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Slayton: State Parks

07/06/12 7:30AM By Tom Slayton
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(Host)  Commentator Tom Slayton is a long time journalist and observer of all things Vermont.  And this summer, he's exploring one of those familiar "hiding in plain sight" treasures that are available to all Vermonters - our State Park system. 

(Slayton) Mount Philo, a 900-foot eminence in Charlotte with a sweeping view of the Champlain Valley, became, in 1924, Vermont's first state park. It's easy to see why.

From its strategically placed summit you can see half the Champlain Valley, a huge blue swath of Lake Champlain itself, and, far across the lake, the jumbled peaks of the high Adirondacks.

It's a grand array. But there's another grand array that you can't see, not even from Mount Philo - the striking range and variety of Vermont's 52 state parks.

From rugged mountain climbs to quiet sandy beaches, and from primitive, tents-only camping on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain to a pleasant inn with its own trout pond, Vermont's State Parks offer many different experiences. Thirteen of the parks include buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, and one has a national scenic highway threading through it.

This state's remarkable natural diversity undoubtedly has a lot to do with the striking diversity of Vermont state parks. But there's another reason as well: a remarkable man named Perry Merrill.

He was director of State Parks for more than 40 years, and in the Great
Vermont Historical Society
Depression, when President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to build low-cost public works projects throughout the country, Perry Merrill was ready. As soon as the CCC was created, when its administrators were looking for places to go and things to build, he went to Washington with a list in hand of shovel-ready projects - most of which created or enhanced outstanding natural spots in Vermont. In short, Merrill got the federal government - the CCC - to build the core of Vermont's remarkable State Parks system.

Craig Whipple, the current director of state parks, told me recently that Vermont had the largest CCC contingent in the country - there were major camps in Waterbury, Ascutney, and elsewhere. Having 52 state parks is a huge number for a state Vermont's size, and Perry Merrill's foresight and aggressiveness is a major reason.

More parks have been added from time to time; several were created during the 1960s and 70s, as part of a statewide effort to attract tourists to Vermont. The result is an impressive system of parks and natural areas that offer everything from vigorous hikes up rocky peaks to historic old lakeshore hotels, and streams and waterfalls so pretty they take your breath away.

I'm going to spend a good part of the summer taking you to some of the most interesting of these parks. For openers, we'll spend a quiet night watching flying squirrels beside the Connecticut River, and then climb up Mount Ascutney, a steep climb that is rich in local history. And there will be many more.

I think it's probably the best assignment any journalist could have this summer. And I hope you will join me for some of these adventures!


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