A Week Swimming Vermont’s Wild Lakes

Some people travel to the Northeast Kingdom to tackle new mountain bike trails. These swimmers head there to conquer new lakes during NEK Swim Week.

By Luke Zarzecki

When Lyn Goldsmith jumped into a lake for her first open-water distance swim, a 5K in 2015, the odds were stacked against her. She was 62 and her swimming experience consisted mainly of swimming laps in pools near her home in Manhattan with a masters’ swim program and taking stroke lessons from a coach.

The race ended poorly: she didn’t make it past the starting buoy since the current was too strong. However, she persevered and went on to finish a one mile swim in the Hudson, a two mile swim in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, a 10K swim in Bermuda and then a five mile swim in St. Croix.

At some of these events, she started hearing talk of the Northeast Kingdom Swim Week.

Goldsmith’s introduction to NEK Swim Week was a five-mile swim that looped around Crystal Lake in Barton, Vermont. The course started with a swim to the cliffs, then veered south towards Moose Rock, then passed the railroad tracks and ended at the beach. That was in 2016 and she’s done every week since.

Swimmers take the plunge at the opening event of Kingdom Swim Week by diving off Moose Rock at Crystal Lake. Photo by Phil White.

Now 68, Goldsmith describes the NEK Swim Week as her “favorite week of the year” and she is looking forward to continuing the tradition this year. The August event consists of swimming eight lakes and 46 miles, all within nine days. Each morning, swimmers head to the lake of the day and choose a distance they want to swim.

Some swim the event competitively, some do it for scenery. “It’s not a race, it’s a beautiful swim,” says Phil White, the event director. For safety, each swimmer is accompanied by a kayaker to give them snacks or help as needed. Goldsmith takes it one stroke at a time.

Although it is not competitive, participants do need to qualify. They must have swum two-thirds of the distance they are swimming on a given lake before the race. The cost ranges from $100 to $250 for each lake event or $1,075 for all eight days.

This year Swim Week will start out at Crystal Lake State Park in Barton on August 8th. White labels this lake as one of the best in Vermont due to the pristine water and landscapes surrounding it. Some climb up Moose Rock, one of the checkpoints in the course, and jump off.

The other lakes in the week include Island Pond (Brighton), Lac Massawippi (Ayer’s Cliff, Quebec) Lake Seymour (Morgan), Echo Lake (West Charleston), Lake Willoughby (Westmore), Lake Memphremagog (Newport), and Caspian Lake (Greensboro) . The lakes range from 614 acres to 5,940 acres.

This year, Covid-19 will change the logistics of the “Small Group NEK Swim Week,” as it is now called. Ten swimmers will start two minutes apart so there is not a cluster. Face masks have to be worn until swimmers reach the water and lunch will not be served. Gatherings after swims cannot happen, and White says swimmers will “come, swim and leave.”

For both White and Goldsmith, the community has been one of the best parts of the event. People come from Canada, the Midwest, New York and Oregon.

“Every year it’s like a little reunion. That’s one of the things I love about this week, I get to connect with friends that I’ve known for years,” White said.

When Goldsmith retired last year from her position as the Clinical Research Director at Columbia University, she looked all over the globe for a home that had access to great swimming, including Thailand.

Vermont stood out because so many of the northern lakes are pristine, have little boat traffic and feature gorgeous scenery. “The sensation is like swimming through silk,” Goldsmith says of Vermont lakes. “My favorite thing is swimming along and watching the forest trees go by as I breathe,” she said.

One of the highlights of the week is swimming the nearly 5 miles, north to south, of Lake Willoughby. Photo by Phil White.

She decided to settle down in Stowe, near her favorite swimming destination, the Green River Reservoir.

Like mountain bikers who travel to find the best trails, Goldsmith goes around looking for lakes and swimming holes. Along the way, she meets new friends, catches up with old ones and explores all Vermont has to offer. For Goldsmith, these open water swims are the reason she moved here.

“If I never came to any of Phil’s events, I wouldn’t be living in Vermont now. I would say it’s 100 percent the reason I came here. It’s my favorite week of the year,” Goldsmith said. Now on her bucket list is to find every swimming hole in Vermont and dive in.

For more information, see kingdomgames.com

Interested in doing some open-water swimming of your own? Read this article for some great tips and tricks: 6 Steps towards your first open-water swim from Vermont swimmers

Plus, read this interview with Phil White to learn about the man who’s in charge of NEK Swim Week! 

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