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Slayton: Burton Island State Park

08/09/12 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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Tom Slayton
Eagle Bay as seen from one of Burton Islands walking trails
(Host) This summer, commentator Tom Slayton has been climbing mountains and paddling rivers in his quest to visit Vermont's most interesting state parks. Recently, he visited a string of islands in Lake Champlain.

(Slayton) In northwestern Vermont, where the land meets the water and becomes a string of pretty islands scattered out across Lake Champlain, a collection of state parks beginning at the tip of Hathaway Point on St. Albans Bay is unique – in fact, nothing short of amazing.

Three of those parks are islands – Burton Island, where camping is long-established, comfortable, and supported by a spiffy ferryboat - and Woods and Knight Islands, which offer more primitive camping, and which you have to get yourself to on your own, usually by paddling. Woods and Knight Islands, in other words, are not for the faint of heart.

The fourth park, on the tip of Hathaway Point, used to be a boys’ camp – Kamp Kill Kare – and before that, there was a resort hotel there. Today it’s a day-use area – a lovely spot with a pretty pebbly beach, picnic tables, lots of graceful old trees, and a rocky point suitable for serene and thoughtful contemplation of the interwoven shores of the bay, the lake and the many islands scattered across its sparkling waters.

Vermont Historical Society
Crafts at Kamp Kill Kare, circa 1950
But, frankly, serene contemplation isn’t often on the menu. Weddings are a popular event in this beautiful lakeside spot. Kids love the gentle beach. And the state-owned dock here bustles throughout the day because this is where the ferry leaves for Burton Island State Park, probably the most unusual state park in Vermont.

The ferryboat loads up fast with campers and their gear and quickly leaves the mainland behind. Ten minutes later, it docks in a different realm - one bounded entirely by water. Suddenly, its passengers are not just campers – they’re island dwellers.

Burton Island – pretty, forested, and a mile long, is a kid’s paradise. Time seems to slow down here, and the cares of the rest of the world, with its jobs, houses, obligations and worries, seem far away. One cause of the place’s quiet charm is obvious – there are no cars on Burton Island. The only traffic hazard on the island’s grassy roads are the youthful bicyclers that whiz by you, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups.

Gene Giard, who was ranger on Burton Island and lived here for the better part of 20 years with his wife, Katrina, is now ranger at Kill Kare. He’s got a simple solution for the bustle around the public beach and the camp store: “If there’s a little too much activity," he says, “just a short walk down one of the island’s trails and you won’t see anybody.”

If it’s even more seclusion you want, there’s primitive camping on Knight and Woods Islands, a mile further out in the lake.

Champlain has been pretty low lately, and the current joke is that if there’s no rain, pretty soon they’ll be opening Knight and Woods Islands to car camping. But don’t bet on that anytime soon!

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