Gnome Man’s Land
6 Oct 2017
By Trey Clay
One of the most unique places to mountain bike: Millstone Trails in Barre, Vermont
Bring your “A” Game balance skills, ladder-riding skills, chunky rock riding skills, root infestation survival skills, and prepare for some route finding difficulties. Millstone Trails form a squiggly maze, snaking in and around the industrial working-class town of Barre (pronounced ‘Barry’) and the many abandoned granite quarries that it is known for.
The granite quarrying industry is still very much alive in Barre...as we found out the hard way, when we parked our RV overnight in an (seemingly) abandoned parking lot. It was a warm, quiet, Sunday night. For maximum airflow, we had opened up all the windows in our camper. And with much surprise to our ears, at 5 a.m. on the dot, the diesel pickup trucks started rolling in, quarry workers clocked-in and promptly fired up their 35-ton bulldozers! Vowing never to do that again, we moved over to the Barre Town Elementary & Middle School parking lot. Teachers arrive at a more reasonable 7 a.m., and a much better wake up time for us! As far as we know, this is the best “free” camping spot in Barre.
Trailforks (app) shows the main parking area off of Brook Street, and you can purchase a trail day-pass for $10 at Lawson’s General Store at the corner of Brook Street & Church Hill Road. From the parking lot, you can jump on the double track “Grand Lookout” trail and pedal past some great quarry views, rock sculptures, and a popular cliff jumping spot amongst the teenagers on warm sunny days. Connect with “Roller Coaster” trail and the fun begins!
Of course, “Roller Coaster”, like most of the trails here, has some wood features and small drops, but it’s one of the least rocky trails at Millstone and a good warm-up for the more technically challenging to come. You’ll quickly discover, as we did, that most of the trails in this section of Millstone (aka: Gnome Man’s Land) will end in a low lying area with no good climbing trail back to the top. So, we opted for a quick exit onto Websterville Road with a less painful climb back to the start. Next up was “Scream’n Demon”! This was our favorite trail because of the elevated ladder bridges that artfully connect giant granite boulders, features to launch off of and catch some air, and the steep descending nature of the terrain. Repeat the previously discussed climb and get ready to test your balance and track standing skills on “Angry Gnome” and “Vortex.” It seems like half your time is spent on ladder bridges on these trails...the other half is on granite spines. Low speed bike handling skills, ratcheting, lifting your front and back wheel, and laying down the power when needed are compulsory for successfully navigating the Gnome Man’s Land. From the end of “Vortex” or “Angry Gnome”, hook up with “Harrington Heights” and “Harrington Ridge” for more granite spine riding and challenging rock-rolling features. Finish up with punchy ups & downs on “Rock and Roll” trail.
The network of trails that live slightly to the south and east of Gnome Man’s Land are considered to be more raw, old-school, cross-country trails with less manmade structures. The classic, must-do trail in this zone is called “TNT”. Its only 2 miles long, but it’s a butt kicker with short, punch you in the gut climbs and momentum sapping root bundles everywhere. Not our favorite. Luckily, it’s true; the quarries do have natural air conditioning! Just when we were on the verge of heat stroke, a blast of 20-degree cooler air would save us from keeling over.
This place definitely has character! The trailbuilders, the quarry industry, and Mother Nature have certainly provided riders with a special place to ride. We really like the technical aspect of the trails. However, it would be great to have a purpose built climbing trail to get riders back to the starting point in the Gnome Man’s Land. Would we come back? Hell yes! But, maybe not with our RV, because Barre is on ‘lock-down’ as far any opportunity for free camping. The public land that does exist, prominently displays “no camping” signs. We even got kicked out of the recreation area at 10 p.m. by a friendly Barre Town police officer, but he did tell us that we’d be OK to park overnight in the town school parking lot. Millstone Trails definitely deserves a stop if you’re in the area and provides at least 2 or 3 days of very unique riding, exploration and history.