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Slayton: Little River State Park

07/26/12 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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(Host) Most people who visit Little River State Park come for boating or swimming at the Waterbury Reservoir. But there's also a lot of Vermont history in the hills above the lake. Long-time Vermont journalist and commentator Tom Slayton went there recently - with two families and a park interpreter.

(Slayton) The trail up Hedgehog Hill in Waterbury used to be a road - the road to Gideon Ricker's farm. A century ago, it climbed through open fields, but this evening we are climbing through mature forest, filled with rustling trees and birdsong.

And this trail is steep! Leaving the campsites of Little River State Park, it drives relentlessly uphill for about a mile. It's hard to imagine negotiating this steep climb in a horse-drawn wagon, but that's the way the Rickers - and the other farmers on this hill - got home a century and more ago.

Gideon Ricker came to this hill in 1839 and gradually he and his family built up a farm of almost 300 acres. Maple sugar - not syrup, sugar - was their main cash crop, and many wagon loads of sugar went down this steep road to trade in Waterbury.

Four generations of the family lived on this hill, and there were several other farms as well. Today, the forest has reclaimed the hill, and all that remains of the little community are cellar holes, stone walls, and graveyards.
Image courtesy of The Vermont Historical Society and Patrick Yaeger
Ricker Family Christening

We are climbing up to visit one of those graveyards this evening. Brian Aust, interpreter for Little River State Park, is our guide, and he's leading us on one of one of the State Park's evening programs - a "ghost walk."

It's actually an introduction to the place, the forest, and its rich history, with a couple of spooky stories thrown in for good measure. But the two families who have joined the evening hike are enjoying it. There are nine of us, counting Brian and myself - five adults and four kids, and we're all puffing and panting as we climb.

It's getting dusky as we reach the top of the hill. We pass several stone walls and step down into the big cellar hole where the Rickers' farmhouse once was. Brian shows us photographs of the place in its heyday, and in one portrait, a dozen members of the family stand in their Sunday best clothes. At the center of the picture is a tiny baby in a white dress: it's a christening!

Then we march on to the little cemetery where several Rickers, young and old, are buried. In short order, our two accompanying families are nestled together, seated amidst the tombstones of an earlier family, as Brian reads them a couple of ghost stories from a book.

It's all a part of what this state park does. - in addition to providing campsites, beaches and boating on Waterbury reservoir, the park keeps the hiking trails open and maintains the remnants of the older community as a sort of living museum and a way of honoring those earlier Vermonters.

It's a nice mini-adventure. There may not be ghosts here, but there are plenty of memories. And for me, that's good enough.

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