VRC Receives AARP Community Challenge Grant

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

The popular one-mile long trail along the North Branch of the Winooski River in Worcester and Elmore has new wayfinding and accessibility features that will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike in the coming year. VRC protected public access to this 78-acre gem and began construction on the trail in 2017, always with a vision of ensuring the wilderness-like setting and beautiful cascading waterfalls could be enjoyed by all ages and mobility levels. “It was important to VRC that this incredible spot would be enjoyed by a grandparent and their grandchild, that it would be accessible to strollers and wheelchairs, and that it would have plenty of places to pause, rest on a bench, and take in the sound of flowing water and the beauty of one of the several waterfalls and swimming holes along the trail,” says Steve Libby, Executive Director of Vermont River Conservancy.

Grandparent and grandchild check out the kiosk at the southern trailhead.

Thanks to the hard work of VRC crews and dozens of volunteers, this vision has been achieved, and visitors will find several benches along the universally accessible portions of the trail, and wayfinding signs marking notable scenic overlooks like “The Dancer” or treasured swimming holes such as the “Mom and Pop Swimming Hole,” the latter moniker given by VRC board member and Montpelier resident Tino O’Brien. O’Brien recalls, “I remember the first time I visited the North Branch Cascades more than 10 years ago. I met a young family – mom, dad, and toddler, and the parents were teaching their child to swim in a swimming hole just below a gently cascading waterfall. It was in that moment I knew this place needed to be protected, for families and community members like this one – enjoying the clear, clean water of the North Branch in a stunning natural setting. I hope someday that small child will bring their own child back here to teach them to swim.”

Swimmers enjoy one of several swimming holes along the North Branch Cascades Trail.

Other recent improvements to the trail include the completion of a second accessible privy at the northernmost portion of the trail, with a similar design as the one on the southern end of the trail.

New privy at the northern end of the trail.

Additionally, beautiful maps will be placed on the kiosks at either end of the trail, and portable maps will be available for visitors to take along with them as they walk the trail. Natural history walking guide pamphlets will also be available, artfully created by a group of Vermont Master Naturalists through the North Branch Nature Center. These recent improvements were made possible for the community due to the generous support of AARP. The AARP Community Challenge is a grant program to make tangible improvements to communities that jump-start long-term change. It is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities Initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live for people of all ages. To learn more, visit aarp.org/Livable.

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