Friday, January 23, 2015

Get the Sled Out: Where to Go Sledding in Vermont State Parks

For Vermonters, the winter landscape is like an outdoor playground! There are a lot of ways to play in the snow, but there is nothing quite like feeling the wind whipping and the snow flying as you careen down a hill on a sled. For your luging pleasure, we have put together a list of some great sledding hills in Vermont State Parks to try out this winter:   

Mt. Philo State Park:
You may have visited this popular park in the summer to take in the spectacular summit views, but have you ever had the chance to experience Mt. Philo in the winter? A short hike up the park road brings you to the top of a wide run with gentle turns that’s perfect for a fast-paced sled trip.
In the winter, this park’s favored picnic spot transforms into an ideal sledding hill. The steep, treeless slope is located near the lower parking lot and overlooks the Waterbury Reservoir so you can enjoy an expansive view as you speed down the hill.

Elmore State Park:
For younger kids or beginning sledders, Elmore offers some smaller, gentle hills found by the Hickory and Juniper lean-tos. Bring your cross-country skis to explore the park after your sled runs.

Mt. Ascutney State Park: 
For more experienced, speed-seeking sledders, the steep park roads at Mt. Ascutney are exhilarating. Take your sled for a spin on the Summit Road for some extreme runs.

The Smugglers’ Notch Pass, Stowe:
This narrow, winding road runs between Stowe and Jeffersonville on Route 108. Closed from October-May, the road is a popular sledding destination after the snow falls. The steep incline and curving road make the mile hike to the top worth it. Snowshoes are recommended.

Now is the time to get out and explore Vermont’s winter wonderland! Remember to sled safely and to take a look at our Off-Season Park Use page for information on parking and facilities in Vermont State Parks during the winter.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nature Craft: Giant Ice Marbles!

Winter is a beautiful time of year here in the northeast. Everywhere you look there is snow sparkling in the sun, icicles in the windows, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and this week, breathtakingly cold weather!  In an effort to embrace the temperatures, we at Vermont State Parks decided to embark on a project that combines ice, art, balloons, and some freezing temperatures. What could it be? GIANT ICE MARBLES!

What you will need:
-Food coloring
-Freezing air or a freezer

How to make them:

1. First, open the mouth of the balloon and place several drops of food coloring inside. You can use the standard colors or mix your own by combining two
different colors.

2. Stretch the mouth of the balloon around the head of a faucet. Slowly fill it up with water until the balloon is slightly smaller than a bowling ball.
NoteIf the balloon loses grip with the faucet, things can get messy. Keep a
firm hold on the top of the balloon and hold the bottom to keep it steady. 

3. Tightly tie off the top of the balloon and try to avoid leaving any air pockets.

Bring your water-filled balloons outside. Either set them in the snow or place
 them in a bowl to freeze. Alternately (and depending on size), place your balloons in the freezer. Set them in a bowl or container to avoid any mess. 

5. Bundle up and head outside to place your balloon outdoors. Leave out for 24-48 hours. Ours were almost completely frozen after about 24 hours.

6. When they are totally frozen, peel the balloon off and voilĂ you’ve got giant ice marbles and some truly one-of-a-kind lawn ornaments!

7. Arrange your ice marbles in a cool formation or place them outside a window so you can enjoy your handiwork!

This nature craft is a great way to channel your inner artist, get outside, and help make these chilly temperatures a little more bearable. 
 You can’t beat the cold but you sure can have fun with it! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Caring for Parks, Caring for Nature

By: Tiffany Soukup

I had been hearing about "The Project" for weeks. My nephew Carsten made a project that everyone in his entire school in Pennsylvania could see and we were in it. My husband, Chris, and I have been working seasonally in Vermont State Parks for years. We've moved around to a handful of different parks, most recently calling Seyon Lodge our summer home. Most years our family has been able to come up to visit and see each place we've been fortunate to live and work at. So far, Seyon Lodge has been their favorite.

If any of you reading have ever worked seasonal jobs or jobs with distinct ebbs and flows in your workload, you know how extreme it can be. Seasonal work is great because it's for a specified period of time and then it's over, but it can be pretty intense and exhausting at times. When I think of carloads of family members coming to visit on our limited off time during the season, a tiny part of me cringes at the spare, precious hours of my off time I have could easily spent sleeping, buying more toothpaste or washing my socks. The thought of spending extra time to prepare food and things ahead of time for family to ensure we can have a nice visit together seems daunting. But I do and here's why it is so important:

We never really know the effect our actions will have on other people. When our visit was over and my posse of a family all piled into their cars to make the eight hour drive back to PA, I breathed a sigh of relief that we had had another family visit without any major blowouts, where everyone was fed and happy, and we also got to do some neat things around the area. More than worrying if everyone had a folded cloth napkin to eat with, memories were made and lives were impacted.

