Why We Love to Paddle

The Water Trails

Vermont’s water and paddling trails are just as epic and important to our way of life as our land trails are.

Almost two decades ago, Kay Henry invited me on canoe trip in Maine. At the time, she was owner of Mad River Canoe, a company she co-founded in Waitsfield, Vt. I was editing Audubon Magazine.  How could I possibly say no?

We drove for what seemed like hours on endless, unnamed logging roads that cut straight lines through the tall pines that darken the heart of Maine’s North Woods. We put in on the West Branch of the Penobscot and paddled a three-day loop of lakes and rivers. One night, as we set up campsites along a section that Henry David Thoreau had paddled in the mid-1800s, Kay started to talk about a longer canoe trail, inspired by paddlers who had been trying to connect waterways across the North Woods. She shared a vision for a trail that would cross the North Woods of New England, connecting waterways from New York to Maine. “It was going to be a way to bring energy and revenue to so many of these towns that had depended on logging and other vanishing industries,” she recalls, when we spoke in June.

She and her partner Rob Center formed a non-profit dedicated to creating the trail in 2000. They worked with Senator Patrick Leahy and the congressional delegations of the four states as well as the National Park Service to map the route and get the funding to make it happen. By 2006, the trail was mapped and officially open.

Since then, 113 people have (officially) done the entire trail, including Vermont’s Sam Brakely (who Phyl Newbeck profiles on p. 31) and Peter Macfarlane. Macfarlane, an Addison, Vt. resident, is the only one we know of who has done it both directions. Assistant editor Abagael Giles caught up with him and tells the story ,“Peter Macfarlane’s Epic Journeys” on p. 22.

We may not all be ready for a month-long journey. But, thankfully, there are plenty of other shorter and easier “trails” to paddle around the state. One section of the NFCT dovetails with the Missisquoi, sections of which, along with the Trout Rivers, have been designated a National Wild and Scenic River. And around the region there are dozens of other routes to paddle. We picked just a few to profile in this issue.

The Lake Champlain Paddlers Trail, the Lamoille River Trail and the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail are just as much a part of Vermont’s outdoor recreation landscape as the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail or Kingdom Trails.

Fortunately, these trails and other waterways are getting some of the attention they deserve. Vermont State Parks now has seven state parks with paddle-in campsites and several where you can rent a kayak or canoe on site. In Montpelier, a new boat launch is being built to access the Winooski. The White River Partnership just came out with a map that traces the river, its fishing and tubing spots, trails and more. Created by Noah Pollock (who has also done maps for a number of other rivers around the state) it’s a super handy guide.

If you want to see these water trails grow, buy these maps and consider supporting the organizations that have worked hard to create them, to put in campsites, to remove dams and debris and to keep the rivers both accessible and healthy. These trails are just as important as the dirt routes and snowpacked trails we love.

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