Mt. Philo sees a lot of traction in the tourist seasons, being popular for hiking due to its manageable size and close location to Burlington.
In the summer, the mountain is often swamped with large crowds gathered for the infamous sunset view looking west over Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains.
The winter season, creating a more desolate and raw image of the mountain, sheds a different light on Philo. A sense of gentle solitude — and no parking fees.
A project to restore Mt. Philo began in the summer of 2020, as the increasing popularity of the mountain degraded the old trails.
“Within the last 10 years, Philo has become extremely popular and the old trail just started getting really badly eroded. It’d be really muddy, and the trail started getting wider and wider because people were trying to avoid all the muddy sections. So, the focus of this rebuild was to ‘harden the tread’ as it’s called, and kind of focus on where everyone actually impacts the mountain,” said Pete Hiser, the trail design partner and builder for Timber & Stone LLC, which is in charge of the renovation.
A big part of this renovation is replacing old trails that have nearly disintegrated into the soil over time. The new trails are meant to offer distinct paths and promote drainage and stability.
“As of now we’ve set 394 stone steps, and then there will be approximately 27 more, so a little over 400 by the time we’re done. Setting stone in the winter is not really possible because the ground freezes, so we’ll start up there again when the ground thaws — but probably by early to mid April,” Hiser said.
“The wear and tear was expected before we did the stonework, and the reason the state decided to go that route and actually spend the money,” said Hise. “So wear and tear, ideally won’t be an issue anymore.”
The winter offers the opportunity to replenish the fragile ecosystem of the mountain from the toll of the busy summer months. Staying on the trails to avoid erosion helps keep the mountain sustainable long term.
Hiser said, “So far, the upper half of the mountain has been restored with new paths and staircases, and the rest of the mountain is said to be completed by May 2022.”
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Photos by Halle Segal