By Julia Purdy
In recent years the U.S. Forest Service has made it even easier for visitors with disabilities to experience the forest up close and Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest is no exeption. Initial efforts locally were spearheaded at the grassroots level through partnerships with the Rutland Lions Club and the Rutland office of Vermont Vocational Rehabilitation, who consulted with the Forest Service to create accessible sites within the National Forest. Following the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the Forest Service formed an “accessibility team” with local residents and conducted a survey of many sites in the Natoinal Forest to evaluate their accessibility potential.
The following nine destinations are wheelchair-accessible and are within an hour’s drive of Rutland. Two standouts – Thundering Falls and Lefferts Pond – are within half an hour of downtown Rutland.
Thundering Falls Boardwalk, Killington
Travel a section of the Appalachian Trail by wheelchair! Thanks to a collaboration between the Green Mountain National Forest, the National Park Service, the Green Mountain Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the State of Vermont, a wide, sturdy boardwalk, built in 2005, takes you to the viewing area at the base of the falls. Thundering Falls plunges dramatically 140 ft. over terraced ledges into a natural wetland nestled between two high forested ridges. This rich basin attracts migratory songbirds as well as ducks, Canada geese, moose, and a host of smaller critters. The Ottauquechee River originates in this area. A graded, gravel path winds up a short incline to a small viewing platform, and the Appalachian Trail continues east and west from this point. No restroom or drinking water.
Directions: From Rutland take US Route 4 east to VT Route 100N in Killington. Take Route 100 north 2.3 miles to River Rd. Take River Rd. 2.5 miles to the parking area on the right.
Lefferts Pond Recreation Area, Chittenden
Lefferts Pond adjoins the Chittenden Reservoir but remains a secluded spot for picnicking, fishing, and enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature, against a dramatic, unobstructed view of Pico Peak across a serene sheet of water. Completed in 2010 through a joint effort between the Green Mountain National Forest, the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, and the former Central Vermont Public Service Corp., a broad, vehicle-free roadway provides easy, level access across two bridges and into the forest beyond. The attractive “cascading falls” was inspired by a 1915-era dam in that spot. A barrier-free vault toilet is available beyond the parking area. No drinking water available.
Directions: From Rutland’s Main Street Park, drive 2 miles north on US Route 7 to the “Y” at the water tower, and bear right onto the East Pittsford Road. Continue 5.8 miles to the Civil War monument in Chittenden village, then bear right onto Dam Road. Continue 1.2 miles to Wildcat Road and bear right. Continue 0.9 miles and turn left onto Forest Road 412, a dirt road. Continue to the end to reach a roomy, level parking area used by hikers, kayakers, and anglers.
Central Vermont loop
For those wanting to venture farther afield, the following itinerary follows a loop across the Green Mountains, beginning at Main Street Park in Rutland, then north on Route 7, east on Route 125, south on Route 100, and back to Route 7 via Route 73.
“Robert Frost Country,” Ripton
The stretch of Route 125 between the village of Ripton and Middlebury Gap was dubbed “Robert Frost Country” by Gov. Snelling, to commemorate the poet’s residence here while teaching at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference of Middlebury College, from 1921 to 1963. Three sites are clustered near each other, just west of the Middlebury Mountain Campus.
The Robert Frost Interpretive Trail
A “signature site” in the accessibility program, this is a pleasant pathway that loops through alder thickets and meadows, home to moose, deer, beaver, amphibians, owls, grouse, and the usual rogues’ gallery of small mammals. Frost’s shorter poems are posted along the paths. The South Branch of the Middlebury River passes through the area. Barrier-free vault toilet, pull-through parking; no drinking water.
Robert Frost Wayside
The Wayside is just east of the Interpretive Trail parking area, on the opposite side of Route 125. It’s a shady picnic spot in a pine grove, with wooden picnic tables, a grill, travel information, and an interpretive kiosk displaying photographs from Frost’s time here. Pull-through parking; no restroom or drinking water.
