Vermont’s Water World

“Stay close to the serenity of a lake to meet your own peace of mind.” — Munia Khan, To Evince the Blue

I was running along a beach road in Connecticut recently when a car slowed and a woman rolled down her window, “Where can you swim around here?” she asked.

The question seemed a little odd. I looked at Long Island Sound, then at her. She pointed to the sign nearby: “Beach permit required.” There was no place for her to park. The nearest public beach was 15 miles away and entry fees there, for non-residents, $22.

I take it for granted that you can find a lake, pond or river, or some place to swim, pretty much everywhere in Vermont. We have more than 33 ‘official’ lakes and hundreds more if you count ponds and reservoirs. Many are on public lands and have campsites (to see a few of our favorite island campsites turn to p. 20.) And, thanks to the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, access is often free or a small day fee away.

Even our biggest city, Burlington, has largely clean, swimmable waters. Thanks to the Community Sailing Center and its soon-to-open new building, almost anyone can get out on the lake. In fact, the Center’s goal (as the founder, architect Marcel Beaudin describes in “Set Sail,” p. 21), is to get everyone—no matter their age, background or circumstances—out on the lake, be it on a keelboat or an SUP.

If we want to continue to swim in Lake Champlain and other lakes, we need to do more than just protect lake access, we need to take care of the waters around us. Already, invasive milfoil is choking lakes and blue green algae blooms, closing beaches. It’s so bad in places that the Lake Dunmore/Fern Lake Association has raised more than $2 million to combat milfoil, and has had teams of up to 17 harvesting it 240 hours a week.

Little actions such as checking and washing your boat before launching it can help. Just as important though, is how you treat your lawn, picking up after your pet, and planting a rain garden. These things can all help reduce the phosphorus and other contaminants that flow downstream.

In June, Governor Scott created the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative to “promote prudent stewardship of State recreation assets and market the outdoor recreation values and attributes of Vermont to promote economic growth.”

It’s a promising initiative led by the Commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and includes leaders from the Vermont Mountain Biking Association, the Catamount Trail Association, Green Mountain Club and other organizations around the state.

But let’s not forget that a big part of outdoor recreation relies on water. According to the 2016 Outdoor Participation Topline Report, for every hunter, there are 2.5 fishermen. The number one aspirational sport for adults, ages 25-34? Swimming for fitness (yes, it beats running).

The fastest growing sport? Stand up paddleboarding, with a 26 percent increase over the last three years, followed by traditional triathlons (run, bike, swim.) Among the other sports that are seeing significant growth: Kayaking (whitewater saw a 10 percent increase over three years), boardsailing/windsurfing (a 13 percent increase in one year), and scuba diving.

While these may not be the signature sports that come to mind when you think of the Green Mountain state, they are very much present here, as you will see in this issue, and growing.

If we want to continue to build outdoor recreation in Vermont we need to invest in protecting both the health of and access to one of the most important and vulnerable outdoor resources Vermont has: our waterways and lakes. —Lisa Lynn, Editor