The bike ferry that goes across the “cut” between Colchester and South Hero. Photo by Elizabeth Bassett.

Elizabeth Bassett, Contributor

In Charlotte mud season is a distant memory. Outdoor thoughts stray to hiking, biking, kayaking and wildflower walks. Trees are in leaf and lilacs bursting. What’s a body to do in the outdoors?

Kayaking and Canoeing
It’s early in the season with Lake Champlain a chilly 43 degrees at this writing, but spring high water makes for great explorations on local waterways. Floodplain or riparian forests hug the lake and its tributaries. Paddling is easy as the trees are tall with few side limbs and few understory plants grow. Both pickerel and northern pike spawn here. Swamp white oak, green ash and silver and red maple, as well as hybrids of the two, tolerate sodden ground for part of the year. To explore the LaPlatte River, launch from the boat access on Bay Road in Shelburne and paddle up Lewis Creek from Long Point. When the water is warmer these are good departure points for Lake Champlain as well.

Get the spiders out of your craft and locate your paddles, life jacket and sunhat. When the day is right you will be ready!

Hiking
Until Memorial Day weekend the Green Mountain Club and Vermont Forest, Parks and Recreation encourage hikers to stay off of high-elevation trails. As snow and ice melt, the ground gets saturated, and trails can turn into mud pits. Walking around the mud only worsens the situation as the trails widen, damaging vegetation and soil structure that in turn fosters erosion. Just don’t do it! There are plenty of other great places to walk and hike.

The Trail Around Middlebury, the TAM, is marking its 25th anniversary. With completion of two bridges, the 18-mile loop encircles the town over farmland, conserved property, schools and public lands. Outside magazine lists the TAM as one of the country’s best trail-running destinations, and several segments are bike and jog-stroller accessible. Segments range from 0.6 to 4.6 miles—a walk in the woods, a gambol across a sheep pasture or an exploration of marshland. Maps and descriptions of each section are online, as well as the Middlebury Land Trust (MALT) office, Frog Hollow Bikes, Middlebury Mountaineer and Addison County Chamber of Commerce. There is parking for each section.

Burlington’s Intervale Center hosts miles of trails and dirt farm roads that hug the Winooski River winding past farmland and community gardens enroute to the Ethan Allen Homestead. These trails are also part of the Cycle the City loop that highlights Burlington’s natural, human and architectural history.

The 16,000-acre Moosalamoo National Recreation Area is part of the Green Mountain National Forest. More than 70 miles of trails stretch across the western slopes of the Green Mountains south of Middlebury. Trails are open year round for walking, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This land includes the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail on Route 125 in Ripton, a gentle one-mile walk dotted with Frost’s poetry. This is an easy walk for young and old that is enriched by poems inspired by this landscape.

History Hike, Little River State Park. A moderate four-mile walk past abandoned hill farms, cemeteries, a school and an old sawmill. Foundations, wells and dooryard plantings are evidence of the lives of self-reliant farmers whose homes and land were flooded in the 1927 flood and soon abandoned.

Biking
Pump the tires, check the brakes, don some high-visibility clothes and add some blinking lights for safety. The deaths of local cyclists in recent years have heightened awareness of the need for both cyclists and vehicle drivers to be attentive to and respectful of one another and to obey the laws that govern use of our roads. Pedestrians and bikers have rights, but they also have responsibilities, including obeying stop signs and lights. Bikers must use hand signals for turns and stopping and should ride single-file unless in designated bike lanes, which include paved shoulders. From a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise, bikers are required to use front and back lights.

Now to the fun of biking! Champlain Bikeways (champlainbikeways.org) is a rich resource for short loops as well as the 363-mile route around Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River in Quebec. Theme loops range from 10 to 47 miles on both paved and unpaved roads. Longer routes include one or more ferries across the lake. Addison County rides include Rebel’s Retreat at 42.5 and Otter Creek Wandering at 28.5 miles. The Champlain Islands feature the Island Line Trail, which uses the bike ferry to connect Burlington, via the Causeway in Colchester, to the islands. Among the shorter theme loops: Stone Castles (South Hero), A Trail to Two Beaches (Alburg and Isle LaMotte), and Island Life through Grand Isle.

Happy spring!

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