Vermont routes 7, 11, or 30 run through the intensely beautiful floral vistas and pastoral outlooks of the Green Mountain National Forest. In all seasons, except perhaps mud, for which Vermont is unfortunately quite famous, the drive is alone is worth taking the trip to Manchester.
The Green Mountain Nation Forest
According to the USDA Forest Service, The Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) contains 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont, comprising the largest contiguous public land area in the state. And it is venerable only comparatively because almost all of Vermont was widely logged without regulation or consequence through much of the 1800s, a time when Burlington was the third largest lumber port in the country.
To counteract some of the effects of this unmitigated consumption of natural resources, the Vermont National Forest was established 1932, and the Forest Service and its volunteers have been nursing both watershed and wood back to natural splendor ever since. Part of their efforts are marked by eight protected Wilderness areas, which currently make up approximately 101,000 acres (25 percent) of the Forest. This is where some of the oldest and most dense woods in Vermont can be found, and is defined by The Wilderness Act of 1964 as, “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Luckily, as a visitor, man can hike through much of this wilderness, and, as a general rule, does since Vermont is actually part of a much bigger trail in its own little way. The Appalachian Train (or A.T., as most hikers know it) runs, more or less, straight up its the southwestern section of the Forest’s spine.
Boasting 2,178 miles in total and taking 5 million footsteps to complete, the A.T. starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin in northern Maine. But the section that runs through Vermont follows approximately 100 miles of the locally famous “Long Trail” (from which the beer maker takes its name). And the rough and tumble terrain is both challenging and rewarding, following GMNF crests but also dipping into farm valleys, stands of paper birch, and trickling streams.
Manchester, Vermont, Destination Town
All of this surrounds the little town of Manchester on every side. And as you look up from your steaming cup of coffee (purchased at perhaps the cleanest and quaintest gas station/mini-mart you believe you have ever seen) you will notice imposing mountains all around, the tops of which are dressed in a milky white early morning cloud cover, which gives the town a sort of cozy blocked in air. You are left feeling warm and relaxed and at peace in a strange sort of Norman Rockwell kind of way.
And this is interesting because Norman Rockwell actually spent a small chunk of his adult life one town over in Arlington, where he lived with his family for 12 years. According to Norman Rockwell At Home In Vermont by Stuart Murray, it was during this time that he developed a self-described story-telling sense in his painting, thereby creating some of his greatest works, like “The Four Freedoms” and “Saying Grace.”
The upshot is that this overwhelming feeling of familiarity boils over into local area life, as strolling though Manchester is a bit like traversing through a Rockwell painting featured on the front cover of Vermont Life – houses line the streets in the quintessential New English style, sidewalks are cut of marble, rock walls line meandering back roads, and willow trees sway on top of rolling and deeply fetching lawns.
And there are a number of historic sites too, from the Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s summer home, to the American Museum of Flyfishing, owned by Orvis, and the breathtaking Mount Equinox Skyline Drive, rising 3,848 feet above sea level with 360 degree views of tri-state mountains.
Chartered in 1761 and plopped in the middle of a low and beautiful pastoral valley, Manchester, which takes up a meager 42.67 square miles for all of its goings-on, reported a population of only 4,282 in 2007. Despite this, it is packed with stuff. The Orvis Company (1856) and Burton Snowboards were founded here, and Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Kennith Cole, the Gap, and Banana Republic all offer hours, if not days, of retail shopping bliss. Further, skiing trails, hiking trails, and a thriving art community round out life in this small town at the heart of the bucolic and venerable Green Mountain National Forest.