Nature Journaling

You don't need fancy supplies to keep a nature journal By Rebecca Roy, Conservation Education Coordinator  This is an exciting time of year. These late February days bring ten and a half hours of daylight in Vermont, and the sun feels warmer. Resident birds are singing their springtime calls, and the air smells a little bit muddy. March is usually a snowy month in Vermont, so we are patient for flowers and true spring, but early signs are all around us. Nature journaling is a fun way to capture these signs of changing seasons. My little daughter and I have kept a nature journal for the past few years, and it is fun to look back on things we observed in past Februaries, and compare them to things we see today. It is also fun to look back and read about summer camping trips during cold winter months. Our nature journal reminds us of the details of our experiences we might otherwise not quite remember. We enjoy looking back and remembering the worms we dug before fishing at Boulder Beach State Park, or the very first time my daughter was brave enough to jump off the pier at Silver Lake State Park. You do not need anything fancy to keep a nature journal. I bought an inexpensive spiral bound sketch pad at a pharmacy near Allis State Park while we were camping and feeling inspired to capture our memories. Later I splurged and bought some nice color pencils in a tin case at a fancy art store in Bennington while visiting Woodford State Park. I wanted the pencils in a case to make transporting our nature journaling supplies easier, but you do not need that. We started our journal with crayons and a ball point pen. You do not need to regularly write in your nature journal for it to be meaningful, occasional entries will be fun to look back on later. You do not need to be a great artist to keep a nature journal (I am not!), my daughter and I both draw illustrations while we are outside, and back at home after a good woods wander. I love asking her what words she wants to share about our adventures, and looking back on those words later is meaningful. I will often write short descriptions of what we observed, or interesting and funny things that happened. We keep our nature journal out on the coffee table all the time, so if we happen to see an interesting bird outside our window and feel inspired, we can quickly grab the book and jot down a sketch or a sentence about the experience.Our nature journal helps us feel connected to changing seasons, and gives us great memories to reflect on later. Grab a notebook and record your observations and memories too. “Let me keep my mind on what matters which is my work which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”― Mary Oliver

By |2020-03-05T11:03:11+00:00February 25th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Guest Post: A Winter Hike to Vermont’s State Park – Knight Island by Matt Parsons

