Shoulder Season: Vermont Bounces Back
The panicked email from a vacationer at Good Commons, a boutique country home and retreat center in Plymouth, Vermont, read, "The water in the basement suddenly rose just below the basement door. I grabbed my belongings and drove up a ’new river’ as I saw huge boulders running down the road in my rear view mirror. There is no way of knowing the state of your house. Not much you or anyone can do at this time."
Good Commons owner Tesha Buss, who had been overseas for a friend’s wedding, returned to find her 175-year-old property flooded - but still standing amid mounds of rubble and debris, which was a lot more than some of her neighbors. Last year’s Hurricane Irene cost an estimated $7 to $10 billion and Vermonters rallied only like Vermonters do, pulling out their tractors and excavators, firing up their back-up generators, and rebuilding an infrastructure faster than you could ski down a black diamond run at Killington Mountain Resort.
For those in the know, shoulder season refers to that odd time in between the snowboarders and the cyclists or the leaf peepers and the holiday family reunions, but this year’s shoulder season takes on new meaning as friends and neighbors commemorate surviving Irene’s wake by celebrating the bounty of the great northeast.
With more than 200 mountains over 2,000 feet in elevation, Vermont is a breathtaking escape for hiking, biking, and skiing, or a leisurely drive among the local farmers and charming towns that dot the countryside. More than 75 percent of the state is forested, which makes for dramatic fall foliage and rolling hills where you can spot herds of cattle and sheep lazily basking in the sun.
Route 100 Scenic Byway (newly designated just prior to Hurricane Irene) is a majestic stretch of road that can be appreciated no matter what time of year for its river-hugging twists and turns and majestic vistas. The 31-mile stretch is the perfect way to view fall foliage and get your American history fix with a visit to the Calvin Coolidge historic site (just off of Route 100A), where the 30th President of the United States resided.
A year ago, the pristine lake at Camp Plymouth State Park was murky brown due to contaminated water and its beach covered in debris. With cleanup efforts complete and the lake once again open to visitors, you can play out your Brokeback Mountain fantasies at the site’s group camping facility, consisting of six lean-to’s and addtional tent grounds. You may even strike it rich, as the area was once known for its gold mining in nearby Buffalo Brook.
If you want to experience Vermont from historic hiking paths, take advantage of the Long Trail. Built over a span of 20 years during the early part of the 20th century, the oldest long distance trail in the United States includes 273 miles of footpaths, 175 miles of side trails, and nearly 70 primitive shelters. The Green Mountain Club has created a collection of their favorite hikes, with descriptions and downloadable maps for every level of outdoor enthusiast.
Vermont has long been home to artists seeking sanctuary to explore their creative vision through sculpture, craft, theater, and beyond. Perhaps it’s the pure mountain air or the progressive communities that support their work. In any case, the juxtaposition of this creative force set against an ever-changing agriculture backdrop is worthy of a standing ovation.
Famed glassblower Simon Pearce moved his outpost from Ireland to Vermont in 1981. The former woolen mill in Quechee (and its adjacent covered bridge) has withstood the test of time and features exceptional artisan creations. Pearce, known for glass blowing and pottery, now employs hundreds of craftspeople that carry on his European handcrafted traditions.
While brown trout isn’t typically part of the artists’ collections at the Bridgewater Mills Mall, that’s exactly what owner Jireh Billings found in the elevator shaft post Hurricane Irene. The storm wiped out a basement full of antiques and odds and ends but also served as inspiration for a new collection from famed furniture, pottery, and accessory-makers ShackletonThomas. Husband and wife team of Charles Shackleton and Miranda Thomas met in England while in art school during the late 70s, and have since set up shop in Bridgewater. Each piece is made one at a time using classic techniques. You can witness their team’s intricate craftsmanship during during workshop hours, but the trout has long since been returned to nearby Three Sisters Farm, where it was released.
If you’re planning on heading to central Vermont for ski season and find yourself taking Amtrak, consider paying a visit to the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland before hitting the slopes. Housed in a Queen Anne Victoria Mansion dating back to 1896, the multidisciplinary venue showcases a variety of exhibits, performances, panel discussions and other public events.
During the summer months, be sure to catch a show at Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Vermont’s oldest professional theatre. The first season back in 1937 featured actor Lloyd Bridges and has since gone on to feature award-winning talent including Christopher Lloyd and Tony-winning designer John Lee Beatty. Hurricane Irene hit at the end of the theatre’s 75th anniversary season and its first world-premiere musical. The property has since been repaired (and upgraded) and is once again presenting plays, musicals and new works.
Food For Thought
With much of Vermont untouched by industrialization, you can traverse the Green Mountains and stumble across a wide array of culinary finds, from local farm stands and cheesemakers to unexpected edible discoveries.
Grab a map and head out on The Vermont Cheese Trail and get your dairy fix from the state’s southeast corner of Brattleboro all the way to the Canadian border. Highlights include Grafton Village Cheese Company, which has preserved the cheddar-making tradition since 1892; Crowly Cheese, the oldest continuously operating cheese factory in the country; and Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery - started with $2,000 in savings and a $4,000 loan from an agriculturally-minded neighbor, the creamery now helps support 17 local goat farms as well as St. Alban’s Cooperative Creamery.
