Shoulder Season: Vermont Bounces Back
The panicked email from a vacationer at Good Commons, a boutique country home and retreat center in Plymouth, Vermont, read, "The water in the basement suddenly rose just below the basement door. I grabbed my belongings and drove up a ’new river’ as I saw huge boulders running down the road in my rear view mirror. There is no way of knowing the state of your house. Not much you or anyone can do at this time."
Good Commons owner Tesha Buss, who had been overseas for a friend’s wedding, returned to find her 175-year-old property flooded - but still standing amid mounds of rubble and debris, which was a lot more than some of her neighbors. Last year’s Hurricane Irene cost an estimated $7 to $10 billion and Vermonters rallied only like Vermonters do, pulling out their tractors and excavators, firing up their back-up generators, and rebuilding an infrastructure faster than you could ski down a black diamond run at Killington Mountain Resort.
For those in the know, shoulder season refers to that odd time in between the snowboarders and the cyclists or the leaf peepers and the holiday family reunions, but this year’s shoulder season takes on new meaning as friends and neighbors commemorate surviving Irene’s wake by celebrating the bounty of the great northeast.
With more than 200 mountains over 2,000 feet in elevation, Vermont is a breathtaking escape for hiking, biking, and skiing, or a leisurely drive among the local farmers and charming towns that dot the countryside. More than 75 percent of the state is forested, which makes for dramatic fall foliage and rolling hills where you can spot herds of cattle and sheep lazily basking in the sun.
Route 100 Scenic Byway (newly designated just prior to Hurricane Irene) is a majestic stretch of road that can be appreciated no matter what time of year for its river-hugging twists and turns and majestic vistas. The 31-mile stretch is the perfect way to view fall foliage and get your American history fix with a visit to the Calvin Coolidge historic site (just off of Route 100A), where the 30th President of the United States resided.
A year ago, the pristine lake at Camp Plymouth State Park was murky brown due to contaminated water and its beach covered in debris. With cleanup efforts complete and the lake once again open to visitors, you can play out your Brokeback Mountain fantasies at the site’s group camping facility, consisting of six lean-to’s and addtional tent grounds. You may even strike it rich, as the area was once known for its gold mining in nearby Buffalo Brook.
If you want to experience Vermont from historic hiking paths, take advantage of the Long Trail. Built over a span of 20 years during the early part of the 20th century, the oldest long distance trail in the United States includes 273 miles of footpaths, 175 miles of side trails, and nearly 70 primitive shelters. The Green Mountain Club has created a collection of their favorite hikes, with descriptions and downloadable maps for every level of outdoor enthusiast.
Vermont has long been home to artists seeking sanctuary to explore their creative vision through sculpture, craft, theater, and beyond. Perhaps it’s the pure mountain air or the progressive communities that support their work. In any case, the juxtaposition of this creative force set against an ever-changing agriculture backdrop is worthy of a standing ovation.
Famed glassblower Simon Pearce moved his outpost from Ireland to Vermont in 1981. The former woolen mill in Quechee (and its adjacent covered bridge) has withstood the test of time and features exceptional artisan creations. Pearce, known for glass blowing and pottery, now employs hundreds of craftspeople that carry on his European handcrafted traditions.
While brown trout isn’t typically part of the artists’ collections at the Bridgewater Mills Mall, that’s exactly what owner Jireh Billings found in the elevator shaft post Hurricane Irene. The storm wiped out a basement full of antiques and odds and ends but also served as inspiration for a new collection from famed furniture, pottery, and accessory-makers ShackletonThomas. Husband and wife team of Charles Shackleton and Miranda Thomas met in England while in art school during the late 70s, and have since set up shop in Bridgewater. Each piece is made one at a time using classic techniques. You can witness their team’s intricate craftsmanship during during workshop hours, but the trout has long since been returned to nearby Three Sisters Farm, where it was released.
If you’re planning on heading to central Vermont for ski season and find yourself taking Amtrak, consider paying a visit to the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland before hitting the slopes. Housed in a Queen Anne Victoria Mansion dating back to 1896, the multidisciplinary venue showcases a variety of exhibits, performances, panel discussions and other public events.
During the summer months, be sure to catch a show at Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Vermont’s oldest professional theatre. The first season back in 1937 featured actor Lloyd Bridges and has since gone on to feature award-winning talent including Christopher Lloyd and Tony-winning designer John Lee Beatty. Hurricane Irene hit at the end of the theatre’s 75th anniversary season and its first world-premiere musical. The property has since been repaired (and upgraded) and is once again presenting plays, musicals and new works.