By Karen Lorentz
Editor’s Note: Country Roads is an occasional column about people, places and things Vermont.
Living on a country road in Vermont, I am a big fan of the John Denver hit, “Country Roads,” especially the phrase “to a place I belong.”
When we were new to full-time living in Vermont on a mountaintop 2,200-feet above sea level, I would always get that “place I belong” feeling when returning from a trip. This was especially true when raising three sons in the mountains was a dream come true.
That dream included the outdoors and all kinds of recreational activities and the sense of community that was fostered by living in a rural town with a wonderful school, church, and lake. They all offered a sense of connectedness even though we lived 1.5 miles from “civilization” (the schoolbus meeting point and Pierce’s Store).
Over the years, my joy in a “sense of a place” has expanded. There are so many people and places that give me that special feeling that resonates with Vermont values.
This summer, we are reliving that sense of place in visits to state parks.
Branbury State Park in Salisbury
We took our first sojourn to Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore a few weeks back to meet our Burlington-based son and grandkids for a relaxing day at the beach. We were last there 30 years ago. My, how time flies! Then, we had climbed the nearby Falls of Lana trail up to Silver Lake with our boys and Middlebury relatives, followed by a picnic and swim.
This time, the hike would have been a bit much for a two-year-old so we met at Branbury and enjoyed frolicking in the water and watching the kids play in the sand.
This is a lovely spot with sand and grassy beach areas. Scattered trees provide some shade but many bring umbrellas. One of the great joys is watching the hawks soaring on air currents over nearby cliffs. It is a natural and dramatic setting that resonates with us still!
Facilities include a concession stand—hurrah for ice cream cones— volleyball court, and rental boats. The large women’s room was clean and had soap for washing hands but nothing to dry them and no changing stalls. One patron noted the room may have been reduced in size to afford an adjacent screened-in pavilion area. She ventured a guess as to no paper towels or hand dryer as cost cutting to afford bug spraying. Since no mosquitos bothered us, it’s a fair trade I guess; or maybe they haven’t had a chance to add an electric hand dryer since the new laws about waste receptacles went into effect.
Camp Plymouth State Park
This past week John and I revisited the Camp Plymouth State Park on Echo Lake off Route 100 in Plymouth. What a delightful surprise to discover all kinds of new things—carts for those with lots of stuff to move from car to beach area, a great playground for kids, horseshoe pits, volleyball court, and a huge armada of boats to rent: kayaks, canoes, rowboats, peddle, and standup paddle boards among them.
There were many picnic tables under trees on the grassy beach near the water, and it was just a perfect place to spend a hot, humid afternoon. I had remembered a squishy, silty lake bottom, but this time it was just the firmer sand and stone bottom that we find at most lakes. (Restoration work after Irene makes for nice clear swimming now!)
It was wonderful to watch people out paddling around and to cool off as needed. I can’t wait to return with our sons and grandkids to show them how the former Boy Scout camp has changed to such a great place for families. The women’s restroom also had changing stalls and a hand dryer!
Good to Know
State park day-use fees are $4 for ages 14 and over, $2 for 4 through 13, and free for three and under. (Boat rentals are extra.)
There are season vehicle passes and individual passes, punch cards, and group rates which reduce the cost.
A Parks library pass is available at local libraries and permits up to 8 people (visitors and/or residents) in one vehicle free entry into any day-use area!
The Green Mountain Passport is an individual lifetime pass for ages 62+ and veterans and is available to residents at their local town clerk’s office for $2 each.
Check out the website vtstateparks.com for 30+ places to swim and which parks have camping sites, hiking trails, concession stands, or are on rivers. You’ll also see that weekly swimwater testing is done with a status report given and that only the new swimming pool at Button Bay State Park has a lifeguard.
That is a major change from 30 years ago, but since the beaches have swim areas that are shallow and only deepen gradually, swimming at your own risk should not be a problem in these wonderful, clean and refreshing waters.
Another change is to pack out what you bring in. At Camp Plymouth, they even offered us trash bags!