Note: This is continuing in the theme of dank, scummy holes to explore nearby. It also dovetails nicely with the Otter Creek theme. This is a dank hole under Otter Creek. You’ll love it.
Believe it or not, there's a cave behind these falls.
When I told my editor about the cave behind the falls in Middlebury, I failed to mention certain things.
“It’s just a tunnel,” I said. “But your shoes will definitely get wet.”
We both looked at his leather Dockers.
“Want to go this afternoon?” he said.
I spent the rest of the morning slightly on edge. I hadn’t mentioned the slimy rope you climb both in and out of the pit. Or that in addition to his shoes being wet and muddy, most of his clothing would be as well.
But, the illustrious John McCright isn’t above a little exploration. He followed me down the rope without a moment’s hesitation, and not a five minute walk from the office door, we were in one of Middlebury’s secret places.
Downtown of Middlebury is full of secret spots, frequented mostly by bored teenagers and college students. Have you ever been under the railroad bridges in town? Did you even know that they were there?
Most of these places are industrial cast-offs. It’s easy to forget the train sidings off of Exchange Street, or the entire leftover infrastructure from Middlebury’s hydropower projects. Yet, they’re a part of the town’s environment, and are as beautiful and interesting as the spiffy shops nearby.
The seldom-visited cave behind the falls is a remnant from Middlebury’s hydro-powered past, when the falling water was used to drill marble.
When most of us think about Otter Creek and hydropower, we recall the current debate over restoring Middlebury’s hydro-electric system near Frog Hollow, previously used for power in a woolen mill.
But, on the other side of the falls is an even more forgotten part of Middlebury’s hydro history – a diversion channel and tunnel under the falls themselves. Happily, the tunnel is also large enough to walk through.
John beginning the Docker-damning descent
If you’re coming from MarbleWorks (yes, it takes its name from the infrastructure you’re about to visit), walk toward the entrance out to Main Street, next to the bank and the old used book shop. Turn toward the river. You’re shooting for the mill ruins on river left, just downstream of the falls. These are definitely worth checking out while you’re here. The old machinery and stonework is a popular hangout for bored kids, so watch out for broken glass.
After exploring the ruins, it’s time to get subterranean. Follow the path upstream as far as you can. You’ll see a yawning pit with water falling into the upstream end and exiting through a tunnel. This diversion comes from above the falls, and the tunnel re-enters in a cave behind the curtain.
Use the fraying ropes to lower yourself into the hole. Again, close-toed shoes are a good idea. Not only is there broken glass down here, but lots of industrial debris.
About to walk through the wet tunnel.
Walk into the tunnel and check out the cave. Clearly, be careful here at high water. Walking through the tunnel requires you to get your feet wet, and at anything other than low water levels, this is too dangerous to attempt. If you’re swept off your feet, the only way out of the frothing cave will be to swim through the face of the falls. If the water in the tunnel is above your ankles, don’t take this lightly. Also. If you're wearing Dockers, ask John McCright for advice on whether to change them before attempting.
Even in the best case scenarios, this isn’t a place to hang out for the long term. It’s wet, slick, and there’s not much room to walk around once you’re in the cave. It’s best as a short visit, followed by a trip to the teahouse or the chocolate shop.
Stay warm, and go exploring! If you have questions, I’m christianw at addisonindependent dot com.