I realized this when my nephew Carsten included us, Seyon Lodge, and the White Mountains for his school project. Bursting with enthusiasm, we talked on the phone a few months after our visit, "Yeah, Aunt Tiff, I did my project and I got an A! It's hanging on the wall in school and everybody in the whole school can see it! I told them how my aunt and uncle have the coolest jobs ever and work in parks in Vermont." Next to the picture of Chris and me, Carsten wrote, "Caring for parks."

In that moment I realized that's how these young people, in this case our own nieces and nephews, view us. We are the aunt and uncle who live and work in a beautiful park, take care of it the best we can. and are a part of helping hundreds of other families and people enjoy these natural spaces. Being a park ranger has got to be just about one of the coolest jobs there is. We help make it possible for people and families to have positive experiences in nature. It doesn't get any better than that.

Sometimes, as adults, it's difficult not to get caught up on how high the grass is growing, if the laundry's folded, if the house is perfect, and digress to letting kids watch hours of tv instead of going outside to play with them. Kids don't remember folded napkins, kids remember awesome experiences that engage them. Getting young people outdoors to see things, touch things, get dirty and create their own journeys is one of the best investments for our future. If the young (and old alike) don't have a chance to crawl around on their hands and knees looking for red efts, or come to an abrupt halt to ask what noise they just heard and learn it was a loon, or have the chance to go boating and realize they love it, why would they want to care about parks and support them?

We need people to be excited about parks, so excited they base their projects around them for their entire school to see. Although I may have been tired and had a growing pile of dirty socks, as a family we went out into nature to seize the day. The first time I saw Carsten when we went to PA to visit after the season ended he went bounding upstairs to grab his project and show us everything about it in great detail. Then he said, "Guys, I want you to have it so we can always remember that time together." The gesture brought tears to my eyes and I will remember as I now have the project hanging in our work room. Every time I may be feeling a bit tired and in need of motivation, I will look at the picture of us that says 'caring for parks.' It is through this work we hopefully are engaging the next generation to want to do the same, and that is a great honor worth having a pile of dirty socks for.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Place Writing: Little River State Park

By: Sage Coates-Farley

In Waterbury, Vermont, just off Route 2, lies one of Vermont’s many State Parks. This place is known as Little River State Park. But it’s not just any state park, it holds many memories. Picture a large lake, surrounded by campgrounds in the peak of summer. Laughing kids, the smell of campfires, and a relaxed environment. The calm Waterbury Reservoir makes nearly a perfect place for a day of leisurely kayaking as a family. I can recall many days at the parks beaches after a long paddle around the serene reservoir. I first learned how to paddle a kayak at this very place and I’m so glad I did.

In the Fall. Picture a network of interlocking trails and camping grounds. But now picture this very place full of bright red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees. And see families enjoying the last evenings of beautiful weather around a glowing bed of coals. I’ve spent many nights with my own family doing this same thing at that very same park. The sounds of campers laughing and the crunch of branches as they move through the woods give a mysterious atmosphere. The fear paired with the thrill of being in the forest during the dead of night is unlike any feeling you can experience.

The author leading a dogsled team at Little River
But at the same time the safeness you feel puts you at ease. And those late night thoughts start to sink in. Awareness of everything going on in the world around you. None of it matters because all you feel is what is currently surrounding you: peace.

Winter. Although bitter cold an miserable for many, the park can brighten anyone’s day. In the winter, every visit to Little River is an adventure.

See this same place, though it’s not the same anymore. All the color is gone. The reservoir is frozen solid. Everything covered in a blanket of snow. The grounds are deserted. Although it paints a desolate picture to most, look closely and you will see the beauty of the emptiness. How the snow glistens in the sunlight. The ice weighing down the delicate tree branches. The eerie silence. But best of all is the whines of eighteen eager Siberian Huskies.Their howls of excitement to be attached to the sled and take off down the trail. These days are a special occasion for my dad and I to take time to ourselves and the dogs. At first the stress of handling and packing for mushing doesn’t seem worth it. Once the lines are released and the snow hook is pulled, everything is silent again. You take off down the trail. The wind in your face and the steady breathing of dogs. My first ever experience of driving a dog team were in this park. Although those memories are sometimes unpleasant, it’s a part of life and part of learning. Everything I once struggled with is so worth it when experiencing the serenity of the abandoned park behind a team of six powerful sled dogs.

And at last it’s spring. The snow is melting. The trees are blooming. Birds are chirping. There’s a sense of life once again to the quiet park. The start of a fresh new year, and a repeat of the life cycle in the campgrounds. However, it’s accompanied by a feeling of loss. The loss of the previous year and marking the official end of winter. In the spring time my visits to Little River feel like dealing with unfinished business. To take down sled dog signs and say goodbye to yet another winter. A melancholy feeling of leaving a great year behind.

But, through the ups and downs of emotions associated with my favorite place on Earth, I still can't picture a year without a visit. It holds so many of my favorite memories and the potential to create more.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nature Crafts for Winter

This is a fun time of year to create artwork and crafts that celebrate the season. Using nature as an inspiration, we have found some cool art projects to decorate your home and help you get into the spirit of winter!

