The Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife (Department), Hermit Woods Trailbuilders and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) teamed up this past fall to implement a series of stewardship projects that will provide enhanced access to Otter Creek.
The Department is leading an effort to create a paddling trail along most of the length of Otter Creek, a 112-mile river that runs through Rutland and Addison counties before flowing into Lake Champlain. The recent stewardship work represents the early stages of this project, which emphasizes improving access for paddlers and anglers.
“For the last few years, the Department has been focusing on developing better river access around the state,” said Mike Wichrowsk, Lands & Facilities Administrator at the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. “Otter Creek is just one waterway where we have developed plans, but we felt it was important to focus here first. Expanding access to a high quality fishery and allowing Vermonters the opportunity to paddle the longest river that is wholly within its border was our primary goal.”
Four projects were completed near the end of 2022:
- At Creek Road in Middlebury, 20 five-foot-wide stone steps were installed, which lead from the parking area to the river’s edge. Adjacent vegetation was thinned and an angle-iron was installed at the corner of the parking lot for a future sign installation, and a set of removable timber steps were constructed to ease the transition from the river’s edge to the water.
- At the Kingsley Access on Gorham Bridge Road in Florence, 21 stone steps were installed leading from the parking lot to the water’s edge; these steps were armored with rip-rap to prevent erosion, and a small retaining wall was installed along one side of the staircases to hold back the bank. Ten stone bollards were installed to delineate the side of the parking area adjacent to the river. Parking was also pushed back from the river’s edge by about 15 feet.
- At the Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area’s (WMA) Neilson Parcel on Norse Lodge Road in Mount Tabor, seven stone steps were installed that lead from the parking lot to the water’s edge on the downstream side of the Norse Lodge Road culvert.
- At the Otter Creek WMA, near Holland Heights in Mount Tabor, 13 stone steps now lead to the river. A railing was also added to an existing pedestrian bridge to provide safer angler access from the bridge.
“We’re always thrilled to work on a project like this one since it includes everything we love about our work: a beautiful river, challenging stone work and, of course, a result that improves access to the recreational gem that is the Otter Creek,” said Sam Brakeley, owner of Hermit Woods Trailbuilders. “As avid canoeists ourselves, the team at Hermit Woods is excited about the prospect of a long-distance paddlers’ trail along the eastern side of Vermont, and look forward to future collaborations to help bring it to fruition.”
“We welcomed the opportunity to team up with Vermont Fish & Wildlife and Hermit Woods to implement these important projects,” said NFCT Stewardship Director Noah Pollock. “Otter Creek is a fantastic paddling destination, with a variety of recreational opportunities and a rich cultural and natural history. We are excited to be able to help bring the vision of a paddlers’ trail to fruition.”
“This was a technical trail project involving setting five-foot-wide steps sourced from a quarry in Sharon, Vermont,” Pollock added. “The width facilitates access for a wide range of boat types, and required special skill and machinery that Sam Brakeley – an NFCT thru-paddler and former intern and field coordinator — and his team at Hermit Woods were able to provide.”
To learn more about the vision for the Otter Creek paddlers’ trail, contact Mike Wichrowski at [email protected].