Nearly one year ago, an 80-mph windstorm pummeled the Colchester Causeway Recreation Path, eroding 12,450 yards of the Island Line Trail and leaving its future in question.
While the ensuing emergency repairs enabled the Causeway to reopen in time for summer, the project’s Chief Inspector, Gordy Eastman, called it a “Band-Aid repair.”
Eight days short of the storm’s anniversary, on April 26, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded Colchester $1,153,409 to repair the Causeway.
Plans for restoration are geared towards bringing the Causeway back to its condition prior to the storm, and are scheduled to begin on Sept. 3.
“Right now the slope of the causeway is steeper than it was prior to the storm,” said town manager Aaron Frank, making the path somewhat dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Much of the material will be used to even out the slope to make it less dangerous for trail users—according to Colchester Sun’s previous reporting on the Causeway, cones and markers along the trail alert people to sharp inclines.
The Island Line Trail is a major source of tourism for the town, and was one of the main reasons for the state funded emergency repairs made last summer, which let the trail reopen less than 60 days after the storm. Initially, the state provided funding that will now serve as 17.5 percent of the required matching funds for the FEMA grant, leaving the town to come up with 7.5 percent.
To help prevent future damage, Frank said the town plans to re-armor the sides of the path with larger stone to strengthen its structure.
“We will be putting about 10% more material down than was lost in the storm,” he said, explaining they plan to increase the average rock size beyond those used during emergency repairs. In re-armoring, the new stone will have a longest dimension of 3-60 inches, and at least 50 percent of the volume will have a dimension of 20 inches. That’s five times the original size.
“The Colchester Causeway Recreation Path is beautiful, but it is also fragile as a manmade object in the middle of 107-mile long by 14-mile wide lake,” says Frank.
The Causeway cuts a sleek curve down the middle of Lake Champlain—a green, rocky string tying Colchester to South Hero over dark blue water. Walking along the trail, the Adirondack Mountains of New York line the left, Mount Mansfield and the Green Mountains on the right. But what is now a signature landmark in Colchester, and an internationally renowned biking path, was once part of the Rutland Railroad.
Built in 1899, the Colchester Causeway Recreation Path started out as a rail bed for the Rutland Island line, which ran from Burlington’s Union Station to Sorel, Canada. Workers, many of whom were Italian immigrants, transported equipment such as steel rails and steam drills over the ice from Plattsburgh. Construction finished within a year, with service beginning in 1901.
The town of Colchester acquired the Causeway in 1966, after the completion of Vermont’s interstates and a decline in railroad use forced the Rutland Railroad to close. By adding gravel and “sure pack” (an erosion-resistant mixture of stone and sand), the rail bed became a popular trail for walking, fishing, and biking. And in 2004, the Local Motion Bike Ferry began sailing passengers across the “cut,” a gap in the trail that opens Malletts Bay into Lake Champlain.