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Party on the Trails: Barre's Treasured Recreation Area Throws a Summer Celebration

State of the Arts


Published June 20, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

Millstone Hill, a mountain-biking and cross-country-skiing center in Barre Town, is staging an event this Saturday that organizers promise will produce “an experience never before found in Vermont.”

RockFire, billed as an “elemental” celebration, has been timed to coincide with the summer solstice. Think pagan festival: Bonfires will blaze, musicians will sing and strum, and costumed dancers will cavort as revelers feast on victuals brought to or prepared at the site.

Throw in water candles and sky lanterns, and it just might amount to a midsummer night’s dream.

This good time also serves a good cause. Ticket proceeds will go toward Millstone Trails Association’s $100,000 share of a $1.3 million purchase of land from Rock of Ages, the granite company that owns a 400-acre portion of the 1500-acre trail network. The Trust for Public Land, a national preservation group, has raised most of the funds needed to complete Millstone Hill’s metamorphosis from a forgotten, postindustrial wasteland into one of New England’s most dramatic and unusual recreation areas.

Pierre Couture, head of the MTA and the catalyst for the area’s transformation, says he got the inspiration for the spectacle from attending WaterFire Providence [R.I.], a sound-and-light celebration of that city’s downtown revival. While watching one of the WaterFire shows a couple of years ago, Couture recalls, “I turned to a friend and said, ‘This would be perfect for Millstone.’”

RockFire won’t just appeal to the senses; Millstone’s granite legacy lends it a cultural and historical dimension, as well.

Some 70 quarries were once worked there by a mostly immigrant labor force that included Couture’s father. The quarrymen left behind ruins and relics that give Millstone its unique character. For example, walkers and bikers among the maples and hemlocks can encounter the surreal sight of 50-foot-tall stone-block pyramids — the remnants of trestles for the trains that hauled slabs of granite to processing in Barre’s sheds.

The solstice gathering, which starts at 2 p.m., will inaugurate the three-mile Cultural Heritage Trail that includes permanent sculptures by local granite carvers as well as one-day installations by various Vermont artists.

RockFire is also intended as a come-on for those who have not yet skied or biked at Millstone. The mostly mellow trail system includes Harrington Ridge, which is at the top of Bicycling magazine’s list of the 10 best mountain-biking trails in Vermont. It follows a spine of white granite thrusting up along a mossy track.

The Bicycling blurb and other publicity have been getting the word out about Millstone Hill. Despite what Couture describes as “a terrible winter,” the area now attracts hundreds of hikers, bikers and skiers from both in and out of state. Some choose to stay at the inn that Couture has converted from a former farmhouse. “Business for it is developing slowly,” he says. “It’s a matter of building the brand.”

RockFire, an elemental solstice celebration featuring Pete Sutherland, Michèle Choinière, the Wind That Shakes the Barley, the Catamount Pipe Band, Bread and Puppet Theater, and many more, with Vermont Public Radio host Robert Resnik as MC. Saturday, June 23, 2-11 p.m. at Millstone Hill in Barre Town. $15; $40 per family; $10 extra for nighttime FireWalk. Tickets at 476-8188 or