A group is trying to purchase a 110-acre Woodstock property where the first ski tow in the nation once sat.
The Trust for Public Lands and the Vermont Land Trust are teaming up to acquire the property to prevent development there. They are working with a group of local people, including Woodstock planning commission members and Rep. Alison Clarkson, ski history buffs and hiking enthusiasts.
Though hesitant to disclose their plans (as a contract to purchase the site is pending with the property owners), Bob Linck, the regional director of the Vermont Land Trust for Central Vermont, said the history of the property makes it a viable project for the nonprofit nature conservation commission.
“This is a very dominant part of the landscape there.”
The property at 1362 Barnard Rd. is valued at $1.4 million.
“There’s a lot of interesting elements to that property,” Linck said.
Linck said it was too early to say what it could become but Rich Windish sees the property as an ideal link between the Appalachian Trail and the national park. A three-mile trail could potentially wrap around the back of Suicide Six and connect them. Windish, an attorney in Woodstock, is co-chair of the committee that would raise money to acquire the property. He’s also the former president of the Green Mountain Club.
“The hiking community could really benefit,” Windish said, adding: “When you’re standing at the top of the property… you see the whole park in front of you. To me it’s the ideal place to put a side trail.” Skiers are also involved because of the rich ski history there. Asked if it could become a ski hill again, Woodstock Ski Runners coach Bill McCollom, who is also involved in the group, said: “I wouldn’t rule anything out, but that’s not in the game plan.” The parties planned to have a meeting on Wednesday to get a better idea and discuss how to raise the money.
“Things are rapidly taking shape but we still have to define the financial figures,” McCollum said.
The hill was once dairy farm land owned by Clinton Gilbert.
The nation’s first ski tow was built there in 1934 and financed in large part by Elizabeth and Robert Royce, who owned the White Cupboard Inn in Woodstock. They learned of the idea from three New York residents who saw a ski tow in Quebec. A Ford Model T powered the 600-foot vertical drop and the project was complete for $500.
Wallace “Bunny” Bertram later made improvements to the ski tow. He paid Gilbert $10 to lease the hill in 1935 and keep it going. Eventually there were three rope tows on that property and through the 1930s, more ski tows spread all around Woodstock, on Suicide Six and Mount Tom.
Many of them closed during World War II and were later replaced by chairlifts and T-bars.
The Appel family purchased the property in 1965 from Gilbert’s widow. John Appel’s father was a retired forester from New Jersey who wanted to keep it as open farmland. He planted trees on the land and invited people to hike, snowmobile and ski there.
“It will be kept up the way my parents wanted it,” said John Appel, the current property owner.
Appel plans to move to Las Vegas, explaining that he doesn’t have ties to this area any more since his parents died in 2012 and 2013.
Appel said there has been talk of putting an information booth on the hill to describe the history of the property, though the party interested in purchasing it didn’t confirm.
“The dream has always been to have some sort of visual recognition for the first ski tow,” said Grettie Howe, the visitor services coordinator at Billings Farm and Museum.
The Vermont Land Trust has preserved a number of acres in this area, including a 32-acre conservation easement in Hartland, an 85-acre easement in West Windsor and a 159-acre conservation easement in Woodstock. The Trust for Public Lands, an organization that protects land and creates parks, is also working on local projects here. It has the option to purchase 469 acres of former ski resort land in West Windsor.
For now, Linck is just seeing what the property could be.
“We’re in early stages in terms of making anything happen,” Linck said.