Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Rathbun's and Rail Trails


      I'm not sure what I enjoyed more, the swamps or the syrup. When we went to Rathbun's Maple Sugar House to meet friends for breakfast recently we were a little early (maybe because we drove and they rode bikes!). This gave us time to stroll the woods road in back of the restaurant while waiting for the others to show up. Glad we did because the path lead to three scenic wetlands and the tiny streams that drain them while roller coasting over several low ridges. Stone walls lined the way hinting at a time when these woods were sheep pastures. Now the 'livestock' are chipmunks, squirrels and beavers.

     This area of Washington County including parts of Granville, Whitehall and Hampton drains mostly into the Mettawee River with a low divide sending a few streams east into the Poultney watershed. Elevations range from just over a 100' along the river to Thorn Hill's 1163' summit. It's a hilly part of the low Taconics with a general north-south orientation of ridges and valleys but the topography is rather chaotic with many small ponds and swamps scattered amongst the higher ground. For wildlife it's an ideal mix of woodland and field, of upland and wetland.

Woods and waters make great wildlife habitat
(web image)

     I'm unaware of any public lands here so the best way to explore is by wandering the back roads that branch off Co. 12 and 21. You can drive, bike or find a place to park and walk. There are also some fishing access spots if you want to check out the Mettawee. Other points of interest include the East Whitehall Brick Church with adjoining carriage sheds and cemetery, views from Welch Road, Hatch Hill Cemetery and a lime kiln in the woods between Hatch Hill Road and Co. 12 (on private property). Also note that the 175 acre Horn property on Baker Road has been conserved by the Lake Champlain Land Trust but is not open to the public.

Ledge, forest and understory typical of this part of Washington County
(web image)

     After a great Rathbuns breakfast Gwenne, Zia and I took a short drive to Poultney, Vermont where we walked off the pancakes. The Slate Valley Trail's Poultney River Loop is an easy 3+ mile circuit around the village. It uses a section of the D&H rail trail that runs from Castleton, Vermont twenty miles south to West Rupert. The Poultney Loop branches off  the rail trail to follow the river in back of the former Green Mountain College campus. It's a level open path well suited to walking, running and gravel/mountain biking. 

Pics from a quiet, drizzily walk in Poultney

     Poultney took a tough blow when Green Mountain College closed in 2019. Raj Bkakta bought the property in 2020 and now he and his wife Dahnee are transforming the campus that will still have an educational focus. She has started a K thru 6th independent school and he is developing a program for those who want to enter the spirits industry. Also in town, the Poultney Pub has reopened after winter renovations and it appears that Hermit Hill Books is now operating as Laureate Fine Books. Up the street Stone Valley Arts at Fox Hill has a busy schedule of offerings, just one more reason Poultney is a great place to take a hike and stay for food, drink and culture.


Thursday, April 11, 2024

Get to the Points


Gwenne and Zia at Crown Point

  The eclipse was just the icing on the cake. Gwenne and I (along with thousands of others) saw the event from Crown Point. The featured attraction lasted maybe two minutes but we spent the better part of the day exploring the area. Two state park facilities sit side by side here. Crown Point State Historic Site is to the north and a state campground is adjacent to the south. There's also a seasonal visitors center and the graceful bridge that connects New York and Vermont. On the east side of the bridge is Chimney Point with its own historical sites and campgrounds.

Views of Crown Point on Eclipse Day


     The Crown Point State Historic Site contains the ruins of two colonial era forts: one French and one British. There are also fossils in the limestone outcrops and distinctive ecological communities that have developed due to carbonate rock and the climatic influence of the large lake. Because this is a migration route with varied habitat the site is also used for bird banding events. There are numerous paths and hiking trails thru out the park.

     The campground features 66 sites, a day use picnic area, boat launch, fishing pier and the towering Champlain Memorial Lighthouse. Both parks offer views of the bridge. With walkways on both sides you'll want to stroll across it for the views and the experience of ambling from one state to another.

Crown Point Campground site map 

The lighthouse and bridge

Bridge walkers (and sitters) on eclipse Monday

     Chimney Point on the Vermont side of the lake is a destination in itself. There is a state historic site here as well as the DAR Mansion and surrounding Vermont State Campground. Other points of interest include several wildlife management areas with a boat launch, a restaurant, RV parks and the Ass-Pirin Acres minature donkey farm (visit at your own risk...you may end up buying one of the lovable creatures!). A short drive away is the Dead Creek WMA, legendary among birders. For history buffs Mt. Independence and Fort Ticonderoga are nearby. 

Chimney Point and  Champlain Bridge
web image

Eclipsers at Chimney Point on Monday

DAR Campground site map

     You could spend several lifetimes exploring Lake Champlain and surrounding shores. It's that big and why it's sometimes called the 6th Great Lake. The Empire State Trail follows the western shore and there are infinite biking, hiking and paddling options thru out its watershed. Even better, it's easily accessible from Washington County via scenic, short drives. Time to go, no eclipse needed.

French fort ruins

Lighthouse and fishing pier from the bridge

     * The Lake Champlain canon of books could fill a small library. Here are just a few that will help you enjoy visits:

     - Lake Champlain: A Natural History by Mike Winslow is a good introduction to the lake and its watershed.

     - Wetland, Woodland, Wildland: A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont by Elizabeth H. Thompson and Eric R. Sorenson will take you deeper into the ecology along the lake shore (and elsewhere in Vermont).

     - Empires in the Mountains by Russell P. Bellico puts the various colonial ruins and battle sites into perspective.

     That's it for now but I have a sense that this is going to be my Lake Champlain summer, so probably more to follow. You've been warned...    

  And a few more eclipse day pics...

Some had elaborate gear

Holly and Tom absorbing the energy

Holly got this colorful shot

 Pine cone eclipse art at Crown Point