Friday, October 3, 2014

Short Hikes, Big Rewards

With this year’s gorgeous foliage colors and pleasant outdoor temperatures, fall in Vermont is off to a great start. There is no better time to get outside and enjoy the beauty of our state. Play outside and get a bird eye’s view of the changing season by taking a scenic fall hike or walk. We have put together a list of a few shorter, family-friendly hikes that offer big rewards in the way of views and scenery.

Owl’s Head Trail, Groton State Forest
The Owl’s Head Trail, located in the Groton State Forest, is a short hike that leads to the summit of Owls Head Mountain. This 1.5 mile long moderate trail is accessible from the New Discovery State Park road. From there, you ascend to a parking area and climb stone steps constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to the summit. Alternatively, hikers can take the seasonal road to the parking area and trek up just the last leg of the trail via the stone steps to reach the summit. At the top, take in stunning views of Kettle Pond, Lake Groton, and the Green Mountains, a particularly beautiful view during peak fall foliage.

Mt. Philo State Park
Mt. Philo State Park in Ferrisburgh is one of the most iconic sites in the state. Views of the Lake Champlain Valley and Adirondack Mountains are dazzling, and attract both residents and visitors to the area. To get to the top, take the Summit Trail, a ¾ mile long easy to moderate hike. Another option for visitors is to take the steep park road (not recommended for trailers) to the top. During the fall, the valley below is lit up with fall foliage and the views are incomparable. 


Allis State Park Fire Tower 
Climbing one of Vermont’s remaining fire towers is a fast and adventurous way to experience some amazing views. Allis State Park in Randolph is a peaceful and remote park located on the summit of Bear Hill. For those willing to climb to the top, the park’s fire tower is one of its most popular features and the ideal spot to enjoy panoramic fall foliage views. Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump can be seen to the north, Killington and Mt. Ascutney to the south, Mt. Ellen to the west, and New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the east.

Brighton State Park, Northeast Kingdom Nature Trail System
If you’re interested in exploring Vermont’s famed Northeast Kingdom, take a visit to Brighton State Park in Island Pond. This wild and remote park is situated on the shores of Spectacle Pond, a warm and shallow body of water that is home to yellow perch, great blue heron, and osprey. Great hiking is found in the Northeast Kingdom Nature Trail system.  The Loggers’ Loop, Main, Red Pine, and Shore Trails all connect in a loop along the Pond and provide lots of opportunities to spot wildlife and brilliant fall colors. Look for signs of ruffed grouse and wild turkey habitat along the trail and keep your eyes open for the red fox and deer that call Brighton home.


Jamaica State Park, West River Trail
The 2-mile long West River Trail in Jamaica State Park is universally accessible is great for strollers and is  a favorite trail among bikers, joggers, and walkers. The trail was converted from an old rail bed and follows the former route of the old West River Railroad an. As you walk, keep your eyes open for “The Dumplings,” a grouping of boulders along the water. From there, the trail continues on to Cobb Brook and then to the Ball Mountain Dam. Observe lovely fall foliage along the banks of the West River as you stroll on this peaceful trail.

Lake Shaftsbury State Park, Healing Springs Nature Trail
Lake Shaftsbury State Park, located in southwestern Vermont, is a popular park with a colorful history. During the 19th century, the site of Lake Shaftsbury was known as Vermont Healing Springs. Mineral water from the springs was bottled and sold for its healing abilities. Today, you can take a walk along the calming Healing Springs Trail, a ¾ mile long loop trail that winds along the Lake.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Karalyn Mark: A Summer in Vermont

Guest Blogger: Karalyn Mark 
Karalyn Mark spent the past summer as a Vermont State Parks Photography Intern.
She grew up in Southeastern PA before traveling to Ithaca, NY, where she is currently pursuing a B.S. in Still Photography at Ithaca College.


At the age of 10, Karalyn began experimenting with disposable cameras given to her by her parents and fell in love with the art. Her passion for photography has continued to expand, and she enjoys photographing in both digital and film mediums. This past fall, Karalyn self-published a book Southbound, consisting of 35mm color photographs.

