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Slayton: Ascutney State Park

07/18/12 5:55PM By Tom Slayton
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(Host) Some of the Vermont State Parks that long-time journalist and commentator Tom Slayton is visiting this summer are more challenging than others. Ascutney State Park meant a stiff mountain climb - through a couple of centuries of Vermont history.

(Slayton) When you climb Mount Ascutney, you are quite literally hiking through history.

There are traces of that history all over the mountain, from old logging roads and early granite quarries to stone structures and the steep, winding summit road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The mountain's name - Ascutney - hints at an even earlier history because it is believed to come from a Native American term meaning "steep mountain with a rocky top."

I climbed the mountain recently with state park ranger Mark Gedmin, so I know that Native American name is accurate. There's no denying that Ascutney is steep! Each of the four trails that climb it have places near the top where they simply drive straight up. All you can do is crank your way up those steep pitches, panting and sweating.

Ascutney State Park, which encompasses the mountain, offers camping sites, amenities and information, and it's where the summit road begins.

At the top of the mountain, there's an observation platform and from a nearby spur, hang-gliders regularly soar into the air and glide off for parts unknown. Ascutney is, as a result, the premier hang-gliding location in New England.

This mountain has obviously had a long association with humankind - and perhaps the most interesting part of Mount Ascutney's long history is the most recent - because it is an expression of Vermont's love for this rugged little mountain.

That affection, when you get right down to it, is what built the trails up the mountain, and led to the formation of the Ascutney Trails Association, (which still holds an annual picnic on top of the mountain). It was that affection that built a
Tent site created by the CCC in Ascutney State Park, ca. 1940. Photo gift of Perry Merrill to the Vermont Historical Society.
rude stone overnight cabin, now gone, and that led the CCC to construct fireplaces and tables, and the creation of Ascutney State Park, to oversee and care for it all.

People in the Upper Valley have come to love and value Mount Ascutney. They regard it as "their" mountain.

It's a feeling that develops as you explore the mountain and get to know its secret places. I found another such place on my hike this summer - a small stone picnic shelter with an enormous view about halfway up the CCC road. You can see the shelter and a hint of its broad view of the Valley below as you walk toward it through a hypnotically beautiful grove of big pines. The ground is carpeted with green moss, and you feel that at any moment elves might just appear from behind a tree. Then you reach the stone shelter itself and the Upper Connecticut Valley and the peaks of nearby New Hampshire are spread before you.

It's the kind of discovery that brings a mountain to life, and allows us to realize what a complex, many-layered thing that it really is.


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