MONTPELIER — Thanks to volunteers, Vermont River Conservancy staff, and AARP, visitors to the North Branch Cascades Trail in Worcester and Elmore will enjoy new upgrades. Wayfinding signs, kiosks, maps, benches, and more make the trail more welcoming for all ages and mobility levels. The one-mile trail along the North Branch of the Winooski River has new wayfinding and accessibility features. Construction of public access to this 78-acre gem began in 2017. “It was important to VRC that this incredible spot would be enjoyed by a grandparent and their grandchild; that it would be accessible to strollers and wheelchairs; and that it would have plenty of places to pause, rest on a bench, and take in the sound of flowing water and the beauty of one of the several waterfalls and swimming holes along the trail,” says Steve Libby, executive director of the Conservancy. Thanks to the hard work of Conservancy crews and dozens of volunteers, this vision has been achieved. As a result, visitors will find benches along the universally accessible trail, along with signs marking scenic overlooks such as “The Dancer,” or swimming spots such as the “Mom and Pop Swimming Hole,” the latter name given by Conservancy board member and Montpelier resident Tino O’Brien.O’Brien recalls, “I remember the first time I visited the North Branch Cascades more than 10 years ago. I met a young family — mom, dad, and toddler, and the parents were teaching their child to swim in a swimming hole just below a gently cascading waterfall. It was in that moment I knew this place needed to be protected, for families and community members like this one — enjoying the clear, clean water of the North Branch in a stunning natural setting. I hope someday that small child will bring their own child back here to teach them to swim.” Other improvements to the trail include the completion of two accessible outhouses. Additionally, visitors will find portable maps in kiosks at either end of the trail. Natural history walking guide pamphlets will also be available, created by Vermont master naturalists through the North Branch Nature Center. AARP made these trail improvements possible thanks to the AARP Community Challenge grant program. The program funds improvements to communities that spark long-term change. It is part of AARP’s “Livable Communities Initiative,” which support communities becoming enjoyable places for people of all ages. 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. It has preserved more than 90 sites around the state. Information is available at vermontriverconservancy.org or by calling VRC at (802) 229-0820. Richarda Ericson is the deputy executive director at Vermont River Conservancy, where she has been leading outreach initiatives and managing community-focused projects for over eight years.