BARRE, Vt. -- This town has not been a tourist hot spot for more than a hundred years, not since it was a granite quarry center and New Englanders would flock to Millstone Hill to ride the ''Sky Route," the steepest inclined standard-gauge railroad east of the Rockies, to the top of the quarries.
Now that those quarries have filled with water and the forest has grown up around them, the Millstone Hill Touring Center provides more than 500 acres of recreation trails on 1,550 acres. Each of the several dozen quarries linked by the trails is a man-made wonder.
''There are a couple of really nice quarries," mountain biker Frank Michaud said, pointing behind him as he removed his helmet to rest on the trail with his son Corey and Corey's friend Andrew Shannon. Michaud was referring to the largest of them all, the Wells Lamson quarry that has depths of 400 feet, and the Marr and Gordon quarry with pristine water tempting to swimmers.
''Great trails," said Michaud. ''They're awesome."
This already substantial network is growing by the week thanks to the Millstone Hill Trail Association, the nonprofit organization that cuts trails on the property. The facility opened in June for mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Before this summer, the pits and mounds of quarries and grout piles were available only to landowner, historian, and entrepreneur Pierre Couture and some natives such as his business partner, Peter Richardson, a mountain biking and skiing enthusiast.
Couture's father split his time between farming and working as a quarrier, and Richardson said he worked in the granite industry for 20 years doing ''everything from making boxes to selling the stuff to running the machinery." Both Barre natives cherish the beautiful and unusual topography of the area and are driven to share it.
''The people, locally, tend to look down upon it because it's the old, industrial dump wasteland historically," Couture said.
Nonetheless, what had been a cleared and quarried moonscape in the late 1800s has grown into a vibrant forest as nature reclaims the space.
Along the trails following sunken railroad tracks and quarry roads, square, cast-off granite boulders, called grout, lie chiseled and weedy among birches, aspens, and maples. Piles of grout, the pieces of granite that were either too small or the wrong color, loom as high as buildings on either side of the trails.
After a consolidation in 1910 that shut down the smaller businesses, and the flu epidemic of 1918 that killed many of the quarriers -- whose health was already compromised by black lung from breathing granite dust -- only four active quarries remained by 1940. The young forest growing up around them is dense.
The trails are clearly marked, and hand-painted signs tell the names of each quarry. For the hiker, biker, snowshoer, or skier, the quarries crop up at perfect intervals for resting spots.
Standing in the bike shop at the touring center, Will Timbers had just returned from a ride with his father. A tall college senior, Timbers said the riding was great except for a few ''tight parts with the trees" where he scraped his knuckles. The elder Timbers, an avid mountain biker who rides two or three days a week, said he, too, was impressed with the quality of the trails.
''We're going away with smiles," he said.
Millstone Hill doesn't just offer trails, though; there are two houses to accommodate overnight guests, the Lodge and the Barn. Couture, who had a Vermont-made gifts pushcart in Boston's Quincy Market in the 1970s when he was a student at Boston College, has furnished the Lodge with crafts and antiques. Vintage mounts of elk, caribou, black bear, and deer adorn a high wall.
Next to the Lodge is a post-and-beam structure built from trees on the property that serves as an events building and can seat up to 60 people for dinner.
A four-bedroom bed-and-breakfast, the Lodge is a converted barn with cozy, sunken rooms and picture windows that provide views of 4,083-foot Camel's Hump in the distance. Tabletops are strewn with books full of historical photos of the Barre quarry industry, men with sooty faces dwarfed by massive granite chunks two stories high.
''If they can get out on the trails, and use the books, they'll get a real sense of the history here," Couture said.
The Barn is a five-story structure built in the 1890s to stable the horses that pulled granite out of the quarries. In 1980, Couture transformed it into a residence, which he rents. The 1,500-square-foot open floor plan contains a loft bedroom, sunken dining room, and large living room. There is also a glassed-in garden room, with adjoining outdoor terrace and hot tub. Outdoors, visitors find landscaped gardens and a historic bell house.
There are no phones or televisions at either lodging.
''We want people who come here to have an active experience, whether it is getting out on the trails hiking or biking, or reading a book," Couture said. ''We'd really like them to come up here and get away from all of what they're leaving behind."
Contact Daphne Larkin, a freelance writer in Vermont, at firstname.lastname@example.org.