Welcome sign to Knight Island State Park. The winter of 2019 in Vermont was one of the most brutal winters in recent history. We experienced everything, from high accumulating snow storms with high winds to freezing rain. The snow storms were reminiscent of my childhood. I can remember snow being piled half way up telephone poles. From December to April, I am confined to my plow truck. By the end of February I want to trade in my childhood enthusiasm of winter for some primal camping. It seems that this phenomenon happens to me every year at around this time. I have camped over night on Burton Island, and day camped at Knight Island, not to mention other winter excursions. I like to test the limits of my body and skills to survive. Doing this in the winter, on an island seems to magnify the experience.The call to camp on Knight Island was getting louder with every snow storm. The short term forecast provided a break, but it  wasn’t quite the break I was looking for. Between ministry commitments and potential snow coming in on Saturday, I was relegated to just a day camping experience. On Thursday I made sure my plow truck was checked over, cleaned and loaded up for the impending snow on Saturday. My time off was approved. I was ready to kick up my heals like a penned up calf being released into a spring pasture. A map of Knight Island. Thursday after work, I set out to check my potential route over the Lake Champlain ice. From Kamp Kill Kare State Park in St. Albans, you can see a portion of Knight Island. From Kill Kare, the island is West of Woods Island, which sits just in front of it. I have made this trip before and figured it to be a 10 to 14 mile hike round trip. That does not include the mile long hike around the island in heavy snow.While I was scanning the ice on shore, 2 men came off the ice from that direction. I struck up a conversation with the 2 older gentlemen, hoping to get some good intel. What I got was more than good information. I had a pleasant conversation with Havar and Evar who are originally from Costa Rica. A few curious inquiries from me during the conversation had us talking about hiking on ice and exploring the Lake Champlain islands. We talked about our Faith, and experiences in Guatemala. I am always blown away by how much I have in common with complete strangers that cross my path. All it takes is a little time and a willingness to engage. Listening doesn’t hurt either!When I got home, I commenced to packing. Our son had bought me some cool camping equipment for Christmas and I was determined to try it out! Just packing it had me excited for the next day.The morning arrived. I got my morning rituals out of the way quickly. Ann has learned when I am focused on an adventure that it is best to encourage me, and give me the space to do my thing. Ann did just that and gave me her blessing to have a good time.  A few kisses on the lips and I was out the door. View of Hero's Welcome General Store from the lake. Not even a mile into my drive, I made a decision to hike from the other side of the lake. Coming infrom North Hero meant a slightly longer drive but a shorter walk. Parking the car at Hero’s Welcome General Store would require asking permission to park. Asking permission to do most anything is a struggle for me, but I opted to do it anyway. I’m glad I did. I filled up my thermos with hot coffee and got the ok to park the car for a few hours.Once I was at the car, I put on my pack and hit the ice. It was a perfectly sunny day and snow covered Mount Mansfield was contrasted by a deep blue sky. The majestic stature of Mansfield gave me a sense of peace as I walked in it’s direction. Ice formations on Lake Champlain. It didn’t take long to enter the broad lake. The wind was whipping across the ice, and I became very grateful for every article of warm clothing I brought. Being cooped up in a truck for 3 months showed me just how out of shape I was, once I started fighting the elements. My quick decision to shorten my hike from 5 -7 miles to 2.5 was a Godsend! I arrived at the ranger station that is operational from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A picnic table in the sun looked too inviting too pass up. I took a few minutes to rest, hydrate and take in a little nourishment.The plan was to check out the group camping site on the southwest shore at Birch Bay and continue around the island. It didn’t take long to realize that not bringing my snowshoes was a big mistake. The snow went up to my knees in some places, making my walk especially strenuous. I chose not to bring them because I knew I would not need them on the ice, and I did not want to hang the extra weight off of my pack. At this point I became keenly aware of the energy I was expending and the need to conserve. Fortunately my trudging did not last long. Rangers must patrol the island periodically, as I came upon snowmobile tracks that followed the trail around the island. My hike became a little easier, Hallelujah! View of Cedar Cove. I arrived at Birch Bay. As I sat and tried to sip out of my camel back, I realized that the hose to my camel back was susceptible to the cold weather. The water inside the hose had frozen. I managed to break up the ice. The water in my pack was going to be the source for cooking the MRE I brought. It was critical that I kept this hose from freezing. Each time I took a drink, I had to push the remaining water back into the reservoir. I was grateful for the simple solution.Having overcome these obstacles, I was ready to take East Trail and explore the lean-tos on the East shore. Along the way I spotted many signs of turkeys being present on the island. I’m am fascinated by wildlife on islands such as this. I always keep my eyes peeled for some kind of wildlife. Every lean-to in this park is secluded from the others which is appealing to me. I have yet to camp overnight on Knight Island in the summer but it is on the list. Frozen waves at Oak Cliffs Overlook. From the Aspen lean-to, the trail heads north. Stony Point lean-to has beautiful views of the lake and mountains.  