Homer Noble Farm
Immediately east of the Wayside, Frost Road is a straight gravel road that takes you about 1 mile to the Homer Noble Farm, where Frost and his family stayed while he taught at the nearby campus. The site is a national historic landmark, owned by Middlebury College. Both the farmhouse and the log cabin where Frost did his writing have been preserved. Although the buildings are not open to the public, you can still gain an appreciation for the mountain-farm environment that inspired many of Frost’s poetic musings. Vermonters still living remember working with Frost on his land. No restroom or drinking water.
Directions: From Rutland, travel north on Route 7 to East Middlebury, then take Route 125 east 5.8 miles to the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, on the right.
The Wayside and Frost Road are just east of the Interpretive Trail parking area, on the north side of Route 125.
Texas Falls, Hancock
Texas Falls is a perennial favorite. Here the Hancock Branch plunges dramatically through a chasm between giant ledges. A new footbridge above the lower falls affords safe viewing of the plunge pools and rocks carved by flowing water. Father along the road beyond the Falls are a picnic pavilion and scattered picnic sites with grills and tables, and ample parking. Vault toilets; no trash receptacles or drinking water.
Texas Falls is located on Forest Road 39, off Route 125, which crosses Middlebury Gap between Route 7 in East Middlebury and Route 100 in Hancock. This is a winding, well-maintained mountain road that passes the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and crosses the Long Trail.
Directions: From Route 7, take Route 125 east. Measuring from the top of the gap, drive east 3 miles and look for the brown signpost for Texas Falls and turn left onto Forest Road 39. (The eastern descent is a 12 percent grade.)
From Texas Falls, continue 3 miles into the village of Hancock. Turn right onto the Scenic Route 100 Byway and continue south to Route 73 on the south side of Rochester.
Mt. Horrid Overlook
The Great Cliff at Mt. Horrid is a 3,200-ft. rampart of exposed rock that looms above an active beaver area. The wide pull-through parking area is a favorite spot for a tailgate picnic or watching wildlife: beaver and moose frequent the wetland far below, and peregrine falcons now nest in the cliffs, thanks to a successful reintroduction program by the U.S. Forest Service. At one time a gravel wagon road, Route 73 has seen many Directions: From Route 100 south of Rochester, turn right (west) and continue to the top of Brandon Gap. The pullout will be on your right.
Blueberry Management Area, Goshen
The Blueberry Management Area covers about 30 acres within the Green Mountain National Forest, on land that was once the Hogback ski area. Berries are among the first plants to reclaim abandoned clearings, and in the 1970s the U.S. Forest Service decided to include the native low-bush blueberry colonies here in its program for the maintenance and improvement of resources and wildlife habitat. Paths are kept open for pickers and the terrain includes some gentle inclines. No restroom or drinking water.
Directions: From Route 100 south of Rochester, turn right (west) and continue over Brandon Gap 10.3 miles to Hathaway Road, the fourth right off Route 73. (The eastern descent is a 12 percent grade.) Turn right onto Hathaway Road and travel 1.3 miles to Flora White Road, then turn right and continue 1.1 miles, and turn right again onto Forest Road 224. Parking and an accessible path into the blueberry area are marked.
Voter Brook Overlook, Goshen
Developed in partnership with the Lions Club in 1976, Voter Brook Overlook offers a wide, level gravel path through a mountain meadow to the viewpoint. The view looks southward down the Valley of Vermont. A wooden sign, created by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, identifies the features in the panorama before you. Ample parking and a picnic table; the Moosalamoo campground nearby offers services except showers and hookups.
Directions: Follow the directions to the Blueberry Management Area, but continue on Flora White Road to the crossroads. Turn right and proceed north on the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Moosalamoo Campground access road (Forest Road 24) and turn left, then left again at 0.4 miles onto Forest Road 24b. Continue 1 mile to the Voter Brook Overlook parking area.
National Forest sites that are labeled “accessible” are designed to accommodate wheelchairs defined as “a device designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person for locomotion, that is suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area.”
Please be alert to changes in the weather. A storm can make a normally accessible site inaccessible for some time, as tree branches may fall across a trail, or heavy rains may make bridges and paths impassable.
For more information visit www.fs.usda.gov/main/greenmountain/home
Julia Purdy is a contributing writer for The Mountain Times.