in April 1995. A variety of easement models have been developed and are modified to meet each landowner’s need so long as a high-quality and safe ski experience is provided.
Permanent Easements Co-held by the CTA and a Partner Organization:
When appropriate or mutually beneficial, CTA co-holds easements with other conservation organizations or the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. In such situations, either the easement or a separate agreement addresses responsibilities for management, stewardship and monitoring.
A term easement, though recorded in town land records, runs for a specific period of time and expires unless renewed. CTA’s policy is to obtain perpetual easements for trail access on private land, however, in certain cases, CTA may utilize term easements where another option is not viable and the importance of the segment to be protected warrants such. CTA seeks to convert these term easements to permanent status over time.
What about liability?
Liability for accidents on the Catamount Trail is not affected by the presence of a trail easement. Vermont has strengthened its laws over the years to protect private landowners who open their lands to public recreation from being liable in the event that someone is injured while recreating on private land.
In addition, because the Catamount Trail is a part of the Vermont Trails System, there is even greater protection for landowners along the Catamount Trail. To be liable for a person’s injury on the Catamount Trail, landowners would need to intentionally inflict harm. CTA also maintains a liability insurance policy that covers landowners on all sections of the Trail.
For more information, you may download a booklet published by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation called Public Recreation On Private Land: A Landowner’s Guide
The relevant Vermont statute, Limitations on Landowner Liability, provides additional information.
Will the Trail affect my privacy?
It is unlikely the Trail will affect your privacy. We encourage you to be involved in planning the Trail and to let us know when changes are needed to accommodate your changing land uses. We can work to plan the Trail so that people won’t ski close to your house or farm building. We are conscientious about maintaining adequate signage, and have found that most skiers naturally stay on the trail as long as they are pointed in the right direction with clear signs.
Who deals with problems on the Trail?
We do. It is inevitable that a mid-winter storm may cause a tree to blow down, or that a trail marker will come loose from its nail. The CTA Trail Chiefs, who usually live locally, fix these problems. If you learn of a problem on the Trail, you can help us by notifying the CTA office.
If a Landowner grants a trail easement to CTA do they give up any of their property rights?
You can still do whatever you want with your land except build a structure or place other developments within the protected trail corridor. You are free to sell, log, farm and subdivide your land as you see fit as long as steps are taken to ensure skiers can cross the land on a safe, high-quality trail. CTA works with landowners to design easements that are compatible with individual land management goals.
Would you like additional information?
Please contact us to learn more.