Catch some summer berries

GOSHEN — On an overcast August day, two identical young boys darted between the blueberry bushes, toting plastic collecting bags, on Blueberry Hill Inn’s front lawn in Goshen. 
To the left of the blue colonial house with red painted doors are several rows of blueberry bushes. 
Kristin Dykstra and her husband, of Hinesburg, brought their boys, Max and Alex Collier, to the Moosalamoo wilderness on a day trip. 
“We’re cross-country skiers, and we want them to like it,” Dykstra explained. 
The inn, along with the Green Mountain National Forest, developed around 50 kilometers of nearby trails for hiking and skiing in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. 
But much to their surprise, the family stumbled upon an additional treat when approaching the inn: free blueberry picking, revealed by a wooden sign along the dirt road. 
“They’re having a really good time,” Dykstra said of her boys who were working hard to fill their bags with the low-hanging berries accessible to their height. They took a break now and then for some occasional snacking. 
According to Shari Brown, the manager of Blueberry Hill Inn, it’s been a particularly good season thus far for Blueberry Hill, whose bushes ripen at the beginning of August and last until the first frost. 
Blueberries thrive in the sandy and acidic soils found in the Goshen area. While Brown is not entirely sure why this season has been especially fruitful, she hypothesizes that the early summer heat helped moved production along. 
Brown said that the blueberry bushes have produced the tart fruits in the summertime since the 1940s when Elsie and John Masterson, the previous owners of the property, planted them. 
“The bushes are so old; it’s amazing to me that they’re still producing,” Brown said. 
Much to a professional’s dismay, Brown said, maintenance consists of frequent watering and pruning only once every other year. 
“We’ve always said ‘Give us half of your pick,’” Brown said. She has worked at the Inn, owned by Tony Clark, for 30 years. 
The inn graciously accepts the heaps of blueberries delivered to the kitchen. The kitchen incorporates the home-grown blueberries in jams, pancakes, muffins and more. 
“We use them all winter long,” Brown said. 
People tend to hear about blueberry picking at the inn through word of mouth, or they just happen to be driving along the Goshen-Ripton Road like Dykstra and her family. 
While guests rarely miss a chance to explore the blueberry bushes out front, Brown said that they also tend to get a lot of locals and day visitors. Some people have been coming to pick blueberries every year for 30 years, Brown said. 
Brown enjoys telling visitors about another blueberry picking spot: the Blueberry Management Area in the Green Mountain National Forest, only a half-mile walk away. On the south end of Hogback Mountain, the Blueberry Management Area in Goshen comprises 25 acres of wild blueberry patches, the largest patch of wild blueberries in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Blueberry Hill Inn has worked with the Forest Service to mark, maintain, and clear 50 kilometers of trails in its backyard. 
Holly Knox, the recreation manager for the Green Mountain National Forest, said that partnerships like the one with Blueberry Hill Inn help the organization carry out its operations, which includes wild blueberry management. 
Although just down the road, the wild blueberries differ from those at Blueberry Hill Inn. The bushes lie low to the ground and the berries are much smaller than blueberries found in a typical grocery store. 
Maintaining the wild blueberry patches also requires a bit more work. 
Every three years, the Green Mountain National Forest, along with local fire crews, perform a prescribed burn at various control points. They do the burning in rotations, which typically fills one spring day. 
“They grow back really quickly,” Knox said. At first she was surprised by how the burns rejuvenated the bushes. 
After burning in the spring, the plants rejuvenate that summer and produce berries in the subsequent year. Compared to Blueberry Hill Inn’s August harvest date, these berries ripen in late July and have shorter seasons after their colors change from pale green to light pink to deep blue. 
The original intention for maintaining the blueberry patches was for wild forage versus for human forage, according to Knox. 
Now, the Forest Service protects the blueberries from year to year for both people and wildlife to enjoy. 
“There’s no policy that says thou shall maintain blueberries,” Knox said. “But it fits in with our multiple-use mission.” 
You can pick blueberries at Blueberry Hill Inn from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and some weekends. Wild blueberry picking sites are located at the Blueberry Management Area in Goshen, the Robert Frost Wayside picnic area on Route 72 in Ripton, or on the Robert Frost Interpretative trail in Ripton. It’s pretty late in the season. 

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