“The waterfall is exciting!” exclaimed Johnny, a student from the Burlington area. Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront brought an enthusiastic group of aspiring hikers to the Mill Trail shortly before Thanksgiving. Recreation specialist Zachary Martin (he/him) led the group over snow and ice to experience the wonder of Bingham Falls. “This hike is different because it has water, and there is a really big waterfall” observed another of the group.
With the sounds of the river rushing beneath them and the crunch of softened snow and ice under boots, this sunny day was the first time many of the students had experienced a waterfall. As the group held and marveled at what they called “ice bubbles”, it was a trip saturated with moments where the children reflected a sense of awe that many Vermonters have felt when appreciating the incredible natural features of our home. The trip was also a reminder that access to nature is not an opportunity all Vermonters experience equally.
While the children were seated beside the Waterbury River for lunch Zachary explained, “I have a unique position which gave me the opportunity to plan some outings for Burlington school-aged youth. We’re finding that it helps to do so during their school vacations. Some kids are in a vacation camp. Some parents were looking for a change of pace and a few hours to do something else.” Many parents need day programs to care for their children while at work, especially during holidays where children are not in school. This need can be easily seen in the long waitlist for these trips.
When asked about his motivation for bringing youth into the natural world during day programming Zachary said, “I saw a need to take groups out and see a different part of Vermont. Personally, I get so much out of being able to take my time on the weekends and holidays to go out and explore hiking areas, ski, bike, and camp. It means so much to me to get to harbor that kind of affinity and love for nature in the work that I do with the populations in Burlington.”
The work Zachary and Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront do with youth groups is essential to increasing access to Vermont’s network of conserved land. “I found out about the Stowe Land Trust while looking for accessible, exciting, beautiful hikes in the area. The staff have been so gracious to have our group out, and to escort us so we can learn more about the land.” Zachary remarked. While recreating outdoors may seem second-nature to many residents and visitors to Stowe, familiarity with the outdoors isn't a given for many Vermont families. Programs like these allow new audiences to explore the natural wonder of our state, creating a safe and welcoming environment to learn about and experience the outdoors. We're committed to building partnerships with groups like Zachary's to help get more kids outside, inspiring the next generation of Vermont naturalist and conservationists.
As the kids loaded back up for their trip home, one voice rang above the rest: “I want to go on a hike again!” We can't wait to have them back.