The Magical Sandy Beaches of Lake Champlain
|Lake Champlain sunset over Sand Bar State Park by Kristen Jensen|
Luckily, there are always exceptions.
Stumbling across Alburgh Dunes State Park for the first time can be like stepping into an alternate reality. That was my reaction, at least. On a day in early June, I was driving across the top of Vermont from Swanton and into New York State. This drive is flat and sometimes tedious, especially on a cloudy day. Luckily, in a world before GPS, I glanced at my road map and noticed a park symbol nearby. On a whim, decided to stop. From Route 78, it’s only an 8-mile detour on Route 2, which meanders through the Champlain Islands, past farm fields and views of Lake Champlain.
|Beach day by Raven Schwan- Noble|
If the coastal vibe is strong, it’s because it once was… and still is, in a way. The dunes and beach form a barrier island, geologically similar to ocean shoreline, and left over from glacial till deposited during the last Ice Age. “Sand from [the] soil settles out in the pocket between the rocky “Point of Tongue” to the east and “Coon Point” to the west, forming the beach. Prevailing southerly winds, in the late summer and fall when lake levels are lowest, blow the sand back from the shore, forming dunes.” I certainly didn’t appreciate the geological history during my visit, but I do now.
|Sand sculptures on the beach|
The Sandbar WMA, directly adjacent to the park, is a mix of upland forest and wetlands at the mouth of the Lamoille River. Much of the park is a refuge with no public access and off-limits to hunting, fishing and trapping, though there are several public access spots. Due to the variety of habitats, Sandbar WMA is an ideal place for wildlife watching in a unique setting. The area is a stopover for migratory waterfowl, seasonal nesting ground and spawning ground for fish. Common mammals include red fox, white-tailed deer, coyotes, beaver, otter and muskrat. There are many birds and bird species to be seen, including a variety of waterfowl such as ducks, great blue heron, osprey, songbirds like wood thrush, eastern bluebird and veery, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse. Several species of salamanders, frogs and bullfrogs, and rare spiny softshell turtles can also be spotted.