Ille populus, magnus times, magnus scientia. The Green Mountain Club.
Waterbury Center Vermont was the place to be on Saturday, Feb. 2 2013, as the GMC hosted the 17th Annual Snowshoe Festival. The air was cold, the skies were the righteous Vermont bluebird that postcards are made of in the morning and the grey stork of snow-clouds in the afternoon. The weather patterns of the week prior had everyone thinking and praying for snow in each his/her own way of mojo conjurr. Some rain and a weird mid-winter’s summer day doused the snow cover that held in the valley and nearly immortalized the snow at altitude in to a bullet proof sheen.
But the Snowshoe Festival was on!
The truck was started at 0715. I jumped in my 1991 Explorer while I watched my breath in the air before me. It danced and swirled like the cream in the coffee beside me. The morning was right by nature, I wasn’t sure if the morning was right by me. Something felt heavy as I drove southward toward the mythical town of Stowe and then beyond toward Waterbury Center. I acknowledged this nagging weight but couldn’t put my finger on what was causing it. An email maybe? An unfair (to me) banking fee? These were the only recent events in my life that could even compete. Vermont Route 100 South is a treacherous road in some places. Frost heaves that bounce your rig, or hairpin turns with nowhere to go if it all goes bad. My mind began to focus on being the guy who tells the story of Vermont’s big snowshoe festival. What would I do? WWID…
My arrival was greeted by two parking engineers who promptly directed me to the closest parking space, which happened to be one of the farthest possible at the site. I liked this. It gave me time to gather my gear without an audience. When I reached the headquarters of The Green Mountain Club, I encountered the first groups of snowshoers preparing to embark on their journeys to Camel’s Hump and Mt. Elmore Summit. The trip leaders were the new group’s center of attention and they were explaining this that and the what have you’s of the hike. I started snapping pictures and taking notes. The rest of this is what I found…
Of particular interest, the 9:30 dog sledding exhibition was to be the first stop. The canine track team was all wags and barks, they wanted to run. The light and icy snow pack at the lower levels prevented their owners from running them that day, but they got plenty of attention from festival passer-by. Jay and Jean Coffey of Anam Cara Siberians were there with the dog team to show the equipment, answer questions and demonstrate an art and sport that use snowshoes as a means to an end while employing the will of nature and companionship of dogs. Wild. Check out Anam Cara on their website, www.anamcarasiberians.com. Anam cara is gaelic for Soul friend, but is deeper within kindred spirits finding one another and creating the space to achieve one another’s greatest potential. Check them out. You don’t have to be in Alaska to get a good dog sled groove on. The northeast has races throughout the season in various locations.
The second stop of the day would be to embark on a hike myself, albeit a short one on a trail appropriately named, the Short Trail. This hike was focused on Animal Tracking and was intended to inspire the identification and realization of wildlife that could be observed in the snow while snowshoeing. During this journey, we encountered small rodent, deer, bird and canine tracks in the snow. Was the dog track a poochy pal or was it an alpha wolf, or coyote? Ooohhh, spooky. The little kids delighted. It is a question indeed that was left unanswered. This hike was graciously led by Ms. Sandal Cate who is an environmental educator at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, Vermont. www.northbranchnaturecenter.org.
By this time, a CMT named Jeffery Williams had set up – Massage Parlor, atop the handcrafted wooden stairway of the GMC headquarters and was performing acts of complimentary full body massage to anyone wishing to bliss out and melt away from the outside cold. It was funny, I think I saw every girl in the place on the massage table, but not one guy. Jeffery did pretty well for himself that day, I suspect and is certainly uniquely positioned in his industry.
The next thing on my list was the Bird in Hand, Raptor Demonstration brought to we festival goers by the kind and gentle folks at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. This presentation, led by Jenna Gersie, showcased rescued raptors of the family Strigidae, Tytonidae and Accipitridae. Among the live birds presented were a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), a Broad Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) and a Barn Owl (Tyto alba). The bubo fellow was hooting while Jenna spoke and it made for a great bird presentation. Jenna informed the audience about neat morphologies that owls have that allow them to fly silently and rotate their heads 270 degrees. Who who who wants to hear about the next nuglet of good information gleaned from the festival?
The kids had a nice array of activities to choose from here in the GMC Headquarters.
Face painting was a huge hit. The artist, Joy Danilla, did amazing creative facial murals of animals and fairy winks and eye accents and nouns and verbs and… She did everything really well. This is what we New Englanders call Wicked Ahtwaak. Yah he’rd. Joy’s work can be viewed at www.vermontfaceandbody.com.
