WILMINGTON -- The Hiking Committee noticed that something wrong had happened on the Deerfield Ridge Trail: There was a track that showed excavator activity along two miles of the trail.
"Folks reported this," said U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Chris Fors. "Some recreation folks and myself went out with uniformed patrolmen."
Significant excavation and sub-standard alteration had been done on a portion of that two miles of the popular hiking trail. On Dec. 14, the trail, which is near Haystack Mountain, was closed for snowmobile use until further notice.
A press release from the U.S. Forest Service stated "These trail modifications represent a significant threat of damage to the surrounding public lands and resources by increasing erosion, compromising the health of existing wetlands, wildlife habitat and unique biological communities."
All motorized vehicles are prohibited from entering the trail for now. Hikers are still allowed to use the trail, but are asked to "exercise caution and expect changed and degraded trail conditions."
The investigation is still ongoing. Fors said some people had suspected that the Vermont Association of Snowmobile Travelers was working on the trail for its own purposes without the proper permission of the Forest Service.
"It does not appear that this is the case," said Fors, of VAST or of another local snowmobile club. Only experienced snowmobile drivers use the Deerfield Ridge trail, Fors said. No tour groups or beginners usually take it.
He mentioned that VAST had a good working relationship with the National Forest. Once in a while, there may be a small issue with oversight, but most times VAST has worked well with the National Forest, he said.
"They're very familiar with the rules and usually always get permission if they want to do something. They make sure to coordinate with the National Forest if it's on our land."
Fors has asked that if readers have observed anything unusual at the site, to contact the U.S. Forest Service at 802-747-6797.
Notices have gone out to inform the public of the trail's closing as well as to gather information from people who may know something about the incident.
"We have a lot of leads that we're following up on."
Fors could not give out anymore details of the investigation until there was more solid evidence or information. Additional information will be reported once the investigation is closed.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.