As my internship with the Vermont State Parks comes to a close, I can say that living in Vermont has been an incredible experience. I was raised in the suburbs of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and am currently a senior majoring in Still Photography at Ithaca College. I was intent on spending a summer in a new environment and exploring the outdoors. I found an apartment, and moved to Warren, VT this past May to begin working as a Photography Intern.

This summer provided me with an opportunity to focus on my photographic work, both for the parks and personal projects. I expanded my photography portfolio with images of Vermont’s wildlife, flora, and landscapes. I have also been working on my Photography Workshop project (senior thesis), which consists of a body of film photographs. My work acts as an exploration of my immersion in these new surroundings, while documenting the still forests and habitats within Vermont.

This internship has allowed me to explore all that the Vermont State Parks have to offer. I often revisited parks, as I would find something new to capture during each outing. I’ve photographed numerous parks, and have met many welcoming individuals along the way.

While expanding my portfolio, I was able to enjoy outdoor activities at the parks, such as swimming in the lakes and hiking. The Groton State Forests and its parks became one of my favorite places in the state. The pond trails at Seyon Lodge, New Discovery, and Kettle Pond allow for relaxing, meditative walks. My camera became a tool for me to record these experiences, and my photographs of the parks act as a journal of my time spent here.

After a beautiful summer in the Mad River Valley, I’m feeling thankful for this experience. I hope that my photographs from this summer will provide others with a glimpse of Vermont’s beauty. While I’m missing Vermont already, I look forward to returning soon and making more photographs.
-Karalyn

See more of Karalyn's work on her website: www.karalynmark.com.
To see photos from her Photography Internship, visit: http://bit.ly/1mRG5SS

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 Park of the Year Awards

Every year, one park from each region of the state is chosen as “Park of the Year.” The purpose of the award is to recognize parks that exemplify excellent customer service and uphold our environmental mission. These parks go above and beyond to keep the parks running smoothly and enhance the experience of everyone who comes to recreate and enjoy the outdoors.

So without further ado, we would like to announce the 2014 Parks of the Year:


Jamaica State Park

Grand Isle State Park

Half Moon State Park
Smugglers' Notch State Park



Thanks to all of our parks and to YOU for a tremendous season! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Microhikes and Microbrews: Sterling Pond and Crop Bistro and Brewery

By: Erin & Evan Meenan

Welcome to the final installment of Microhikes and Microbrews. To celebrate the official end of summer, we visited Stowe to hike up to Sterling Pond through Smuggler's Notch State Park. This is among our favorite hikes because it combines one of the most unique (and at times scary) drives in Vermont and certainly one of the best hikes under 3 miles round trip.  

You can reach the trail head from either side of the Notch on Route 108. The signage is clear, there is an information booth, and usually plenty of parking despite this hike's popularity. The is a more strenuous hike than those from our previous posts because it involves some steep stone staircases and, depending on the season, it can be a little slick. That said, the views make it worthwhile. When you first reach the top, you will arrive at a serene, picturesque pond. If you continue your hike on the Long Trail North (marked in blue), you will come to the Top of the Notch ski lift where you will see a beautiful view of the mountains. Then if  you keep hiking past the Sterling Pond shelter you reach several other vista points that look our over the pond, which is surprisingly vast.

After our hike, we drove back towards the center of Stowe and grabbed lunch at Crop Bistro and Brewery.They brew all of their own beer. We sampled three different varieties and loved each. Best part, all the beers are only $5 and there is great outside seating near the bike path. Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't mention their fried pickles. They're the best we've ever had!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Invasive Plants on the Land – A Vermont Challenge

By Colleen Balch

Vermonters’ lives are connected to the land of our small state. We hike and farm. We fish and sugar. We walk and ride and hunt. We care for our yards and gardens. We value our wildlife and lovely green vistas. We spend time outdoors. And, while we might not always recognize it, we are witnessing a change that could impact many of the things we value about our small, green, mountainous state. The quiet spread of invasive plants across our landscape presents a call to action.

