Vermont Towns Try to Find Their Roads Less Traveled

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In the slow-paced towns of Vermont, musty archive vaults are getting a curious amount of foot traffic this year.

With magnifying glasses to decode old handwriting and tissues for dust-induced sneezing, citizen volunteers are poring over record books with a common, increasingly urgent purpose: finding evidence of every road ever legally created in their towns, including many that are now impassable and all but unobservable.

The point is to comply with a 2006 state law that gives Vermont’s cities and towns until early next year to identify all their “ancient roads.” At that point, they can add the elusive roads to official town maps, ensuring that they remain public, or turn them over to owners of adjoining land.

Unlike many other states, where towns automatically forfeit rights to roads that go unused for years, Vermont requires that they remain public until formally discontinued. That has brought fights between towns and landowners whose property abuts or even intersects ancient roads, with the towns eager to preserve public access for outdoor pursuits and the owners seeking clear titles and privacy.

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