Photo by Debbie Thomas/ Vermont State Parks
Between Springfield and Windsor sits Wilgus State Park, at 89 acres, one of the state’s smallest parks tucked onto a quiet bank of the Connecticut River. Wilgus is great for a break while on a paddling trip or an extended stay to explore the river and nearby attractions. Your host is Eric Hanson, a ranger who has worked at the park and lived onsite for the past ten years and enjoys hiking and paddling and fishing almost every day. “Until the fish go away, I’m not going anywhere,” he says.
Reservations are required for all camping sites and when summer vacation starts, the small park quickly becomes fully booked with families, parties and Boy Scout Troops. Hanson says families typically take longer vacations in July and August, but to avoid the crowds he recommends camping midweek early in the season. It’s the first in the state to open and stays open until Columbus Day Weekend.
The park’s access to the Connecticut makes it easy to cool off on hot days. Other swimming areas include Stoughton Pond in Perkinsville and the Mill Brook in Windsor. For paddling, biking or hiking, Wilgus makes a great base camp for summertime adventure. For details, visits www.vtstateparks.com.
Cabins & Campsites: Since it’s one of the smaller state parks, most of the 15 campsites have views of the river – not other campsites. The park also offers six lean-to shelters and four cabins, which are furnished with bunk beds and furniture, for $48 a night for Vermont residents. The cabins also have electricity, meaning you can bring a small fridge or an electric blanket. However Hanson requests for the consideration of your neighbors that you leave the karaoke machine at home (yes, this has actually happened).
Paddling: As one of a few campgrounds on the Connecticut River, Wilgus makes a great starting point for a trip on the river. Paddlers can take a leisurely trip down river from the park or sign up with North Star Canoe & Kayak Rentals for a shuttle north for a half-day paddle back with views of Mount Ascutney. Both canoes and kayaks are available at the park for half or full-day rental.
Fishing: While the Connecticut is home to smallmouth bass, the neighboring Black River is stocked every spring with 18-22-inch rainbow trout. Later in the spring, those rainbows make their way to into the Connecticut at Hoyt’s Landing in Springfield. Vermont fishing licenses are available for purchase at the park’s office.
Biking; For road cyclists and mountain bikers alike, Wilgus State Park makes a great starting point. Road cyclists can link together loops on Routes 131, 106, 44, 44A and 5 that pass the Little Ascutney State and Knapp Brook wildlife management areas, the West Windsor Town Forest and Ascutney State Park. In August, the Harpoon Brewery’s annual Point to Point Ride heads out on 25-, 50- and 100-mile bike loops through central Vermont starting and finishing at the brewery.
For mountain bikers, the Sports Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB) operates 30 miles of trails for non-motorized recreational use, located on the base and western flank of Mount Ascutney and the West Windsor Town Forest. While the double-track trails date back at least 30 years, many of the trails have been built and maintained in recent years by members of STAB.
Pick up a map at Mount Ascutney State Park, the Brownsville General Store in Brownsville, or local bike shops on both side of the river and check out trails like The Grassy Knoll, Rock and Roll, Chase and Falls Trail.
Hiking: Wilgus State Park is located just minutes by car from Mount Ascutney State Park, which is home to networks of trails leading to the 3,144-foot peak. From the upper parking lot on the Mount Ascutney Parkway, visitors can hike to the summit via the Slot (.64 miles) or Slab (.55 miles) trail, which also connects with the Windsor, Weathersifled and Brownsville trails. The best views are from Brownsville Rock, Castle Rock, West Peak and the 24.5-foot observation tower. You might catch glimpses of hang gliders as this is one of the most popular areas for hang gliding in New England.
Rainy Days: Short daytrips include the American Precision Museum, Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) Nature Center, the Constitution House State Historic Site, the Harpoon Brewery and Simon Pearce glass and pottery, which offer tours through the factory before letting you shop for the finished product.