Faith in Vermont: Jump in a Lake

One of my favorite things about living in Vermont is that my daughters have become lake swimmers.

I was raised with the belief that the world is divided into two types of people: lake people and ocean people. My mother, who grew up spending summers at her family’s camp on New Hampshire’s Merrymeeting Lake, is a lake person. My father, who grew up escaping industrial Lawrence, Massachusetts, by packing into a car with friends and heading for the New Hampshire beaches, is an ocean person. Since as a daughter it was my job to reject everything relating to my mother, I grew up proclaiming myself an ocean person.

The ocean offers miles of beaches for recreation and relaxation, plus pounding surf that brings new treasures ashore with every crash. Lakes usually have less to offer in the way of beaches, and without that pounding surf things tend to accumulate: bits of leaves and grass float on the surface, and lake bottoms can get pretty squelchy.

As with most things, however, I’ve been forced to admit that my mother was right. My daughters love to swim, but they don’t spend their summers in a chlorinated concrete pool. Aside from swim lessons at Middlebury College’s indoor pool, since moving to Vermont the majority of my daughters’ swimming has been in lakes (and the occasional river).  This began as a result of convenience: There are many lakes in Vermont, but few pools and no ocean. It continues as a result of affection.

The wonderful thing about lakes is that, because they aren’t in constant motion, they tend to offer more actual enjoyment of the water. Oceans may have better beaches, but unless you’re a strong swimmer who doesn’t mind the saltiness, contact with ocean water is limited to quick cool-down dips. Lakes, with their calm, fresh waters, are easier to swim, kayak, canoe – without worrying that an undertow will knock your child flat.

Our local lake is Lake Dunmore, at the foot of Mt. Moosalamoo. We access the lake at Branbury State Park, which offers swimming and boating and 1,000 feet of narrow beach. Branbury also has free nature programs for children, a playground, and – as my daughters unfortunately discovered this summer – a snack bar. Lake Dunmore has saved our sanity on many a hot summer day; it’s guaranteed to result in some happily exhausted children.

This August, our family took a short vacation to Caspian Lake, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. On the advice of friends, we stayed at the Highland Lodge in Greensboro, Vermont. The Highland Lodge operates in what I’ve come to consider a quintessentially Vermont manner: low-key, no frills, but with just enough provided to make for a magical experience – especially for children. The property features ten simple cabins; ours was the perfect size for a family of six, with a front porch overlooking the lake and that timeless cabin smell of wood smoke and woolen blankets.  The main lodge has additional bedrooms, a library, a game room, and an industrial kitchen where guests can prepare their own meals. The walk between our cabin and the main lodge was lined with blueberry bushes (from which we picked our breakfast each morning), plus a swing set and sand pit. Behind our cabin was a wide trail through a pine forest, the trees hung with art from previous young guests.

And then there’s the gorgeous lake, which is a brief walk or drive from the lodge. Highland Lodge has its own small private beach on Caspian Lake, and a boathouse fully stocked with canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, and all the sand toys you could possibly need. Our family was often alone on the beach and in the water, where we canoed past the loons whose laughter echoed up to our front porch at night.

The four days we spent at Caspian Lake were some of the best in our family’s history. Aside from recreation at the lake and Lodge, there’s really nothing else to do (the town of Greensboro, ten minutes away, has an ice cream stand and a general store, but that’s about it). For four days, we were able to focus on each other and the beautiful lake setting. We completely unplugged: no phone, no internet, no handheld devices. And my daughters bickered far less than they do at home.

Lakes are becoming special places for our family; we hope to make Caspian Lake an annual pilgrimage. Most of the other guests at the Highland Lodge have been coming there for decades, and it’s easy to see why.

Unfortunately, the Lodge is on a bit of a downswing at the moment. It’s been owned and operated by the Smith family since the 1950s, but the current owners, David and Willie Smith, are at retirement age. It’s becoming too difficult for them to keep up the Lodge, so two years ago they closed it down. Under pressure from their faithful guests, they reopened this year with limited services (no restaurant, no children’s programs).

I’ll end with a pitch: If you’re reading this, and you just happen to be interested in running a magical, historic lakeside lodge, the Highland Lodge is for sale. I can’t imagine the effort it takes to run, but you’d be part of something very special: the continuation of generations of lake swimmers.


Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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