ST. ALBANS – The Aldis Hill Playground here has just grown significantly thanks to a land donation from a local family that few knew owned a piece of the trail-filled hill – until now.
Late last year, on Dec. 31, the Kidders, of Swanton, donated 50 acres of land the family had owned on Aldis Hill to the Aldis Hill Playground Trust.
The donation officially expands the Aldis Hill/Hard’ack recreation area to 230 total acres – 130 on the Aldis Hill side, and 100 on the Hard’ack side.
“The Kidders have always been supportive of the Aldis Hill mission,” said Tim Smith, president of the Aldis Hill Board of Trustees. “They allowed access to their property to the point where most people thought they were on Aldis Hill trails, when, in fact, they were on Kidder property. I thought that for years, until a survey was completed.”
The 50 acres sit on the northern most section of Aldis Hill and contain a local legend: the Wolf Monument. The marker – a destination for many hikers – is a testament to Lawrence Brainerd, a local resident who shot a large gray wolf that threatened the Franklin County countryside during the 1830s.
The local Aldis family established the Aldis Hill Playground Trust in 1892, to set aside land for community use. As skiing became popular, Aldis Hill became a common corridor for skiers that were using Hard’ack on the other side.
The Aldis Hill Board of Trustees and Hard’ack Inc. operate as two separate volunteer organizations. The Hard’ack side contains skiing, sledding, and soccer fields, and an outdoor ice rink. The Aldis Hill Side has vast trails for walking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and mountain biking.
Steve Kidder, of Swanton, and his late father, Wesley, purchased the 50 acres together in the early 1970s, with proceeds from the sale of a seasonal camp they had owned together in Fletcher. They intended to put homes on Aldis Hill, but as the family grew its funeral home business in Swanton, it became less practical to live in St. Albans, Steve Kidder said.
“On a clear day, you have a great view of Montreal from the northern part of the Aldis Hill property,” Kidder said.
Kidder still has the blueprint of the house he was going to build there. Once his family members knew they would not live on Aldis Hill, they let the community use it.
“And, ultimately,” Kidder said, “it became clear that it should belong to the community.”
The donation is on behalf of the entire Kidder family: Wesley; his widow, Elvy; Steve and his wife, Marian; and Steve’s sister, Linda.
“We’re all excited, too,” Steve Kidder said.
Smith and John Casavant, a volunteer on the Aldis Hill Board of Trustees, have fond memories of great fun with their friends on Aldis Hill, while growing up in St. Albans.
“We spent summer days on the hill, building secret forts that stayed secret for about two days from our other friends,” Smith said. “Later in life, when I returned home from college, there was hardly a visit where I did not go up and hike the trails, run the trails, or walk the dogs.”
Now, Smith lives only a block away from Aldis Hill and helps coordinate the annual Aldis Hill spring cleanup event, scheduled this year for Saturday, May 17. He uses Aldis Hill often, alone and with his family.
“Upon each visit, we always find a way to exit by the Casavant house in order to use their bathroom and steal a drink of water,” Smith joked.
Casavant said he and his childhood friends spent “countless hours on the hill,” during all four seasons.
“We found and wrecked the older kids’ forts, built dams in the running spring waters, played games, and threw rocks at one another,” he said. “For us, I think it was just what the Aldis family envisioned.”
Casavant, his wife, Sandra, and their children also use Aldis Hill regularly, mostly for hiking and taking in nature. “Although, Sandra doesn’t allow the rock fights any longer,” he said.
St. Albans Recreation Director Kelly Viens welcomed the news of the Kidders’ donation and called Aldis Hill “a beautiful asset to have so close by.”
“Because the lower Hard’ack Trails and the Aldis Hill trails connect, it’s great to have the land officially be part of the system,” Viens said.
Viens’ department is working with a graphic artist to create a user-friendly map of the trail system. The St. Albans Recreation Department uses the trails for day camp hikes, Nordic walking, snowshoeing, 5K races, and horse-drawn sleigh and wagon rides.
“It’s wonderful to know that this land will remain open for residents to enjoy,” Viens said.