Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom: Climbing, Biking, and Farming
Climbing Trees and Mountain Biking in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom
By Max Hartshorne
Not everyone who lives in the farthest northeast part of Vermont agrees with the local tourism board’s definition of what makes up the state’s Northeast Kingdom.
We learned this when we were waiting at a counter at the most popular pizza joint in the region in West Glover. We decided to sit down in the sun and enjoy our pizza from Parker’s Pies with her to find out more.
Cindy, a local sales agent for a realtor, said she’s never sold more houses up here…and that really, only Orleans and Essex county should be rightly called Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. I pulled up Wikipedia on my iPhone, only to have her chastise me as only a local can for questioning something as simple as this.
We were in the Kingdom to find out what was new, and to experience some of the activities that make the area a magnet for city-folks.
Meeting a Tree Climber
We began by driving down an impossibly pretty dirt road, Maple Lane, in Danville. We were there to meet a former tree-climbing champion named Allan Manning and his wife Brenda.
Seven years ago, he told us, he was working down in Connecticut in the aerospace industry and someone showed him this piece of wooded land. LIke so many workers in his field, he was laid off a few years later, but during his working years, he bought that 35-acre piece of land with a view of Mount Washington about 50 miles away to the east.
Four years ago he made it his home and built a big house with plenty of room for his grandkids to come visit. The sweeping view from the deck was impressive, and the cold beers he served made it even better.
“So tell us about this tree climbing,” I said. First of all, he said, safety is the most important thing. With insurance costs and liability, they do many things to ensure that no one gets hurt, including using a double set of ropes just in case.
We’d be starting out with a short lecture showing us the harnesses he uses, practiced upon a dummy on ropes in the office.
You put on the harness and use specially knotted ropes to inch your way up and then down the trees. Tall spruce trees that have been shorn of branches are climbed. We would begin on a 25 footer right outside Allan’s garage.
My friend Jack and I suited up and made our way to the foot of the tree. Allan said that only out of state people come to him to climb, he hasn’t gotten much of a local business following at all. People from Canada love coming down and climbing. It’s only about 30 miles north of Danville, he said.
But before anyone climbs a tree, assessments must be made. Are there any bees or insects up there? Since no nails or spikes are used, it’s important to have a tree that’s cleared of branches. We cannot just go out to a random tree in the forest.
His ropes are placed in the crook of branches using a cambium, or leather strap to protect the bark from being scraped. But first, “how do you get that all the way up there, ” I asked. Allan said there are several ways–a good underhand toss might work. Or, he grabs a crude slingshot. Or we can use this!
The Chinese Visitor
He told us about a Chinese man who came to learn to climb trees, who became quite enamored of this slingshot device. He spent two days learning as much as he possibly could about climbing trees and honed his slingshot technique. The sling catapults a little sandbag tied to the end of a narrower rope, that’s attached to the larger ropes used to climb.
We inched our way up the tree and after a while, we both felt ready for something bigger. Allan wanted to show us his property, so we jumped into a Gator 4×4 and rumbled across his land toward a pond he dug.
“I had a big wedding there last year,” he said, “we put in working toilets here and down by the pond. Easier than renting them!”
Another far taller pine tree stood near a treehouse up about 10 feet in a big pine tree. It was shorn of branches and a rope waited for us, dangling from about 60 feet up. But first we had to check out the treehouse, which he said he rents out for $100 a night.
Two big pine poles formed the sides of a stairway/ladder that lead up to the 12 x 12 structure. A loft bed, a nice little deck, and a view of the pond awaited his next intrepid treehouse guest. “Sometimes bears take a swim in this pond,” he said, as his dogs enjoyed swimming themselves during the humid Vermont afternoon.
If you have ever wanted to learn how to climb trees and experience it in a beautiful place like the Northeast Kingdom, contact Twin Pines Recreational Tree Climbing in Danville.
Farmers Rule the Kingdom
We had heard about the near reverence with which the local farmers are regarded up here in Vermont’s north. It was true…they were the local rock stars. We drove to the sleepy village of Hardwick and met Monty Fischer, who runs the Center for an Agricultural Economy.
His job is to promote, encourage and facilitate a food network that’s closed from end to end…from locally grown and produced meat and veggies, to securing local retail space and restaurants to consume it, and even composting to take care of closing the loop.
Monty was enthusiastic about the number of young people coming up to his region learning how to farm. Many of them take apprenticeships with two of the local stars in this regard–Tom Stearns, who runs High Mowing Organic, a local seed company, and Pete Johnson, the man behind Pete’s Greens.
Pete’s large farm operation offers Vermonters a top quality CSA–Consumer Supported Agriculture, which delivers a full bag of an assortment of fresh Vermont vegetables every week to locals who sign up and commit to a season’s worth for a flat fee.
We toured Pete’s Green’s large greenhouse and refrigerated operation to see locals and some Mexican workers packing garlic scapes, lettuce, spinach, squash and other veggies for that week’s deliveries. You can find so much great produce up here, it seems every other house has a stand out front.
To sample some of these local delicacies we were pointed at Claire’s restaurant a fixture in downtown Hardwick. Chef Steven Obranovich lists every single local purveyor on the menu, and the results are light, creative and beautiful to look at on the plate.
Local beers like Trout River Brewing Co were also available, as well as ice cider made by Eden in West Charleston VT and hard cider from Woodchuck, in Woodstock VT.
We wanted to know more about what ice cider was, so the next morning we drove north from our hotel, the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville to West Charleston. Eleanor and Albert Leger got interested in their unique product on a trip to Montreal in 2006. Ice Cider is a dessert wine made by freezing the apples in a method first perfected in the Eastern townships of Quebec.
On their former dairy farm, we walked through an orchard of more than 1000 trees of dozens of different varieties, that the Legers grow to be used for ice cider in addition to the tons they buy from other Vermont apple growers. An advantage to their process is that they use dropped fruit, which isn’t used for eating apples.
We sampled a range of aged ice ciders and liked it so much we both bought some bottles to take home, it’s delicious and a fantastic after-dinner quaff.
Going with the Flow at Kingdom Trails
One of the highlights of this region is Kingdom Trails, a network of 120 miles of mountain biking trails that is considered by Bicycle Magazine to be among the best you can find in North America. Why?
Because of the flow, we learned from Lilias Ide, Kingdom Trail’s operations manager. She said that the things most mountain bikers are looking for are nice flow, no stops, and no dead ends to stop their motion. Bikers also like narrow trails, preferring nose to nose versus side by side riding. Kingdom Trails certainly covers this, with gloriously thin, steep rides that don’t require a huge amount of exertion to get to.
They also use nearby Burke Mountain as a trail riding area, for an extra $15 you can use their ski lift and enjoy the wheeee all the way down as you criss-cross the mountain.
A day at this incredible biking spot is pure bliss for anyone who has ever enjoyed bike riding. You don’t have to be a 20-something adrenaline junkie to have a great time.
Where to Stay
2059 Darling Hill Rd.
476 Route 114
East Burke Village, Vermont
Breakfast: Besides the lovely breakfast offered at the Wildflower Inn, we enjoyed the atmosphere and eclectic menu that included grilled tempeh and blueberry pancakes at the Lyndonville Freighthouse, which uses a local farm for most of their food they prepare.
1000 Broad St. Lyndonville VT
For more information about travel to Vermont’s the Northeast Kingdom, visit travelthekingdom.com