For a broader perspective on Vermont’s farm to table scene, stop by Lisa Kaimen’s W.A.A.W.W.E. (We Are All What We Eat) Farms Market, where you can find humanely raised poultry, beef, and pork, comfort foods like quiche and goulash, and a revolving door of fresh produce from local farmers. Kaimen isn’t short on opinion, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch her at the store and get a passionate earful on the importance of raw milk and eating local.
You’ll find an unexpected fine dining experience in a casual setting at The Downtown Grocery in Ludlow. Chef Rogan Lechthaler convinced his Mississippi spitfire wife Abby to move back to his home state. Together they opened a restaurant where the couple presents seasonal, regional cuisine with country flair. Be sure to call ahead or you’re unlikely to get a table, especially since most guests linger over Lechthaler’s signature dessert, "Late Night Breakfast" - French toast, buttermilk-bacon ice cream, and local maple syrup.
Green Mountains with a Pink Glow
Consider spending your gay greenbacks in the Green Mountains, as it’s one of the country’s most gay-friendly destinations. With a population teetering over 625,000, the state is notoriously progressive in its equality laws and has made a concerted effort to welcome LGBT travelers. ?"Across Vermont, citizens and businesses continue to make a concerted effort toward welcoming the LGBT community," says Tourism Commissioner Megan Smith, "Ahead of the curve, our state led the nation in LGBT equality and we take pride in being an open, safe and non-judgmental culture."
Jen Butson, Director of Communications for the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing (VDTM) adds, "LGBT travelers from around the world visit Vermont annually. Vermont’s progress on LGBT equality is historic. Vermont was the first state to legally recognize gay couples when it created civil unions, and was the first state to pass marriage equality through the legislature." The state’s official tourism site has a dedicated page for LGBT travel and often includes special offers as well as an annual calendar of events.
The Vermont Gay Tourism Association is also a great resource for planning your gay vacation. Founded in 2003, it has grown into a comprehensive hub of lodging, restaurants, services and shopping. And if you’re planning your gay wedding, you’ll find a list of wedding professionals that will keep your bride- or groomzilla tendencies in check.
Mark your calendar for September 21 and 22, when the Vermont Gay Tourism Association (with the support of VDTM) presents Northern Decadence. Held at Battery Park in Burlington, the food and travel expo will feature a Pride Cruise on Lake Champlain, after party at Red Square, silent auction, and an opportunity to taste some of Vermont’s most delicious offerings. "It’s the only food or travel show, in a state that is full of food and travel shows, that targets the LGBT community," says Willie Docto, President of the Vermont Gay Tourism Association, "However, it does not exclude the general population. I see food as a way to bring people of different backgrounds or points of view together. While not everyone may go to a Pride festival, some might attend because a food festival is part of it. Everyone is welcome at our Pride festival."
New on the calendar for 2013 is Vermont’s first Winter Pride at Killington Resort (February 1-3). A collaborative effort between one of Vermont’s most highly rated ski resorts and GNAR (Gay Network Alliance of Riders). The 3-day event will be packed with live entertainment, parties, and plenty of time on the mountain. Ski Magazine recently rated Killington as having the "Best Resort Nightlife in the East".
From bed & breakfasts to boutique retreat centers, Vermont offers a number of bespoke accommodations that embrace the beauty of the Northeast and also welcome the LGBT traveler with open arms.
Moose Meadow Lodge, located in the hills above Waterbury, was lucky to lose only a few trees to Hurricane Irene, while the low lying areas were devastated. With a lot of hard work, the area has bounced back and you can once again enjoy the lodge’s neighboring amenities. The 4,000-square-foot Adirondack style property sits atop 86 acres of secluded woods. Your stay will feature a hearty Vermont breakfast and access to private trails, free snowshoe and sled equipment, and the Sky Loft - an enclosed mountaintop gazebo.
For a more communal experience, head to Good Commons, a private vacation home and retreat center that sits at the foot of Plymouth Notch. The property barely escaped Hurricane Irene’s devastation (the budget-friendly Salt Ash Inn across the street had its first floor completely wiped out but is now open for business). Hosting a range of events from health and wellness weekends to decadent food and wine celebrations with private chefs and in-house sommeliers, owner Tesha Buss warmly welcomes the LGBT community. "I love surrounding myself with all sorts of creative people and purposefully built a space where everyone would be welcome to live their dreams as I have always tried to do." As an added bonus, Buss’ sister company, The Good Bus, provides transportation from New York City for most events. The property can also be rented privately and you can customize your own weekend getaway.
For a more intimate getaway, head south to Frog Meadow, a men’s bed & breakfast and "massage oasis". This welcoming and restorative oasis is clothing optional, where you can take a dip in the hot tub, enjoy a massage, or go skinny-dipping at nearby Rock River or the Ledges.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your time in Vermont, you’ll be sure to find a local who will steer you in the right direction. "In a state that has no full-time gay bars, Vermont proves that gay people don’t have to rely on the circuit party scene to enjoy a destination," says Docto, "We have so many recreational activities each season, fresh local foods, and a full range of accommodations to satisfy anyone’s tastes and budget."
For more information on planning your Vermont gay getaway, visit: