It started with a brief conversation last January between Chris Maron of Champlain Area Trails and Rick Dalton, owner of the Essex Inn and CEO of College for Every Student (CFES). CATS had a successful “hamlet-to-hamlet” hike the previous October and the idea of an “inn-to-inn” hike would be a great next step to promote local economic vitality. Their talk bore fruit on May 3 when the Grand Inn-to-Inn Hike attracted over 200 people to hike on CATS trails and scenic back roads from Westport to Essex.
“I knew CATS’ mission is to have trails connect our communities to help increase business,” said Dalton, “so having a hike from the Westport Hotel & Tavern to the Essex Inn would advance their mission and help local businesses.”
“People and business owners from Westport and Essex came together to plan the event,” Maron added. “We saw it as a way to showcase the idea that people can hike from town to town. It was Steven Kellogg’s idea to name it the ‘Grand Hike’ and the group recognized that having a ‘block party’ celebration after the hike would bring in other businesses and create a real festival.”
“Involving many people in the planning process was key to success,” said Katharine Preston, CATS board chair. “It brought out a lot of great ideas like having oases with refreshments, recruiting sponsors, and developing an effective publicity plan. CFES, the Essex on Lake Champlain Blog, and our own media contacts made it so almost everyone knew about the hike. And then the Associated Press picked it up and The Wall Street Journal had a short article. I met someone from Long Island who read that and came up for the hike.”
The Grand Hike Experience
The Grand Hike began with a beautifully-presented breakfast buffet at the Westport Hotel. Vans provided by Pok-O-MacCready Camps shuttled people from Essex to Westport so they had ready access to their cars after the hike and party. Following registration, people left on their own or in small groups to begin the hike.
They walked through Westport and then uphill on Lakeshore Road to the Woods and Swale Trail. One person commented that he enjoyed seeing a part of Westport he’d never seen before. They soon arrived at the first oasis, featuring orange slices and muffins provided by Ernie’s Market.
Hikers then walked along the Boquet River to the Bobcat Trailhead and Oasis 2, sponsored by Dogwood Bakery. Then they hiked in an open field, entered the forest, walked along beaver ponds to where they had a choice of continuing to hike a more difficult path going below Boquet Mountain or an easier route to Black Kettle Farm where Lakeside School sponsored Oasis 3. The trails merged at Oasis 4, sponsored by Willsboro’s Village Meat Market and then followed Route 22 to the Essex Inn.
“People hiked faster than we anticipated,” said Maron, “so they finished before the block party began. They still enjoyed the Inn’s offerings and many returned for the music, restorative yoga and chair massage from Lake Champlain Yoga & Wellness, and the Overtime Photography photo booth. The great thing about the timing for the hike is we now know you can easily hike from hamlet to hamlet, stop for something tasty at the Dogwood, and have time for meals and shopping at both ends.”
Peter Welling, a Westport visitor from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania was impressed with the hike. He said, “The hike was so well organized. I especially enjoyed the oases where everyone was so friendly. Thank you for a seriously fun day.”
Naj Wikoff of Keene noted that Champlain Valley hiking is different than in the High Peaks because of the variety of natural communities, the walks along the roads, the open fields, and working farms. He said, “Another difference is that the following day, my legs weren’t sore. As I get older, I really do appreciate hiking for 14 miles and feeling fine the next day.”
Dalton, who completed the whole hike, said, “The Grand Hike really did advance the vision of people hiking on trails between communities and patronizing local businesses. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and see it as an important step in attracting more people to visit here.”
Dan Stec, our local assemblyman who is a 46-er, hiked the whole route and wrote a comment that sums up what everyone felt, “Great Hike!!! Thanks!”
Thanks to Grand Hike Sponsors
CATS wishes to thank its sponsors: Cupola House, The Depot Theatre, Dogwood Bread Company, Emmet Carter Green Design, Essex Ice Cream Café, Essex Inn on the Adirondack Coast, EssexonLakeChamplain.com, The Galley at Westport Marina, Joe and Debbie Shaw, Lake Champlain Yoga & Wellness, Lakeside School at Black Kettle Farm, Normandie Beach Club, Old Dock Restaurant, Overtime Photography, Pataki Farm, Phillips Art Conservation Studio, the Pink Pig, Pok-O-MacCready Camps, Sim Vivo, Village Meat Market, Westport Country Club, and Westport Hotel & Tavern.
- First-ever “Grand Hike” sets off in Champlain Valley (northcountrypublicradio.org)
- CATS Grand Hike Promotes Region (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Inn-to-Inn Hike from Westport to Essex a success (valleynewsadk.com)