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Between the Lines: Area swimming holes offer gallons of fun

It’s summertime, and all I want to do is go swimming.
Say what you will about this year’s tough weather — a long winter followed by six weeks of bring-out-the-ark rain followed by drought — but it’s been a great summer for soaking one’s head.
It doesn’t get much better for lake lovers than Button Bay, Kingsland Bay and the Branbury Beach on Lake Dunmore. And for those who like to earn their swim, there’s always the hike up to Silver Lake.
I am, by contrast, a stream aficionado. No tiny trout pool is so small that it can’t be made better by a midday dunking.
There must have been a day when Otter Creek was popular for swimming, too, but that day is long gone. The longest river in Vermont is just too silty, its bottom just too creepily mucky, to be used for swimming.
One late dry summer a few years ago, though, I explored the falls in downtown Middlebury near Frog Hollow. It made for a refreshing dip, and it will certainly get you noticed in a busy downtown where no one touches the water.
And last spring I did spy a couple hardy teenage lads jumping off the buttresses of the covered bridge in Middlebury into the mighty Otter.
But they soon left for the cleaner pools that greet stream fans elsewhere in the valley.
The cascade of choice, of course, is the New Haven River. From its highest reaches on the western slopes of Mt. Abe in Lincoln, down through mountain gaps until it meets the Otter below the former site of the Dog Team Tavern, the New Haven offers a lifetime of swimming opportunities.
The big favorites are the Dog Team and Bartlett Falls (which the more simpleminded of us refer to as simply “Bristol Falls”).
Both sites offer daring leaps into the river, but the jump at Bristol Falls is truly heart pounding, no matter how many years one has been doing it (going on 40 years for me).
It’s a long enough leap that the jump catches the attention of the multitudes who flock to the falls every weekend. Long enough, too, to give the jumper the sensation of weightlessness — and trepidation, on the long way down, that it’s just a little more hang time than one had bargained for.
You can get plenty of hang time, too, in other locales. The rarer treat at Bristol Falls is the chance to go behind the falls themselves.
Tevas or similar sandals are recommended, as the rock around the base of the falls is smooth and slimy. Underneath the pounding water, tucked in behind the falls, is a grotto that’s grippingly cool on even the hottest of days. And it’s always fun to slide out from inside the grotto into the impact zone of the thunderous falls themselves, there to bob up, corklike, into the big pool.
The Dog Team pools don’t draw quite the same crowd as Bristol Falls. But they do seem to attract more than their share of chain smokers with a penchant for leaving Budweiser cans behind.
This former site of a legendary restaurant has been on the real estate market for awhile now. It must look good to many an out-of-towner seeking their special piece of Vermont — until they realize that half of Addison County would be cutting across their front lawn to go for a swim, while the other half traipsed through the back yard to go fishing.
Each of the many local swimming holes has its own peculiarities.
A stretch of the New Haven is a favorite with people who like to balance river rocks into unlikely cairns.
Down in Salisbury, there’s a little bend in the Middlebury River created by a broad rocky slope.
One of the local golden retrievers who lives nearby has learned that when she goes for a swim there, she doesn’t need to bother her human companions to toss a tennis ball in the river so she can retrieve it.
Instead, she drops the tennis ball at the top of the rocky slope and watches it carom down into the water. She then runs down the rocks, jumps into the water and swims to grab ball in her mouth.
Turning back upstream, she clambers out of the water, runs up the rocky slope, and repeats the performance. Endlessly.
Sadly gone are the days when one could swim in the local quarries. They made for thrilling leaps into hauntingly blue-green water. And in the 1960s and 1970s, the common practice of skinny dipping at the quarries gave voyeurs quite an eyeful.
The quarries are all shut off now from the public. A sensible solution given some of the craziness they engendered; but a loss to those of us who loved them.
Happily, there are plenty of other alternatives at hand — requiring little more than a short car ride and a beach towel for drying off when everyone is cooled off and hungry for a creemee.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday. Email him at [email protected].

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