Ice Suncatchers
What you'll need: Natural items, a container, twine, freezing temperatures

1. Go outside and gather twigs, leaves, berries, pebbles or any other natural material you would like to include.
2. Fill a cake or pie tin with water and place the objects you found in the water. If you would like to hang your suncatcher, remember to include a piece of twine in the pan, placed halfway in and out of the water so it won't completely freeze.
*To create different shapes, you can place a cookie cutter in the pan and place your objects inside the shape. 
3. Let freeze outside overnight. Alternately, you can place the container in the freezer overnight. 
4. When the pan has completely frozen, let it thaw for a few minutes or run under hot water to loosen it up. 
5. Hang the suncatcher from a tree or on the outside of your window.
Source: Mommy Poppins blog

Salt Painting 
What you'll need: Pastels, thick paper, watercolor paint, salt

1. Draw a wintry scene on paper using the pastels. 
2. Paint over your creation with the watercolor paints
3. Sprinkle salt over the page to create the effect of falling snow. 
4. Once the paper has dried, rub off the excess salt.
*As an alternative to the paint, you can create an image using tape. Arrange the tape in a shape or pattern, then paint and sprinkle the salt over it. When the paint has dried, carefully remove the tape for a unique tape-resist look.

Twig Snowflakes
What you'll need: Found twigs or small sticks, glue (or glue gun)

1. Head outside and look for small sticks or twigs on the ground of various sizes.
2. Arrange your sticks in the shape of a snowflake, using the larger pieces for the base and the smaller pieces to add more detail. If you would like to hang the snowflake, attach some twine to the top.
3. Once the glue is dry, hang the snowflake from the door or place in a window. 
Source:  U Create Crafts

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hunting Season Hiking

With a fresh snowfall blanketing Vermont, it's a beautiful time to go outside, look for animal tracks in the snow, and take notice of the changing season. Before you head into the woods during this time of year, keep in mind that hunting season may be in progress. Hunting is an annual tradition for Vermonters and an important part of the state’s cultural heritage. Many people view hunting as a way to source their meat locally and build a relationship with the land. Hunting is allowed on all state lands, including State Parks, during the off-season.

Though hunting season may be in full swing, the parks are still available for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, or skiing.  Please come and visit the parks, but remember to be cautious in the woods. Dress in blaze orange (dogs, too) and make yourself heard.

You may be less likely to run into hunters at State Parks like Niquette Bay, Underhill, Knight Point, and Mt. Philo. When planning your hike, please note that hunters are required to stay back at least 500 feet of park facilities and structures on state lands, so walking on park roads is a good option.

For more information on hunting in Vermont, view Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s Hunting and Trapping Calendar. For more information on trails, view the Vermont State Parks Hiking page

Vermont Fish & Wildlife's Hunting & Trapping Calendar:

Nov 15, 2014 - Nov 23, 2014            Late Black Bear Hunting Season
Nov 15, 2014 - Nov 30, 2014            Rifle Deer Hunting Season          
Dec 6, 2014 - Dec 14 2014                Bow & Arrow Deer Hunting          
Dec 6, 2014 - Dec 14, 2014               Muzzleloader Deer Hunting Season

Friday, November 7, 2014

Getting Outside During Stick Season

Photo by Krista Cheney
From late September to December, the Vermont landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation from late summer’s verdant greens, to our stellar fall foliage, to bare trees and quieter woods. For Vermont residents, the time after the autumn leaves have fallen and before the first snowfall is often referred to as “Stick Season.” When you get outside during this time of year, you’ll see why: the trees, free of their leaves, look like sticks against the mid-fall sky. Some people see Stick Season as a chance to cozy up indoors, cook up some hearty fall dishes, and prepare to hibernate for the winter. Other people find this period to be particularly peaceful and rejuvenating and look forward to getting outside to enjoy all of the advantages of Vermont’s “sixth season.”

There are lots of ways to gain an appreciation for Stick Season like raking up and then playing in a pile of crunchy fallen leaves or taking your kayak out for a tranquil paddle under a clear November sky. Going for a hike during this season is a unique way to experience the beauty of Vermont’s natural spaces. The newly bare trees afford some tremendous views on trails covered with dense tree growth during the summer. This is also a wonderful time to try to try to hear and spot wildlife in the woods. Some higher elevation trails may have some snow, so be prepared and pack with extra warm clothes for your hike. Hunting is another activity that occurs during Stick Season and an important part of Vermont’s cultural heritage. If you’re heading into the woods, remember to wear blaze orange and walk on more established trails.

Seeing Vermont during this time of year really makes you appreciate the full range of beauty here. If you are typically an early hibernator, or just like to wax your skis before the first snowfall, consider heading outdoors this fall to experience the tranquility and beauty of the changing season.  Pack up a thermos of hot apple cider, grab your coat, and be prepared to become a Stick Season convert.