Guest Blog: 4th of July Weekend at Townshend State Park

By photo intern Matt Parsons
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Earlier in the year I scored carte blanche status with my “photo boss” for covering a Random Acts of Camping promotion for the Vermont State Parks. I love the state parks in my area but had been hankering to explore some parks in the southern part of Vermont. I was recovering from a hernia surgery at home and was feeling a bit cooped up. I decided to make plans to camp for the July 4th weekend. My first choice, Jamaica State Park in Jamaica, Vermont was full. The nice lady on the phone suggested a smaller park in Townshend. I took her advice and called. Pat was very nice in helping me choose an available tent site. In closing she asked if anyone in our party played a musical instrument. “No, but why do ask? Pat explained that every Saturday night is music night in the park and that all the musicians get together to play. By now I was intrigued and couldn’t wait for the July 4th weekend!

This was the first time that Ann and I had a disagreement over how long to camp but we worked it out. The weekend arrived and Ann did most of the packing to keep my guts from falling out. Normally we would take a less direct route just for fun. Since it was a 3 hour drive, we decided to stay on the interstate. We did find a short cut that wound its way up through the hills and lead us across a narrow covered bridge to Route #30. The quaint little town of Newfane with its white houses and picket fences indicated that we were not far from our destination.

The dirt road that leads to the park follows the back side of the West River. Along the way we caught glimpses through the trees of people floating by in inner-tubes. By the sounds they were all having a wonderful time. Of course I was curious and had to find out more. We arrived at the park and the stone ranger station built by the Civilian Conservation Corps was magnificent. I have always admired the forethought, dedication and hard work of the CCC. This particular building had a built in pavilion with a stone fireplace. In front of the pavilion was a stone patio with stairs leading up to it. This was the perfect place for a good old fashioned hootenanny!

Pat welcomed us like old friends and pointed us in the direction of our camp site. Setting up camp wasn’t as quick this time. I had to be mindful of my recent operation and take it easy. I was excited to be at a new State Park, so I loaded up my camera gear and we set off to explore the lay of the land. It didn’t take long before we found a trail. I did a little photo research on this park and discovered very few pictures of Bald Mountain or it’s trail. The area had received a good bit of rain and the mountain stream was looking picturesque. I took many pictures and put myself in some jeopardizing positions that upset my concerned wife. This was not a good time to ask if she wanted to hike to the top. Instead we went back to our site and rested before getting our ample supply of fire wood.

Getting wood was another opportunity to talk with Gary and Pat. I could not leave without finding out about tubing the West River. Pat explained that up the road is the Townshend Dam. Many people arrange to be dropped off below the earthen dam and float down, where they can be picked up miles down stream. I had not been tubing since I was a kid. The days of kicking back and floating lazily down the Lamoille River, which flowed through my home town were flooding my mind.  My curiosity sparked a second wind that had us in the car quicker than you can say West River. People on the river were making the best of the last hours of day light. This was a classic summer day. People gathered at the river to float and swim. Kids were diving off an abandoned covered bridge with fearless abandon while others watched on a near by rock that sloped into the gentle waters.

I had worked up quite an appetite and shish kabobs cooked over an open fire were on the menu. We dismissed the thought of checking out Townshend Dam and headed back to camp. I pride myself on creating a nice fire to cook on. The wood supply was full of dry hardwood that was perfect for cooking. Ann remained busy preparing the table while I cooked over the fire ring. In the evening the fire pit becomes our television. We gaze into its hypnotic flicker and talk about the days events. I’m not sure, but we may have discovered the answer to some of life’s problems in the process. One by one, we eventually retired to our tent. In the morning we performed our morning rituals of coffee, meditation and breakfast around the camp fire. On this particular day, rain was imminent and we needed to get things under cover. Putting together a shelter using a tarp,  bungi cords, and rope is sometimes a challenge if the trees aren’t in the right place. Today everything lined up.

Rain is always a possibility when you are camping, so we maintain our adventurous attitude and come up with alternate plans. On the way in we noticed a large vegetable stand called Dutton Berry Farm in Newfane. We love going to places like this and thought it would be a good place to start our adventure. By the time we got on the road it had begun to rain. Did I mention that everything lined up? On our mini road trip we explored the West River from the road, entertaining the idea of someday tubing down it’s crystal clear waters. We stopped at the vegetable stand, browsed for a bit before purchasing a few fresh delights for the camp. Today was a day to be inside as the rain became heavier. Ann likes antique stores and there happened to be one up the road. I remember striking up a conversation with the owner who was familiar with the town we live in more than 3 hours away. Small world! All of this was making us hungry so we randomly chose Newfane Cafe and Creamery. I don’t remember what we ordered but I do remember a cool waiting bench made out of quarters and an interesting motorcycle that sat in the middle of the dining room. There was no need for us to hurry but tourists began coming in for lunch, so we left to make room. Besides we had Townshend Recreational Area to check out.

The rain was starting to lift. We were surprised to see people already at the recreation area celebrating the 4th of July with their family and friends. The dam and the park are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We did our usual exploring and imagined how we could enjoy the park. A park ranger was kind enough to answer our questions and give us some additional information about the Army Corps of Engineers. Later while exploring the reservoir and beach, our ranger friend came and told us of 2 eagles that were in a tree nearby. I wasn’t in a good place to shoot pictures but I got as close as I dared. Any pictures I could get of an American Bald Eagle on Independence Day weekend would be a bonus for me. I tried many positions to steady my aim, including laying down in the wet grass and resting on a cold wet rock. People driving by must of thought I was practising some kind of weird “photo yoga“. Eventually the eagles majestically flew off and circled the reservoir before heading up stream.

