This will be the winter to explore Vermont and find new places to play outdoors. Thanks to a RESTART grant, the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA) (a statewide non-profit dedicated to strengthening, expanding, attracting and retaining outdoor recreation businesses in Vermont) teamed up with Vermont Sports to profile emerging recreation regions. In the last two years, the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) has given out Community Grants, totaling $300,000, to help nine communities fully leverage their outdoor recreation assets. Here’s what’s going on in these regions and what the grants will do for regions, north to south. [Opening photo: downtown Randolph. By Lisa Lynn]
JOIN THE TREASURE HUNT Now it’s your turn to play around Vermont and gear up at a local business. Each of the regions profiled here has hidden log coasters with the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA) logo. Find the log coaster marked with the logo and you can redeem it for $65 in goods or services at one of the businesses mentioned in this section. To find out how to redeem and for hints on the hiding spots, visit VOBA’s Facebook page.
1. Newport, VT : Where The Lake Comes to Life
As the ice starts to glaze over Lake Memphremagog, Newport puts away its kayaks and bikes and rolls up its sleeves for its second season: winter. The Orleans County city has a population of just over 4,000 and it feels like everyone turns out when the lake hardens.
Pond hockey tournaments pop up. Folks gather around small bonfires. Parents pull their kids on sleds. Skaters follow a path that connects outdoor rinks in Gardner’s Park. As soon as the snow falls, cross country skiers glide along the 25 kilometers of groomed routes at Memphremagog Trails.
The last weekend of February the town will bustle as folks from around the state turn up for Winter Festival (still on the schedule). “We have chuck-a-puck, horse-drawn sleigh rides, sledding on the hill near Prouty Beach, bonfires along the shoreline and fireworks,” says Jessica Booth, Newport Parks & Recreation Director.
That weekend is also typically the time when Kingdom Games hosts its famous Winter Swim competition with top swimmers racing laps in a “pool” that’s cut out of the ice on Lake Memphremagog.
All winter long you can hear the hum of snowmobiles buzzing on the network of VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trails that crisscross the region. “I think we are the only city that has groomed trails that go right into town,” says Booth. “You can literally ride your snowmachines right to one of our restaurants and on nice days in the winter you’ll see dozens of snowmobiles parked outside The East Side where they have outdoor dining and an ice bar.”
Shop: The Great Outdoors which rents kayaks and bikes in the summer switches over to skis, snowboards and ice skates in the winter. Wright’s Sports Shop has been serving local anglers and hunters for 30 years. Pick and Shovel has everything from Muck Boots and Carhartts to apparel . To find bargains on quality bike gear, head to Louis Garneau’s factory outlet and U.S. headquarters on Route 5 in Derby.
Eat/Drink: Watch all the action on the lake from your table at The East Side, a shore-side restaurant and pub that serves up dinner specials such as a Fried Fisherman’s Platter and Roast Duck. It also has an antiques and gift shop.
After a day out on the trails or lake, stop in for a pizza, sub or pasta at Hoagies—a Newport staple since 1966. Lagos has fine dining and don’t miss the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center where you can sample local cheeses, bakery treats, brews, jams and more or try farm-fresh fare at the Warehouse Restaurant.
Stay: Downtown, the Newport City Inn & Suites is a comfortable motel with an indoor pool and small fitness center. Newport has a number of cozy B&Bs that are steps to the lake such as the Little Gnesta (closed in winter, though), and if you want a bit of old-world elegance (think fireplaces and four-poster beds), head to the Derby Line Village Inn.
What the VOREC Grant Will Do: In 2019, Newport received a $35,000 VOREC grant for a critical trail connection and boardwalk project between Prouty Beach and Bluffside Farm, a 129-acre dairy farm on the lake that was acquired by the Vermont Land Trust in 2015.
More info: Discover Newport
Next up: Brighton/Island Pond >>