The warmth of the sun and a fold up chair that seemed out of place, looked inviting to me. I passed it up for the familiar Cedar Cove lean-to. I still had some energy left and I knew there were some good views ahead. As I walked along the shore line chunks of ice heaved up like waves frozen in time.Oak Cliffs Overlook is one of my favorite places on the island. Sailing friends; Steve and Lynne Smith, introduced us to the island in the summer of 2010. It was our picnic at Oak Bluffs that solidified my desire to camp at Knight Island. A trail breaks out of the woods and leads you to a wide open area. From high on top of the rocky bluff, one can clearly see the Lake Champlain valley and the Green Mountains in all their splendor. Cedar and Oak trees frame the view. It is a short walk to lean-tos on either side, making this place a great area to hang out for campers.  On this day I could see a visible pressure crack that went diagonally from Knight Island and zig-zagged to the south end of Woods Island. From there it continued east towards Burton Island and Hathaway Point. The view reminded me of some sort of moonscape. I have crossed these pressure cracks before, but today I was grateful that I didn’t. I took in the view and just absorbed all nature had to offer. The Cedar lean-to. Cedar Cove lean-to lies just north of Oak Cliffs. I have day camped here before under similar circumstances in 2014. For some reason I am stuck on this place. Besides the view and the close proximity to the cliffs, I remember there being an ample supply of firewood from a fallen oak tree. I was banking that it had not been picked clean. I was not disappointed. The sight was as I remembered it.I had expended a lot of energy trudging through the deep snow. It was important to set up camp and prepare my MRE. I resisted my primal instincts to start a fire first. I love a good fire! I set up my kitchen on a picnic table that was placed inside the shelter for the winter months. It protected me from the west wind and I was able to shed a few layers. It felt good to lighten the load for a spell.While the water boiled for my Cajun black bean and rice, I gave into the temptation and prepared the fire ring. The water was taking a while to boil so I grabbed a snack and broke out my new camping equipment. Our son Patrick  bought me a cool collapsible saw to use in situations like this. I completed the package by purchasing a new hatchet and some fire starter. My ancient and heavy wood handled hatchet was too “Daniel Boone”. I was excited to try out my new toys. Fire starting tools. I used both tools on the nearby fallen oak. There was plenty of fallen limbs on the ground, but the limbs on the oak were ripe for the picking. Dinner was not far away, so I did not my mind using up a little energy while I waited. The saw worked very well. It was sharp and did not fold up in my hand while I used it. I have a shovel that did that once. I haven’t used it since!By this time I was in full multi tasking mode. The cajun black bean and rice was in the pouch cooking away. I was hoping to enjoy a small fire while enjoying lunch. The fire starter that I bought for a dollar brags that it will burn on water. In this case it would have to be ice. The bottom of the ring was frozen. I meticulously placed the fire stater on the ice and placed some dryer lint over it. From there I built a tee-pee style structure, using small limbs and gradually adding bigger limbs as I went. The moment of truth arrived with pleasure as my fire gained momentum. Making fire on ice. I sat at the table and enjoyed my meal. The fire flickered above the ring and smoke puffed out the fragrance of winter camping. I savored my meal in between maintaining the fire. I was not planning to be here long so starting a raging fire with bigger wood was not practical. The fire flickered away and the pangs of hunger were gone. The primitive man inside me was warm and satisfied. What does a man do when he is in this state? He lies down and rests. That is just what I did. The floor of the leanto acted as a temporary bed.My physical, emotional and spiritual energy were rejuvenated. I picked up my belongings, put out the fire, and left no trace. All that remained were some foot prints and ashes. With my pack firmly fastened, I hit the trail. When I got to North beach I had to decide to hike the interior of the island using the West tail or walk around the island on the ice. I really wanted to hike the interior, hoping for a better chance at seeing some wild life. It was getting late and walking on the ice expended less energy. Being cooped up in a plow truck for almost 4 months has it’s disadvantages. I chose the ice. Looking back at the island. I slowed my pace and enjoyed the view looking in. I was privileged to spot a beautiful red fox bounding into the woods with it’s bushy red tail. By this time, the sun was on the western side of the island and that sweet light that photographers love made her red coat really stand out. My small phone camera would never had done it justice. As I approached the ranger station I spotted some turkeys running into the woods. This was turning out to be a good day.When I arrived at the ranger station, the sun was still shining brightly. I seized the moment to prepare for the final leg of my journey by hydrating and laying on the picnic table. My pack acted as a pillow. The sun felt good on my face. My back and legs got to rest before making the 2.5 mile trek back to the car. I tried to find a landmark on the horizon that was close to my car. My body was walking straight ahead to the car, but my mind was back, wandering all over the island. I reminisced of my journey and the small challenges I faced along the way. I was happy to have overcome them on my own. The primal man inside me was tired but satisfied.