It would be 5;30 by the time we got back to the car. We still had to cook supper and get a fire going for an evening of relaxation. Ann likes to read. I usually tend the fire and review the many pictures I take through out the day. A short trip down the road and we were back at our site. Everything stayed dry under our make shift dining hall. The tent platform was strategically placed under a large pine tree which sheltered our tent from rain. You know it’s been a GOoD day when you can survive the elements with very few struggles. Knowing the camp site was secure eased our minds. We needed more wood for the evening so we headed up to see our friends Pat and Gary. Upon approaching the pavilion we could here 2 ladies proudly singing patriotic songs. It was a perfect evening to recline in a chair and get warm by the fire Gary or Pat had started in the fireplace. There hospitality is as warm as any fire

Friday night back at the camp was spent reminiscing and dreaming in front of the camp fire. One thing I like about my relationship with Ann is that we can dream together. Our dreams often include blessing friends who have been a blessing to us. Nate and Molly have been a positive influence in our son David’s life and they have gone out of their way to do it. Out of love and appreciation we thought a camping trip to this park would be a blast. We imagined bringing David and tubing down the West River. Since Nate plays the guitar, Molly sings and David plays the cajon, ( box drum ) this would be a great place for them to play together. This would be a huge dream come true as we have never seen David play or have we known him to play in public. Sometimes our dreams are seeds of faith. All we can do is put the pieces together and trust the Good Lord to connect the dots. We love to watch Him at work doing thing we can’t do with our own knowledge or strength. It didn’t take long before we committed ourselves to making plans with Nate and Molly for the Labor Day weekend.

Saturday was the 4th of July and we spent most of the day at camp cooking and relaxing. I was both excited and anxious for music night. Excited because this was a new and unique experience at a state park for us. I was anxious because if I were to do this event justice, I would need to have the freedom to move around freely. Moving around freely meant announcing who I am and why I am there. Announcing who I am might indicate to some people that I am an accomplished photographer. I am not. I’m just fortunate enough to have a nice camera and likes to take pictures of the things I experience. The camera was sold to Ann by a trusted friend who was upgrading his equipment. They both wanted it to be an encouragement to me. I have had tremendous fun and success but I still get nervous when people ask me technical questions or want to see my pictures. This was going to put me in a very vulnerable position.

The time arrived and we grabbed our chairs, cooler and camera gear. It was a short walk to the pavilion. By now we felt like family as Pat greeted us in her customary fashion. I had told her that I was a photo intern when we first met, so she was very open to what I had in mind. I thought it would be best to address the crowd and let them know who I was and why I was there. It would be the perfect time to warn people that I would be seeking consent forms. I would also ask that if anyone DIDN’T want to have there picture taken to let me know. Pat was very kind in introducing me. I was taught public speaking through out school so addressing the crowd wasn’t that difficult for me. I was very pleased with how receptive and open the people were. I actually felt right at home. Through out the night Ann and I were able to converse with many people who allowed me to take their picture.

On this particular night it was Gary and a professional flautist named Patrick. The duo received instrumental and vocal support from the 2 ladies who proudly sang God Bless America from the night before. Ann and I had the extreme pleasure of getting to know Patrick and his wife (whose name escapes our memory) It turns out that they are from New York City and that they visit the Vermont State Parks to see the stars in the sky. “We don’t see them in the city” Patrick said. On one of their first ventures to Vermont, they camped at Molly Stark where Gary and Pat were doing their thing as park rangers at the time. A friendship was formed and now the couple visits them where ever they may be working. A true testament to the kind of people Gary and Pat really are. Gary started the evening and played familiar folk and country songs with help from Patrick and the ladies. He even took requests.

Patrick played several Jethro Tull songs that were delicious to the ears. The most memorable moment for me, however, was when Patrick broke out with his rendition of America the Beautiful. The back drop was perfect. An American flag was proudly waving in the gentle evening breeze as Patrick sat beneath it’s glory. Now this is where it gets crazy! As Patrick played in the late twilight, people from across the river were touching off fireworks from behind him. I ran out of talent and gear to capture this image, but the memory will forever be in my mind as we stood with our hands over our hearts and sang. The fireworks lit up the sky behind the American flag and above Patrick’s head as if a star had exploded over New York City.

Pat complimented the warm fellowship and sweet music by serving us popcorn. When the evening ended and the consent forms were collected, I felt like we had made some lasting friendships. We were happy to learn that some of our friends would be coming back for the Labor Day weekend. Slowly we dispersed to our camps knowing we had experienced a very special evening. The night quickly emptied into the morning. Sunday was our last day at the park and tearing down camp seemed to be especially sombre. It was going to be a long 2 and half months before we would see each other again. Heading home from a camping trip always has a degree of sadness but this time I was able to pick myself up knowing that our son and friends would be joining us next time.


  1. This is a great blog. I love Townshend and I've been going there for years. Sadly this is the last year for Pat and Gary as the park rangers. They will be missed. See you again hopefully. Cheryl Sealey sister of Gail who you met at Woodford this year 2016

  2. Thanks Cheryl. It was nice meeting you all. I hope our paths will cross again.

  3. The park will never be the same with out Pat & Gary but here's hope it will be close with the new rangers. See every one soon Marc & Leigh


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