Elizabeth Bassett, Contributor
How about a back-to-school resolution? To take at least one walk in a beautiful place with no ear buds, phone or schedule? I’m enjoying the research for an alphabet of local walks—it’s too easy to return to the same haunts and to forget some of the beautiful and interesting places around us.
Mount Independence, Orwell
A recent Vermont Public Radio commentary about Mount Independence by former Vermont Life editor Tom Slayton spoke to both the beauty and strategic importance of the Mount during the Revolutionary War. This fascinating venue for a walk is about an hour’s drive from Charlotte.
Mt. Independence rises gently from surrounding farm fields. The peninsula offered the Americans natural fortifications: cliffs, the lake and a marshy creek to the east. The Mount has a commanding view to the north, the feared invasion route of British troops. By the fall of 1776, camps, batteries and a fort accommodated 12,000 American troops and their families—nearly as large as the city of Boston at the time. When British General Guy Carleton considered an assault on the position he abandoned the idea and retreated to Canada. This allowed the Americans precious time to prepare for battles the following year at Hubbardton, Bennington and Saratoga, where the American victory was decisive.
Today trees cover most of the peninsula, yet archeologists continue to uncover evidence of the past, from the foundations of officers’a quarters and a hospital to remnants of domestic life: fishing hooks, pots and bowls, hoes and axes, belt buckles and buttons, many of which are displayed at the Visitor Center.
More than six miles of walking trails with interpretive signs connect the various archeological discoveries and allow a circumnavigation of the peninsula. While the Mount will neither be excavated nor reconstructed, there is plenty of historic evidence at this strategic site.
Two Johnsons and a Jackson, Middlebury and Hinesburg
There aren’t many “J” nature walks in this part of Vermont, but two Johnsons and a Jackson do figure on local maps.
Johnson and Jackson Trails are segments of Middlebury’s 16-mile TAM, Trail Around Middlebury. The Middlebury Area Land Trust manages the footpath that encircles the town as it crosses a variety of landscapes on public and private land. Jackson Trail, at 1.9 miles, includes a cow pasture and meadow; Johnson Trail, 0.8 miles, is an easy walk that passes both a wetland and pond. If you are not inclined to walk the entire 16-mile loop, consider staging a vehicle and walking point-to-point on the TAM.
Closer to home, but without marked trails, the Fred Johnson Wildlife Management Area in Hinesburg encompasses 1,172 forested acres in Hinesburg. It’s a great place to snowshoe as well as ramble.
Kingsland Bay State Park, Ferrisburgh
Not many of Lake Champlain’s 587 miles of shoreline are publicly accessible. Kingsland Bay’s 264 acres afford visitors plenty of lakeshore and include sloping lawns, a swimming dock, picnic tables and a launch site for small watercraft.
Less well known is the 0.6-mile nature trail that winds above the shoreline of MacDonough Point. Hemlocks stretch overhead, and tortured northern white cedars cling to the limestone shore. In the spring thousands of white trillium carpet the woods. Views open to Kingsland Bay and the lake.
LaPlatte River Marsh, Shelburne
Just across the Bay Road from the busy waters of Shelburne Bay, there is a quiet place, far from the madding crowd. The Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy manages a 245-acre preserve surrounding the confluence of McCabes Brook and the LaPlatte River. This rich habitat of river delta, swamp, marsh, lake and forest is home to scores of species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Bobcat den nearby. A quiet walk of about one mile follows the shore of McCabes Brook. Eagles may fly overhead, turtles sun themselves on logs; great blue herons and families of ducks are frequent visitors.
Watch this space for a continuation of alphabetical walks in northwest Vermont.