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A Swimming Hole for Every Town

By Richarda Ericson, Vermont River Conservancy

Swimming holes in Vermont are renowned for their beauty and the opportunity for adventure. Thousands of people enjoy Vermont’s swimming holes every year and depend on them as public gathering spaces to have fun and relax during the short summers. During the pandemic, with public pools and beaches closed, Vermonters need swimming holes now more than ever. Yet public access is not guaranteed — use of these swimming holes is threatened by overuse, privatization, and mismanagement.

A boy jumps into Foote Brook at Journey’s End swimming hole in Johnson. Photo by Jay Ericson / jayericson.com.
Public access to well-managed, safe, and fun swimming holes is essential for maintaining recreational opportunities for all Vermonters, regardless of race or socio-economic status. The Vermont River Conservancy is a non-profit land trust committed to protecting public access to Vermont’s rivers.

Unfortunately, as noted in recent news, Vermonters are seeing many swimming holes overrun by visitors, creating issues ranging from unsafe parking to excess litter. These conflicts can transform swimming holes from beloved community resources into disputed sites where public access is jeopardized. The VRC works with communities to install educational signage and lead volunteer stewardship opportunities at swimming holes. Engaging users in caring for their favorite swimming hole is critical for creating sites that are well-managed and publicly accessible. Swimming holes are a cherished part of Vermont’s landscape and connect people to a better understanding of watersheds, Vermont’s rivers and streams, and Vermont’s geology.

The Vermont River Conservancy is kicking off a swimming hole fundraising campaign this summer as part of its “A Swimming Hole for Every Town” initiative. Visitors will see informational displays when they stop at nearby gas stations and stores on their way to or from swimming holes. Those displays will have instructions on how to send a phone text to donate to the VRC. Visitors will also see signs asking for donations to the VRC at the swimming holes.

There are no fees to use swimming holes, but donations are critical to help the VRC carefully manage these sites so that all Vermonters may enjoy them. “While swimming holes are free to visit, the work to protect public access to these special places takes time and resources,” says Vermont River Conservancy Development & Outreach Director Richarda Ericson, “Vermont River Conservancy is committed to ensuring Vermonters and visitors alike can access the incredible places along our rivers, but we rely strongly on visitor etiquette, community partnerships, and donations to support this important work.”

Highlights of the swimming hole projects are a one-mile long trail along the North Branch of the Winooski River in Worcester and Elmore — a pristine headwaters section complete with seven cascading waterfalls and swimming holes, hence the trail name ‘North Branch Cascades.’ The conservancy has also protected public access to Bolton Potholes in Bolton, a geologically stunning swimming hole whose history has been tarnished by overuse and safety issues. After a summer of increased management, signage, education, and extensive work with the local community, the conservancy is seeing significant improvements at this site.

The Vermont River Conservancy collaborated with the town of Johnson to protect Journey’s End and Beard Recreation Park, two swimming holes that exemplify how community support and visitor etiquette and education can create a well-managed community resource.

For more information on Vermont River Conservancy-protected swimming holes, and visiting swimming holes during these times of COVID-19, please visit www.vermontriverconservancy.org.

The Vermont River Conservancy is a Montpelier-based non-profit that works to protect and preserve important land along Vermont waters such as waterfalls, gorges, swimming holes, wetlands, river and lake shores, and islands. Information is available at www.vermontriverconservancy.org or by calling the VRC at (802) 229-0820.