By |2020-03-05T11:03:08+00:00January 31st, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Get the Sled Out: Where to Go Sledding in Vermont State Parks

By Rebecca RoyVermont State Parks Conservation Education CoordinatorOur white pine trees--taller than every other tree in the Vermont woods, are heavily laden with cones this year. These giants of the forest started the summer months growing bright green female cones in large clumps at the ends of all the upper branches. The cones were so plentiful, they weighed the branches into curved arches pointing down. Throughout the summer, the seeds hidden under the cone bracts developed, the cones turned brown, and the seeds came sailing out with their adapted wing--hopefully planting some new white pines. At least that is the goal of the pine tree as it grows more and more cones, and more and more seeds.The summer of 2016 we saw a drought. Remember how low the lake levels dropped that summer? Well, our trees are reacting to that stress by producing way more seeds, nuts and fruits than normal. Our pine trees started developing this year’s cones in 2016, so the drought triggered them to grow …

By |2020-03-05T11:03:05+00:00January 23rd, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Plans Underway for Improvements at Mt. Philo State Park

Enhancements to Parking, Trails andSummit Access Planned After nearly a decade of work and with substantial public input, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) has completed the long-range management plan (LRMP) for Mt. Philo State Park. This plan will guide the long-term management and stewardship of the area’s natural resources and human use. Work on the Mt. Philo plan has been a lengthy process, during which several public input meetings were held and the plan underwent multiple revisions to incorporate public feedback. Among the needs identified in the LRMP are enhancement plans to address parking and trail improvements in response to increased park use. SE Group of Burlington has been contracted to develop an enhanced design to address vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow challenges at the park entrance and summit. As attendance has grown exponentially at Vermont’s oldest state park over the past few decades, this will help the park “catch up” with the influx of visitors and better meet the needs of park guests while also protecting the park’s natural features. The goal of this design project is to identify ways to more efficiently greet people entering the park, and to more effectively get them to the places they want to enjoy while minimizing the impacts of overcrowding at the park’s access and most visited points. This will likely include expanded parking at the entrance and enhanced wayfinding and accessibility near the summit in addition to other potential improvements. FPR expects to have potential designs ready to share and solicit public feedback about later this spring. Additionally, FPR hired Timber and Stone, LLC, from East Montpelier to develop a design enhancing and addressing significant maintenance needs to the park’s trail system. Work to implement this design will begin in 2020, subject to funding. This project is critical to the long-term sustainability of the trail system and health of the surrounding forest. “Through the LRMP development process, a number of issues came to light that clearly require yet more planning, design and input,” Parks Regional Manager Reuben Allen said. “Ongoing communication and collaboration with our community partners and park users is critical to our success at Mt. Philo and elsewhere, and just because the plan is complete doesn’t mean the process of designing needed improvements to the park is going to stop. As we move forward, we welcome feedback and ideas for us to continue to improve our ability to serve those who enjoy our unmatched park system.”             During the 2019 season, Mt. Philo had 68,638 visitors during the operating season between Memorial Day weekend and October 20. This is a 30% increase from 2018. Although much of this one-year increase can be attributed to a 2019 change in which the park opened at 8 a.m. rather than the traditional 10 a.m. start time, the park’s attendance has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. In 2009, the park’s attendance was 22,073, nearly double that of a decade earlier when the attendance totaled 12,228.

By |2020-03-05T11:03:01+00:00January 8th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Woods Whys: “Why Are Fir and Spruce Trees so Conical?”

By Rebecca RoyVermont State Parks Conservation Education CoordinatorOur white pine trees--taller than every other tree in the Vermont woods, are heavily laden with cones this year. These giants of the forest started the summer months growing bright green female cones in large clumps at the ends of all the upper branches. The cones were so plentiful, they weighed the branches into curved arches pointing down. Throughout the summer, the seeds hidden under the cone bracts developed, the cones turned brown, and the seeds came sailing out with their adapted wing--hopefully planting some new white pines. At least that is the goal of the pine tree as it grows more and more cones, and more and more seeds.The summer of 2016 we saw a drought. Remember how low the lake levels dropped that summer? Well, our trees are reacting to that stress by producing way more seeds, nuts and fruits than normal. Our pine trees started developing this year’s cones in 2016, so the drought triggered them to grow …

By |2020-03-05T11:02:57+00:00December 18th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Join Vermont State Parks for First Day Hikes

