Hitting the Trail in the Kingdom

The recreational opportunities in Vermont have always been intimately tied to the character of the land. As the year progresses, the lakes and mountains are sought out for their changing moods, by both young and old, and are utilized and appreciated as something that is unique and in touch with the seasons. In East Burke, Kingdom Trails (KT) is one of those places, and has gained a reputation as being one of the top mountain bike trail networks in North America and New England (Bike Magazine, Yankee Magazine Travel Guide, Boston Magazine Travel & Life). As with most of Vermont’s natural resources, at KT a symbiotic relationship exists between the land and the people who are benefiting from its presence. A relationship that is contingent on recreational and educational activities on one side (not to mention tourism dollars) and conservation and sustainable practices on the other. Since he was 15, Conor Daley has seen this relationship grow, from the perspective of a participant and a provider, both working on and using the extensive trails system that KT is so well known for. He said that it was in high school that a friend gave him the “biking bug” and things escalated from there. “I started riding the trails four, five, sometimes even six times a week. It helped that my high school’s cross country running and Nordic skiing teams, both of which I was part, practiced pretty much every day on the trails. I wasn’t attracted to Kingdom Trails so much as they were already a part of my life.” Daley is still with KT now, working as a Daily Operations Coordinator, overseeing the operations at the Welcome Center, which includes handling ticket sales, route provision and guidance, area info, most of the website content and advertising, as well as supervising several staff members. Through organizations like KT, people are able to connect with those who have similar interests and develop a social network that is a constant source of support, providing strength and vigor to the organization and overflowing into other aspects of living in the state. “My favorite part of working at KT has definitely been the people. Now in my fifth year there, I have friends from Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, &c., who originally remembered me as the kid who gave them the awesome biking route but now come in just to say hi and ask how my year at school was.” KT has also had visitors from places as far away as North Carolina and Colorado in the US, and Belgium, South Africa and France abroad. The organization encourages its users to explore the area and learn about other businesses that are in the region, a philosophy, Daley says, that benefits much more than the KT staff and riders. “All these people eat, sleep, and ride in the area, necessitating collaboration between KT, local businesses, and the Northeast Kingdom at large.” Daley has also learned a lot about the workplace while at KT and how to be successful. He has developed a recipe for success that he calls his three Ls: listening, learning and leading. Three traits that he has been able to work on while at KT and that he hopes to transplant to other sectors of his life, both now and in the future. Like KT, there are numerous locations in Vermont that have the ability to promote themselves as both a recreational hotspot and a steward of environmental leadership and sustainability. Daley describes this as a fusing of two Vermont concepts: “promoting healthy habits in the outdoors while also protecting habitats and exposing people to the Kingdom’s natural beauty.” Daley attributes the success of KT to both its mission for excellence in trail building and the unique niche that it’s carved in the Northeast Kingdom. “We’ve been named the ‘Best Trail Network in North America’…and this is obviously because of the great work and attention to detail that our trail crews use while building and maintaining the system.” He also commended the welcome center for their knowledge and close ties to the region, allowing KT to be “woven into the fabric of the local community while remaining distinct on an international scale.” Daley says that the success of KT is a trend that is happening all across Vermont. He mentioned other large companies, such as Ben and Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese, Green Mountain Coffee, Mobile Medicine International that have been very successful in this environment and many of which would not have achieved their success without the reputation that the state carries with it’s name. “I think there’s something intrinsic about being a Vermonter that other parts of the world just can’t offer. But apart from intangibles, we often take for granted the success Vermont has achieved and the opportunities that that success offers.” For Daley, Burke Mountain is his favorite place in the state. This, he says, is not because of the opportunities that the mountain offers, but rather, the experiences that he has had on the mountain. “It’s not so much because of the skiing or biking available there as much as it is my history with it and on it. I remember learning to ski there when I was young, hiking it for the first time in third grade, camping on it as a team-bonding trip in high school, climbing up its trees with my friends, and Nordic skiing up the toll road in the winter (and roller-skiing in the summer) to some great expressions by onlookers.” Daley, who is currently a junior at the University of Vermont, and the recently elected President of the Student Government plans to continue to be both in Vermont and at Kingdom Trails for the foreseeable future. He anticipates pursuing his doctorate in British History in the UK and hopes to return afterwards to Vermont and to enter into an academic career. Profile: One of your favorite places in Vermont? I hate to be biased but definitely Burke Mountain. Favorite band or song right now? I think JJ Cale is always a personal favorite, but I haven’t had much time to explore new music recently. Favorite thing to do in your free time? Definitely Nordic skiing in the winter, rollerskiing in the summer. By Neel Tandan