An invasive plant isn’t simply a problem because it’s from somewhere else. A plant from somewhere else that stays put is just a polite and welcome visitor wherever it takes root. It can add color to our yards like our favorite daffodils, tea roses, and hydrangeas. It can give us the great taste of a summertime garden with that first warm, ripe tomato fresh from the garden. Or, it can stock our root cellars with home grown potatoes and cabbages. It doesn’t pose a threat. 


A family putting the skills they've learned to good use in an Invasive Plant
 Habitat Restoration program at Emerald Lake State Park
What makes a plant an invasive is that it’s very good at making a living here in Vermont.  So good in fact, that when it goes head-to-head with the plants that belong here, it out-competes and forces the native plants out. When that happens, impacts move through the habitat in a variety of ways. 

Vermont Traditions and Economy
Replace a score of native plants that normally grow together here on the forest floor with one invasive honeysuckle, and an impenetrable thicket results. For folks who manage a sugarbush, sap lines are hard to run. For hunters, sightlines disappear and browse for deer populations drops. Seedlings that naturally sprout to renew economically valuable trees within the forest, never reach maturity. 

Tick Presence
Invasive plants, particularly Barberries, create conditions that promote larger populations of Deer Ticks, the small pest that spreads Lyme Disease. Barberries are thorny and create protected havens for mice which Deer Ticks need during their life-cycle. More and larger mice populations equal more and larger tick populations. Larger tick populations have greater impacts on human health. And, the Barberries also create areas of higher moisture that help out ticks too.

Wildlife and Fish Habitat
Lose a number of plants that normally live on the forest floor to a pure carpet of invasive Garlic Mustard, and that loss impacts the animals that feed on, nest in, hide in, and use the native plants in any way.  Replace shrubs with strong and durable roots that have lined our mountain streams for millennia with Japanese Knotweed, which dies back below ground each fall, and the streambank soil becomes stripped and vulnerable to springtime floods.  As the powerful floodwaters scrub the streambanks, soil erodes and is carried along.   Much of that soil ends up filling the tiny spaces between the rocks in gravel beds that trout use to spawn.  With the spaces filled in, the fish eggs and their teeny hatchlings lose protection from the force of rushing waters and predators.  Fish populations struggle.

These threats are not a forgone conclusion. Vermonters can protect the lands we value in our state, especially when we work together. And getting the know how, information, and practice that can make the difference is a lot easier now than it has been. The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is launching an engaging new program across the southwestern portion of our state. They are reaching out to community members, businesses, organizations, and any others from Bennington to Burlington to engage Vermonters in this critical conservation effort that puts both private and public lands at risk. In half-day programs, volunteers join Department specialists to learn how to identify and combat invasive plants and practice removal skills. And while they are learning, the volunteers are spending a day in a great spot and helping combat invasive plants in State Forests and Parks. To learn more about the Invasive Plant Habitat Restoration program, contact Colleen Balch at (802) 377-2615 or colleen.balch@state.vt.us. Join us and learn to care for your own lands, support our native wildlife, support our Vermont traditions, and our Vermont economy.

Colleen Balch works with the Invasive Plant Habitat Restoration Program of the Vermont Department of Forests Parks and Recreation, teaches field and conservation sciences in the Rutland area, and lives in the Taconic Mountains in southwestern Vermont. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trail Runners Chapter 5: Underhill State Park

I met Steve, Jay and Matt at Underhill State Park on Thursday evening after spending the day at Grand Isle State Park (I know, I lead a difficult life). Mt Mansfield is the first immovable mass blocking your path as you approach from the west, its size and impressiveness grows as you drive through the wide Champlain Valley on the approach. 