Another hit was the Handmade Snowflake table run by Jim McMartin. These crafty snowflakes were intricate in design and looked like paper version of the real thing. The kids were aloft in scissors and paper, scraps of paper fluttered about the floor below and they had some pretty cool results.
The Winooski Valley Park District was on hand to help kids learn Animal Tracks using small passport like track books with an animal’s name and picture on each page and the kids took rubber ink stamps and found the stamp with the right track on it and stamped the correct page. I hope you followed that one…
There was complimentary and ala carte food available all day. The free stuff was bagels and coffee and fruit slices and hot cocoa. The buy by the plate stuff was soup, muffaletta and burritos. All of it was good. The bonfire raged all day.
The Green Mountain Club is the steward of the Long Trail. Ok, the Long Trail is an annex of the Appalachian Trail. It runs the vertical length of Vermont. Like the AT, the LT has to cross rivers every now and again. The Winooski Bridge Project is one such effort that is a monumental undertaking, funded and staffed by the Green Mountain Club and its supporters and membership volunteers.
In a fifteen minute sit down with Mr. Fred Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org, the following information was made clear to me:
For the past 100 years, crossing the Winooski River has been a daunting task, challenging man and beast to high flood levels, icy cold temperatures and giant freshwater monster man-eating squid. Leaky rowboats and railroad trestles have been mans only recourse to negotiate the waterway until now, and the Green Mountain Club is the reason why. A plan that is in effect now, slated to begin in June of 2013, is to construct a suspension walking bridge, similar to the Patapsco Valley, MD “Swinging Bridge”, that is wood and cable construction in a brown color tone that seamlessly blends with the natural surroundings. It will be created using largely volunteer help but has been drafted and engineered by VBHB Engineering based in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont. Matt Spears is the man in charge from VBHB. I was unable to meet with him.
This bridge will ultimately lead to a more safe passage of hikers north and south bound along the Long Trail. It will give hikers a way to ford the river at Bolton, avoid traffic and avoid ever having to leave the essence of the trail while traversing this riverbed. The location of this bridge is three miles north of Jonesville, Vermont. and is expected to be completed by Fall of this year. In addition to the expected completion of the bridge, a new trail shelter is proposed to be built, somewhere near Route 2. As of right now, the closest shelters are in Duxbury and deep in the Bolton Valley, which are both some distance away.
Executive Director of The Green Mountain Club, Will Wiquist recently published a letter inviting everyone to a donation matching event that doubles the value of your hard-earned American peso, dollar for dollar, no limit. That’s right. A $10 donation puts twenty $20 towards the project. A fifty thousand dollar ($50,000) donation puts a hundred thousand ($100,000) towards the project. This bridge is a vital link to any snowshoer on the Long Trail.
A wintertime river crossing using a railroad trestle or a boat can be life threatening, not to mention slogging down in to town and back out on the state road to pick the trail back up. If you need a good excuse for a donation, here is a good a one as any other, so if you can support this bridge sponsorship in any way, you’ll rest at night knowing that you saved one or two hikers through the nightmare of not having a way across. Perhaps for just pennies a day, you can make all of this go away. Won’t you donate today? Please visit the Green Mountain Club’s website at www.greenmountainclub.org.
During the twilight of the event, while most of the snowshoe groups were returning to the headquarters or already back, folks were milling around outside at the fire, a faint jam could be heard through the door and the jovial ambiance fell in grace with the traditional Irish-like, Appalachian-like jam string and other acoustic instrument selection of Dave Day and Friends. Dave Dey… Deigh… D’eh? I dunno how he spells his name… Anyway these folks were jammin’ in a way that took some immersion to understand but sensed a deep connection to once I listened a while. A tin whistle, three or four fiddles, a dulcimer, a mandolin, three fifes and accordion things of various sizes. They noodled and pulled their way through a many a tune for quite a while, long after the sun went away for the day.
I felt the time and length of the day settling in to my bones and knew I had a 1.5-hour ride ahead of me, so I gathered my gear, said my good byes and hit the road. This snowshoe event is an absolute must go if you are on the East Coast. If it makes sense for you to go to Vermont in February, plan this in to your itinerary. Great people, great times and great knowledge.
I got home late that night to my Felis domesticus, Leeb, howling and meowing at the top of his lungs by the door, so much to the point he lost his voice, sounded hoarse like a siamese cat with say, emphysema. I came in, crashed, watched the Super Bowl and now I sit here to tell you this story…