Swimming holes in Vermont are renowned for their beauty and opportunity for adventure – thousands of people enjoy our swimming holes every year and depend on them as public gathering spaces to have fun and relax during the short Vermont summers. During the pandemic, with public pools and beaches closed, Vermonters need our swimming holes now more than ever. Yet public access is not guaranteed – use of these swimming holes is threatened by overuse, privatization, and mismanagement.
Public access to well-managed, safe, and fun swimming holes is essential for maintaining recreational opportunities for all Vermonters, regardless of race or socio-economic status. Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) is a non-profit land trust committed to protecting public access to Vermont waters such as waterfalls, gorges, swimming holes, wetlands, river and lake shores and islands.
Unfortunately, as noted in recent news, Vermonters are seeing many of our swimming holes overrun by visitors, creating issues ranging from unsafe parking to excess litter. These conflicts can transform swimming holes from beloved community resources to disputed sites where public access is jeopardized. VRC works with communities to install educational signage and lead volunteer stewardship opportunities at swimming holes. Engaging users in caring for their favorite swimming hole is critical for creating sites that are well-managed and publicly accessible. Swimming holes are a cherished part of our landscape, and connect people to a better understanding of watersheds, our rivers and streams, and our geology.
On July 3, Vermont River Conservancy kicked off a swimming hole fundraising campaign this summer as part of its initiative. Visitors will see “text to give” table tents when they visit gas stations and stores on their way to swimming holes, and will see donation signs on site. Swimming holes are free to use with no fees, but donations are critical to help VRC carefully manage these sites for all to enjoy.
“While swimming holes are free to visit, the work to protect public access to these special places takes time and resources,” said VRC Development & Outreach Director Richarda Ericson. “VRC is committed to ensuring Vermonters and visitors alike can access the incredible places along our rivers but we rely strongly on visitor etiquette, community partnerships and donations to support this important work.”
Highlights of VRC’s swimming hole projects are a 1 mile-long trail along the North Branch of the Winooski River in Worcester and Elmore – a pristine headwaters section complete with seven cascading waterfalls and swimming holes, hence the trail name North Branch Cascades. VRC has also protected public access to Bolton Potholes in Bolton, a geologically stunning swimming hole whose history has been mired with overuse and safety issues. After a summer of increased management, signage, education and extensive work with the local community, VRC is seeing significant improvements at this site. VRC also collaborated with the town of Johnson to protect Journey’s End and Beard Recreation Park, two swimming holes that exemplify how community support and visitor etiquette and education can create a well-managed community resource.
For more information and visiting swimming holes during Covid times, visit vermontriverconservancy.org.