Pinnacle Tower, Owl’s Head, Raptor Lane – you have probably hiked one of these trails recently in Dorset but do you know who is behind the trail maintenance of them? We recently sat down with Rachel Batz, Hike Dorset’s Outdoor Recreation Director for a chat about the hiking trails in Dorset and about some summer events they have happening. Read more below:
Discover Dorset: Hi Rachel! Many are familiar with the trails in Dorset but may not know much about you, the person behind the trails. Can you tell us more about yourself?
Rachel Batz: Hello! I have been with Hike Dorset since 2019. I moved to Vermont in June of 2019 from Southern Indiana. I am the Outdoor Recreation Director for Hike Dorset and gosh, I wear many hats in the role. I manage, build, maintain, and improve trails on town properties but my job is a lot more than that. I lead educational programs for kids and adults, I do programs with local schools, and partner with other local organizations to increase community opportunities for outdoor activity in Dorset. I’ve been able to successfully acquire grant funds for trail projects, but my proudest accomplishment has been addressing the invasive encroachment in Dorset.
DD: What is invasive encroachment, can you tell us more about that?
RB: Invasive species in the Dorset forests are taking over the understory and threatening the future of native species AND healthy forest diversity and succession but our program is ongoing, and we are directly addressing invasive encroachment through IPM, integrated pest management. To make it super simple, IPM is when multiple different removal/prevention/treatment methods are used for maximum results. I have met with dozens of Vermont land managers, taken the tests to get multiple application licenses through the State of Vermont, and a long-term invasive management plan was created for Owls Head. This is a slow process, especially with such a limited staff (only one full-time person in the entire department), but we have treated, pulled, and removed thousands of invasives and there are results in the forest from this work and the work will continue in the years to come and our work will make a big difference in the future of Dorset forests.
DD: Our trails and town forests are definitely worth protecting from invasive species. What makes our forest and trail system so special?
RB: Everything! Dorset is a small but mighty mountain area with a rich history. The views alone as I drive into work are a blessing each day, but my love for the lands I manage has grown over the four years I’ve dedicated to the lands here and that work has become an integral part of my life.
We have over 30 miles of trails now! We have a mix of mountain biking, hiking, and multi-use trails across the different properties. Cutler is a small park with a big punch. Cutler is 34 acres with a natural section of the Mettawee river running through it. The section of the river is the only part of the Mettawee that hasn’t been altered by humans on purpose so it’s a really cool example of geomorphology. Long Trail students can walk to Cutler from the school so it is a very used school resource and we host many programs there. Pinnacle is a 40 acre park right next to the Dorset Green. We have an agreement with 7 landowners that allow us to have a trail that leads from the Green to the park for easy access. This access trail was built in 2021 and has been heavily used and loved by locals and tourists alike. We are very grateful to the landowners for allowing this right-of-way. The property itself is amazing because it has a Rapunzel-esque tower built by the great-granddaughter of John Astor, the USA’s first millionaire. She was a prominent landowner in the early 1900s and wanted to see a tower in the landscape because of her childhood ties to the English countryside. Owls Head Town Forest and Raptor Lane properties are connected and encompass over 600 acres of diverse forest and ecosystems. Owls Head has Temperate Calcareous Outcrop and Temperate Calcareous Cliff communities (both uncommon).
There are so many cool facts about the lands here in Dorset! I could go on all day!
DD: What summer/fall events are happening with Hike Dorset?
RB: We received dozens of requests for more mushroom programs in the past few years so we are thrilled to have Ian Vair of Green Mountain Fungi coming for several mushroom workshops this summer and fall. We are fully funding this so that participants don’t have to pay the $70-200 that a session like this would normally cost. However registration is required (register here). Each session is about 3 hours and Ian will have mushroom teas for people to sample. Tell your friends and neighbors, these workshops are open to all and there are many dates to pick from.
DD: If anyone is interested in helping you are there ways they can volunteer with Hike Dorset?
RB: Dorset was a working-class little community that has drastically changed over the past 100 years. The quarries scattered throughout the woods that tell the story of the people who worked so hard to extract marble from the mountains. I want the Hike Dorset program to not only protect and care for the natural resources, but to create opportunities for ALL, whether wealthy or not so wealthy. Dorset is a beautiful place and is open to everyone and available to people from all kinds of backgrounds and lives. We can only do this if we continue to care for our trails and volunteers are always welcome. If you’d like to volunteer, we would love to hear from you and the first step is shooting me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). We welcome all kinds of volunteers from trail work, chainsaw assistance, and physical labor to helping with programs or other less physical tasks. So, if you’d like to help out, let us know!
Thanks Rachel for all the hard work you put into maintaining the trails in Dorset and your work with educating local youth! Follow along with Rachel and the trails @hikedorset on Instagram.