An intrepid group of First Day Hikers ready to start the new year with adventure. Start the new year on the right foot with a hike in a Vermont state park. On January 1, 2020, everyone is invited to join a free, guided, family-friendly hike taking place at many state parks and forests across Vermont. Hikes will be led by professional guides and outdoor educators eager to share their knowledge and love of Vermont’s outdoors.  Don’t need a guide? No matter where you live in Vermont, a state park or state forest is always close by, and you can still get outside to enjoy it. State park entry is free on New Year’s Day (and all winter long). You’ll discover a whole new world in winter. Please dress for the weather and bring snowshoes if the snow is deep. Please also bring beverages and snacks. Dogs are welcome (on leash) unless otherwise noted. You don’t need to pre-register, just show up! To check the status of the hikes, call our First Day Hikes “Hotline” at 802-249-1230. Updated messages will be posted to the Hotline on December 31st and January 1st.  Check out our Facebook and Twitter feeds for more information and more hikes as they are added. Here is a list of state parks currently offering guided first day events:  Button Bay State ParkGuide Name: Ron Payne, Otter Creek Audubon Society PresidentMeeting Time: 9AMMeeting Location: Button Bay Rd, Ferrisburgh Hike Description: A 2 mile walk on flat terrain in search of overwintering birds. Barnes Camp Loop, Smuggler's NotchGuide Name: John Plummer, GMC Group Outreach & Field CoordinatorMeeting Time: 10:00 amMeeting Location (Address): Barnes Camp Visitor Center, Mountain Rd, Stowe, VT 05672Hike Description: 1.5 miles, moderate difficulty, 2 hours Holbrook State ParkGuide Name: Cathi Brooks, GMC NEK SectionMeeting Time: 10amMeeting Location: VT-122, Sheffield, VT 05866Hike Description: 3 miles, a loop hike up and around, moderate terrain, approximately 3 hours Gifford Woods State ParkGuide Name: Devani Jolman, Vermont State Parks InterpreterMeeting Time: 9:00AM Meeting Location: Gifford Woods State Park Off Season Parking Lot. There is no address, but it is next to the Vermont State Parks Maintenance building across from Kent Pond. Hike Description: 1.1 miles, moderate difficulty, 1 hour We will hike up and around Gifford Woods State Park on the Kent Brook Trail. It is approximately 1.1 miles and moderate difficulty since there is a fair bit of uphill travel. The hike will take approximately 1 hour. Please wear well treaded boots, yak tracks, or even snow shoes depending on snow level. Owl's Head, Groton State ForestGuide Name: Walter OpuszynskiMeeting Time:  1:00PM Meeting Location: Parking at the gate just off of Route 232Hike Description: 2 miles, moderate difficulty, 1 hour The access to Owl’s Head is located off Route 232 in Groton State Forest. There are two ways to get to the top of Owl’s Head; a 2-mile hiking trail or by hiking ¾ mile up the access road. We will be walking up the access road; parking at the gate just off of Route 232. There is enough room at this location for 8 cars. If we have more cars we can shuttle people from the Kettle Pond parking area a mile south on Route 232. To RSVP, to ask questions, or to confirm the hike is still occurring call Walter at (802) 522-6022. Muckross State ParkGuides: Rachel & Phil Drinker, Volunteers at Friends of MuckrossMeeting Time: 9amMeeting Location: 26 Muckross Road, just off from Paddock RoadHike Description: 1 to 2 hours, easy to moderate terrainNote: Parking is limited. Please carpool!Seyon Lodge State Park - CANCELLED NOTE: Feel free to self-guide however, our guide has unfortunately fallen under the weather.Hike Description: 1.5 miles snowshoe/walk around Noyes Pond Loop about 1 hour. The trail for the snowshoe / hike is on relatively level ground and will circumvent Noyes Pond. It is approximately 1.5 miles in length and will take about an hour. Please bring snowshoes as part of the trail is not groomed.

