Swimming holes bring relief, ire in summer
BRANDON — Ginger Gould, who grew up in Forest Dale and still lives there, says there’s nothing better than a refreshing dip in a cool Vermont stream on a hot summer’s day. Kids walk from up to a mile away on the hot pavement to take a dip near her home in the shallow pool in the Neshobe River created by a cluster of rocks just off of Route 73 in Brandon.
“They’ve been doing it for as long as the river’s been there, and that’s fine with me,” Gould said.
What she’s not fine with is the number of cars that park on the side of Stone Mill Dam Road during hot summer days.
Even more upsetting is what some of the swimming hole visitors have left behind. In the past months, Gould has discovered bags of trash, empty cans and bottles, used diapers and condoms, drug paraphernalia and even old tires — all of which she’s had to remove with gloves and take to the town dump, where she pays to dispose of it all.
“There are people that are absolute pigs about their garbage,” she said.
While the creeks and rivers of Vermont provide a surefire venue to cool off on a hot August afternoon, accessing the pools or swimming holes requires swimmers to park carefully, avoid trespassing on private property and pack out what they pack in.
It’s a careful dance of etiquette that, when not followed, has some property owners upset.
Gould said she inherited property that includes the Neshobe River swimming hole five years ago. The area near the pool includes a dirt path and a clearing that has, despite Gould’s wishes, become a parking area. When the traffic picked up this summer, she hung “No Trespassing” signs, but those were quickly stolen.
Now, she’s spray-painted the wording in red letters onto several trees. She said visitors have called her names and flatly refused to comply when she asks them to leave or pack out their trash. The aggravation has caused her to even consider selling the roughly one acre of her property that contains the swimming hole.
“Sometimes I think about selling just that portion and be rid of it because it’s becoming such an issue,” she said, “If someone would pony up enough money, sure I’ll sell it to them.”
Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell said while the spot has been popular with cyclists, hikers and other visitors along Route 73, complaints around the Stone Mill Dam swimming hole are new this year. No citations have been issued for trespassing at the swimming hole and since the area is posted as private property, police cannot tow cars parked there.
Brickell said the department also receives a few complaints every summer when young people — many of whom he said are students from Middlebury College — head to an abandoned quarry off of Route 7 near the Smoke Rise Campground. For both of these areas, Brickell said, the issue is making sure private property is posted clearly.
“A lot people can access these spots without ever seeing a no-trespassing sign,” he said. “The landowners need to be responsible in making sure that access points to the property are clearly marked with the trespassing signs.”
The police chief said property owners concerned with trespassers have multiple options: They can post their property or send warnings to trespassers, which allows police to criminally charge a person if caught again. Property owners can also contact police and request that a notice of trespassing be issued to individuals, which similarly allows the police to charge a person.
IN THE NEW HAVEN RIVER
It is a different scene in New Haven, where a gravel parking area on Dog Team Road connects to a path leading down to the New Haven River. The former site of the Dog Team Tavern was a popular parking area for summer swimmers and saw some more rambunctious activity before it became the site of a private home. While the area around the property features signs warning against parking or trespassing, owners built a trail down to the river that the public can use.
Emily Glover, who lives on Dog Team Road near the parking area, said the trail and the parking area have helped reduce traffic and noise. While she and her two young children choose not to swim in the rough water at the swimming hole, she said the designated area is a good compromise for people wanting to use the river and local property owners. Visitors sometimes make a confused turn into driveways or park on the grass, but she said the designated trail and parking area appear to be working.
“People are still learning,” Glover said. “They’re not used to this being a private space.”
Benjamin Olson has lived on Dog Team Road for the past 20 years and said swimming in the area has been a longstanding tradition for residents and visitors. With the exception of occasional trash, he sees no problems.
“As long as they take care of it, I don’t mind at all,” Olson said.
THE MIDDLEBURY GORGE
Dawn Saunders and Roy Vestrich have lived in East Middlebury for 23 years in a house overlooking the Middlebury Gorge, a dramatic feature of the Middlebury River. As one of the coldest and fastest rivers in the state, it’s been a popular spot for families and young adults. In the summer, Saunders and Vestrich often hear foreign languages spoken by students with the Middlebury College Language Schools echoing up from the rocky creek below.
“It gets very busy, and for the most part, it’s very good,” Saunders said of the atmosphere.
But it hasn’t always been that way. Vestrich recalls the 1990s, when the riverbanks were host to rowdy parties that left behind trash. Traffic was also a concern. Shortly after they moved to the property in 1992, the Burlington Free Press printed a list of popular Vermont swimming holes and listed the family’s property as a parking area.
“Suddenly we had RVs parking and cars coming to turn around in our driveway,” Vestrich said. “It was scary because our kids were young at the time.”
Vestrich now puts a traffic cone in his driveway to keep away unwanted visitors.
Since the problems of the early ’90s, Saunders and Vestrich have acted as de facto that they are custodians of the swimming hole just steps from their front door. Even thought the river runs through fire district property, Vestrich has cleared Japanese knotweed and poison parsnip and mowed alongside the road to make the gravel parking areas clear.
He still picks up occasional trash. The used diapers he sometimes finds are particularly unpleasant, he said.
“What do people think — that it just disappears?” he said.
When the nighttime parties get too loud, they don’t hesitate to call the police. Vestrich remembers two particularly colorful incidents when police responded to a man shooting a gun at night by the water and another incident where a man was fishing with a spear gun while others swam nearby. He even once found a used hypodermic needle.
“We’ve been here long enough that we’ve seen the good and the bad of it,” he said.
Vestrich said people are welcome to come and swim, but asks them to park facing the flow of traffic with their tires completely off the road and not park on North Branch Road, which is narrow and winding. For him, the solution to noise, parking and garbage is simple:
“We want people to treat it like their own neighborhood,” he said.
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