We had the perfect day for this trail run, eighty degrees, sunny and dry. I arrived a little early and spent some time talking with Jacob, the Underhill State Park Ranger.  He advised me that typical speedy trail runners can run the loop we planned in about 4 hours and the distance was longer than we read on the map.  We were talking while he dragged away some large beech limbs he had just trimmed using a method I will not divulge here.  

Our planned route was the CCC Road to Maple Ridge Trail, across on the Long Trail and then descending Sunset Ridge Trail. The potentially disappointing news about the inaccuracy of our map was tempered by Jacob booking us into newly painted Ash lean-to for the night.  If you are unfamiliar with Underhill State Park, Ash is the second nicest lean-to in this beautiful campground with walk-to only sites.

We set out around 6pm from the parking area in front of the park office. The CCC Road is a nice moderate climb and then slight descent to the Maple Ridge trailhead. Once again I am amazed at the work of the CCC boys and their ability to create long lasting infrastructure. The road is in nice shape, it becomes more of a tote road as you get higher on the mountain, but it still has even footing.

Maple Ridge is a beautiful trail.  From our approach on the CCC Road, you do not need to climb very far up the Maple Ridge Trail before you are on the open ridge with schist under your feet and incredible views all around you.  It’s a good thing the exposed rock under your feet is so stable, it’s easy to get distracted by the view and not pay any attention to what your feet are doing. 


Popping out of dense forest and standing on the same rocks, which I watched grow larger as I drove toward Underhill earlier that day, was a magical moment.  It’s such an abrupt experience moving from a forested habitat directly into an alpine zone.  We timed things right, the extremely rare Mountain sandwort flowers were blooming everywhere across the entire ridge.  These little white flowers bloom only a short period of time in July, and I have never witnessed this before.  They are really striking, patches of white emerging from green pincushions of moss and plants clinging to life on the exposed mountaintop rock. 

Maple Ridge concludes at the Forehead, where we stopped and enjoyed some snacks before running the entire ridge along the Long Trail to the chin.  This stretch is also full of distracting views and schist under-foot, and includes a little bit of work road which is a kind of a bummer when you run through thick forest and up over rocks for a couple hours to get there.  Still, all the views afforded on this stretch are well worth the effort and make me willing to overlook the work road experience.

If you have never enjoyed the view from the chin on Mt Mansfield, you should stop what you are doing and head directly to Underhill State Park.  We stood on top of Vermont, looking out at Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west and beautiful green Vermont in every other direction.  Standing on the chin, we could clearly see the profile of Mt Mansfield and all its facial features in the shadow in the valley below us.  On this clear evening we looked to the south and north along the entire ridge of the Green Mountains. I felt connected to every peak in Vermont at that moment. 

The giant red sun was beginning to sink low on the horizon and an enormous moon (just a couple days before the full super moon) was rising golden in the sky.  This was the perfect combination for a stunning sunset, with a few clouds above the Adirondacks.  We had some more food, changed into dry long sleeve shirts and then started our descent on the Sunset Ridge trail. 

That big red sun continued to slide down the sky, and we stopped to watch it drop behind the Adirondacks while standing on the aptly named Sunset Ridge.  I cannot remember the last time I watched the sun sink down below the horizon like that. If you have not enjoyed that moment recently, I highly recommend taking the time to slow down and witness the end of a day. 

Sunset Ridge is as rock exposed as Maple Ridge, with incredible views. Shortly after we entered the woods after the exposed section, we turned on our headlamps to help us see the footing.  There are lots of stone steps and stepping rocks on this stretch of trail.  Quickly after turning on our lights, we reached the trail head at the CCC Road where we made a quick descent to the campground and Ash lean-to.  We enjoyed some hotdogs and sausages grilled by Jay and washed down with PBR and Wolaver’s Brown Ale.

Steve and I were the lucky two who enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep in our comfortable lean-to and woke to sunshine and Robin songs Friday morning early. This whole running adventure took 3 hours and 24 minutes and logged 8.16 miles on Steve’s Garmin watch and 8.4 miles using Jay’s iPhone app.  So the total mileage is still undecided, but there is no debate about the incredible experience it was to run to the top of Vermont with good friends.