By |2020-03-05T11:02:55+00:00December 17th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Craft Corner: Nature Holiday Ornaments

Learn to make bark ornaments, pine cone elves, and twig snowflakes.  Want to enjoy the magic of the winter wonderland and the warmth of a wood stove? Bring the magic of the outdoors into your cozy winter abode! Stoke the fire, grab a cup of cocoa, and check out our round-up of nature-inspired crafts to celebrate the season. Remember: For crafts involving natural materials, only use materials that are no longer living.Bark OrnamentsSupplies: bark, glue, sugar sprinkles or other natural materials to glue down, twine, scissors, power drill1. Collect bark from a woodpile or the forest floor and dry it first. Break it up into smaller pieces. The flatter the pieces of bark are, the easier they will be to work with. 2. Create a shape in glue (like a circle to make a wreath or a triangle for a Christmas tree). Make sure not to go too heavy on the glue as it runs.3. Add your sprinkles or other natural materials to the glue. Set aside to dry. For younger crafters, larger pieces are easier to handle.4. Drill a hole in the top part of the bark using a power drill.5. Cut the twine in 10-12-inch pieces and thread it through the hole. Tie the loose ends together in a knot. Then hang!Source: Rain or Shine MamaPine Cone Elves Supplies: Small Pine cones, wooden balls (or an acorn with the cap), felt, craft glue (or hot glue gun), twine, black paint or black fine tip marker, string, small bells1. Cut out the shapes needed for the hat, scarf and shoes.2. Glue the ball onto the top of the pine cone.3. Fold the rounded triangle in half and add a tiny bead of glue down the seam to form the hat.4. Add the tiny bell to the top of the hat and glue it onto the wooden ball.5. Wrap the scarf around the head and attach with more hot glue.6. Sandwich 2 heart shaped pieces of felt together for the shoes and attach to the bottom of the pine cone with hot glue.7. Add 2 tiny dots of paint for the eyes.8. Finally, glue a piece of string to the back of the hat.Source: One Little ProjectTwig SnowflakesSupplies: Twigs, branch cutters, glue, jute twine1. Cut twigs down to the size you want for snowflake. Cutting an angle on some pieces can make gluing easier.2. Lay out twigs in design and glue together.3. Once dry, cut pieces of jute twine and glue to back of snowflake.4. Hang your ornament!Source: The DIY DreamerGrab your cup of cheer and get creative! Will your elves find themselves in sticky situations? Or perhaps you’ve been inspired to make your own winter craft? Make sure to share them to our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts with #VTStateParks.What's your favorite way to celebrate the winter season? Share in the comments below!

By |2020-03-05T11:02:51+00:00December 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Think “Outside” The Box: Vermont State Parks Unveils New Line of Holiday Gift Packages

New holiday merchandise available from Vermont State Parks this year including patches, mugs, and pre-wrapped gifts. MONTPELIER –This year, Vermont State Parks is offering a brand-new line of holiday gift boxes guaranteed to put Vermont’s great outdoors under your tree. The popular packages include a variety of outdoor gear and outdoor experiences, come fully wrapped and ready to give, and shipping is free. They can be conveniently ordered online and shipped to the purchaser or the recipient. There is a package for every budget. Take a look: 2019 Holiday Packages For the day tripper: For $69, this gift package is the true ticket to several weekends full of adventure. The package contains a punch card good for 10 state park day visits, a notebook and pen set, and a Vermont State Parks dry bag. For the weekend warrior: Give two nights of tent, lean-to or RV camping in a state park, a coupon for a free armload of firewood, two Vermont State Parks wine tumblers, and an LED lantern for $99. For the whole family: Grab this family fun package at $165 and unlock an entire season of adventure. The package includes one season vehicle pass, good for entry into any Vermont State Parks day use area for up to eight people in a vehicle, two one-hour boat rental coupons, a collapsible picnic basket, and a fold-up picnic blanket.  Stocking Stuffers A variety of items that make great stocking stuffers are also available including coffee mugs, water bottles, hats, flashlights, patches, t-shirts, books and more! Park Passes You can also purchase 2020 punch cards, individual passes and vehicle passes. Wood Whys This year, a new book published by the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation is also available for purchase online. Woods Whys: An Exploration of Forests and Forestry, by Department Commissioner Michael Snyder, is a steadfast companion for anyone with a love for the woods and a desire to learn more about them and makes a great gift for reading at the campsite. Whether you give the gift of adventure this holiday season, or simply want to give the gift of unforgettable experiences in Vermont state parks, incredible outdoor explorations await at Vermont’s 55 state parks. Order gift packages online and find a park near you at https://www.vtstateparks.com/shop.html

By |2020-03-05T11:02:48+00:00November 22nd, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments