2002 was one of the most influential summers of my life. Not even 18 years old yet, I’d just graduated high school and was living in a tent in a forest. The living situation was due to having procured a job with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC). The program I signed up for had sent us up to the land which was to become Niquette Bay State Park, where we would live in the middle of a forest while fixing up a section of trail for 30 days. Despite almost getting struck by lightening and breaking my arm in five places, it was one of the greatest and most memorable summers of my life. A couple days ago I had a chance to revisit my old VYCC stomping grounds and explore the area more than I’d been able to before. The memories came flooding back, and with them, a sense of intense pride in the work I accomplished during my summer there. I can’t wait to show you, but let’s check out the park first.
Entrance fees to Niquette State Park and all other Vermont State Parks are $4/person. It may not seem like much when said like that, but bring 5 people to a park and you’re at 20 bucks. However, what you get at a Vermont State Park is above and beyond. The parks are clean, the trails are extremely easy to follow, the parks are to-die-for beautiful, and they smell SO GOOD. I’d forgotten how good Vermont forests smell. And not only that, but Vermont Parks are wonderfully creative and engaging. Not only is there a mini forest library at the trailhead…
…one of the trails is a poetry walk. 16 signposts with beautiful nature themed poems are spread out down the Allen/Burns Trail. It’s beautiful.
At a fork in the path the poem is “The Road Not Taken”, you know the one that ends with “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence / Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” If that doesn’t stop to make you wonder which path to take, I don’t know what will.
The path *I* took was Allen Trail. I continued on Allen down to where it meets Ledges trail. That intersection is right below a bluff, which is where I spent a month in a tent while working on the nearby trails. Back then, Niquette Bay wasn’t a state park quite yet, so there weren’t any amenities. Now there are 2 picnic tables on the bluff and a porta-potty by the trail intersection. What I would have done back then for the luxury of a porta-potty! Or something to sit on that wasn’t the ground or a stump.
I didn’t realize how emotional it would be to come back to this place. I kept pointing things out to myself– over here is where we dug a pit in the ground for our “refrigerator“. Over there is where we cooked oatmeal for breakfast every. single. day. That’s the spot where the group leaders examined my broken arm and compared it to pictures in a 10 page first-aid field guide. I even took a photo of the spot of ground where my tent was set up. Even though I only spent a month there, it felt like I had come home.
After taking more photos than a millennial with a selfie stick, I finally moved on. From the bluff, Ledges Trail swings back north and completes the 1.4 mile counter-clockwise loop, so I headed up thataway. Up until this point, the trail has basically been ADA accessible. It’s a dirt trail so it’s sure to get funky when it rains, but folks of all abilities with a variety of adaptive equipment are able to get from the parking lot down to the bay via Allen Trail. Ledges, however, is a different, rocky story.
The work I did for VYCC was on Ledges, and it was very non-ADA compliant: we built a stone staircase.
Man, was I proud of myself when I saw it was still there. And from the look of it, it will still be there for decades to come.
I was SO excited about this I took a billion pictures, half of which came out blurry because I was skipping around the stairs too excited to stand still enough to take a proper photo. Then a poor hiker came along, whom I undoubtedly startled when I randomly shouted at her “I BUILT THIS!!!” I told her about how we used rock bars to move flat stones from the uphill side of the trail and had to fit them together like puzzle pieces. She listened with what at least seemed like great interest when I told her we found smaller stones called “skree” to reinforce the sides of the staircase. I even pointed out a large flat rock I remembered placing myself at the top of the stair (see photo above). As she backed away slowly, she thanked me for my hard work and said she came to the park almost every day, and walked down MY stairs many times a week. My heart swelled with pride! I let the poor lady go, and skipped up to the next set. Another part of our group had worked on these stairs but I remember helping them out a couple days.
And then more memories came flooding back.
This is where I broke my arm…
And this is where I almost got struck by lightening…
Yes, yes, I recognize those pictures probably look exactly the same to you, but to me– to me they are pieces of my life that meant so much. Mostly pain and suffering and recognition of how loud a nearby lightning strike can truly be, but also memories of friendships built from relying on others for teamwork, and building something with my own hands that LASTED. Pride from hard work is one of the most meaningful experiences one can have, especially at such a young age.
Here are some photos I found from back in the day:
Ok, enough reminiscing. I’ll leave you with an overall summary of the park and some photos of the adorable Ranger Station/house and garden. (She lives there year round!)
Niquette Bay State Park is absolutely gorgeous. It’s truly a forested wonderland. The trails are easy and you can combine shorter loops to make yourself a longer hike depending on your desire. There are trails easy enough to run, and others you will break a light sweat on while walking. If you’re in the north-west corner of Vermont, be sure to check out this park. There’s a little piece of my heart still in it.
– C. Egli