View Underhill Trail Run Page 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Trail Runners Chapter 4: New Discovery State Park

The hot, sticky humidity broke as Jay, Matt and I carpooled up to New Discovery State Park to meet Steve in his lean-to for our Groton State Forest trail running adventure.  Severe thunderstorms were passing to the south, bringing cooler air perfect for an evening run. 

Steve was settled in Raven lean-to in New Discovery campground.This quiet park is exquisitely maintained with spotless toilet buildings, neatly raked campsites and completely empty fireplaces. If you are looking for a quiet retreat in a beautiful forested setting, New Discovery is the campground for you. The greater Groton area is phenomenal for a variety of outdoor pursuits, and will be featured in additional blog entries by our crew. There is so much to explore.

We headed down Blake Hill Road a dirt road which conveniently starts at the gated end of the campground road where Raven is located, in campground loop B. A short way down Blake Hill Road, Big Deer Mountain trail turns off on the right...which we managed to run right past only to discover our error after a few more minutes of running. Oops! The Big Deer Mt. trail runs through a pine plantation and later a nice mixed hardwood stand. The forest is beautiful and quiet, you feel like you really are in the middle of a peaceful retreat, an undiscovered area. We passed some interesting relics of Civilian Conservation Corps work, which is scattered throughout the entire Groton State Forest. When I see a beautifully constructed fireplace out in the middle of the woods, I cannot help but ponder what this place was like when it was constructed, and what the plan for it was.

The trail stays pretty flat until around 1.1 miles, where there is a trail intersection and the trail rises steeply the last half mile to the summit of Big Deer Mountain. Views are fantastic from two rocky outcrops on the top. You can see Peacham Pond, Lake Groton, and Peacham Bog. It was overcast while we were there, but on clear days you should be able to see the White Mountains from the summit. There is also a very impressive boulder at the top, a large glacial erratic appearing to be dropped on its side by a receding glacier 10,271 years ago. There was a nice breeze on top, which was great for keeping away the pesky deer flies which were otherwise in full force during our run.

From Big Deer Mountain we dropped back down to the intersection, where we turned left on the other Big Deer Mt. Trail, this one leading to the Osmore Pond Trail. This trail crosses a wetland area, with a series of puncheons that were a little slippery, but easy to navigate and better than getting wet feet. This trail crosses a couple intersections; from there you could connect to Big Deer State Park and the nearby nature center located close to Lake Groton, a hub for many other trails. You could easily plan a really nice long trail run starting from the same place where we started. (It would be a spectacular run too!)  We also crossed the new power line trail, which is a new multi-use trail—it is wider and more even terrain than the hiking trails we ran on and is worth an exploration. 

We reached the trail to Little Deer Mountain and decided to throw in another mountain.  This was a quick half mile ascent with wonderful views of Lake Groton and the surrounding mountains. There are not many places in Vermont where you can stand at a scenic vista and not see very many signs of human beings. That combined with not seeing anyone else on the trails makes you feel like you really are out on a wilderness adventure. 

From there we dropped back down to the Osmore Pond Trail, which runs along the boulder strewn shoreline of this remote pond. This pond hosts a pair of nesting loons and is a wonderful place to paddle around on. There are some beautiful remote campsites along the shore that would be worth paddling (or hiking) into with your camping gear.  From there we ran back to Steve’s campsite where we enjoyed some Guinness (Brilliant!) provided by Matt (trying to redeem himself after bringing Budweiser on the last run), and watching Steve prepare his dinner. Reluctantly, Matt, Jay and I left to head home. 

Driving home we watched an enormous crescent moon rise over the Green Mountains.  Matt, who was the sage of the day captured what we were all feeling when he said, “It is always worth getting out the door.” Getting a few scratches on your shins, some mud on your feet, beautiful views of Vermont and some free pizza with good friends are the very best reasons to get out the door.

View New Discovery Trail Run Page