Friday, November 18, 2016

Sand Bar State Park, Vermont

photo by Danielle Austen
2,891 miles

Nov 18 – Sand Bar State Park is a natural, triangular sandbar between South Hero Island and the town of Milton on the mainland.  Over tens of thousands of years, the Lamoille River washed sediment downstream into Lake Champlain.  The river-borne material sank to the bottom as the river emptied into the lake, eventually filling the lake to create marshland and the sandbar.  Natural lake depths here, without the sandbar, would be over 150 feet, but with the sediment, water depth is now only a couple of feet.  When spring runoff raises the water level in the lake, much of the park can be underwater.

no bird pics
from this bird-watching reserve
Additional marshland south and east of the park is part of the Sand Bar Wildlife Refuge, established in 1920.  Its 1,000 acres are home to beaver, muskrats, raccoons, and turtles.  Migratory waterfowl use it as a seasonal stopover and a nesting area.   Many of Lake Champlain's fish use it as their spawning grounds.  Hunting, fishing, and trapping are – of course – not allowed on refuge land.  Bird-watchers are welcome, but they don’t seem to carry cameras.  Or maybe they just don’t post their pics.

Because of the shallow water here, the route along the sandbar served as a ford from the mainland to the Hero Islands long before construction of the first bridge in 1850.  Crossing that first toll bridge, built of rock, gravel, and logs laid corduroy-fashion through the marsh and along the bar, must have been an adventure!  It was often flooded and always needed major repairs after damage caused by shifting ice each spring.  

icewaves, by Randy Abair
Today's wider, higher causeway was completed in 1959, but crossing it can still be scary when snow blowing across the frozen lake blocks visibility, or spray and water from crashing waves washes across the highway during storms when the lake is high. 

The road across the causeway was part of the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, a transcontinental “auto trail” route through the United States and Canada that ran from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. It was designated a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt after his death in in 199, and the name was used during the 1920s and 1930s, until numbered routes prevailed.  Its length was about 4,060 miles (6,530 km).

CCC-built stone bathhouse, 1935
The park is on the eastern end of the sandbar.  Sand Bar State Park was established in 1933, and its roads and buildings were built by workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps.[1]  At first it was primarily swampy marshland, which crews of the CCC cleared, filled, and graded.  CCC workers built a stone bathhouse and a stone grill which still stand in the park.  The upper level of the bathhouse was originally used as living quarters for caretakers and lifeguards, but is now used for storage, while the rest of the structure, only modified to provide electricity and plumbing, continues in its original use.

The original 10-acre park included a small campground on the south side of the highway.  As U.S. 2 became a busier and faster road, camping that close to it, and crossing back and forth, was neither desirable nor particularly safe.  In 1970, a land swap gave the former campground, now a fishing access area, to the Fish and Wildlife Department.  The useable length of the beach was doubled and the picnic area, newer bathhouse, and long parking lot were built as the park expanded east onto land acquired from the refuge.

The park's 2,000-foot stretch of sand is considered one of the best beaches on Lake Champlain, and one where the water tends to stay a bit warmer than other parts of the lake in midsummer.  Its smooth, sandy lake bottom remains shallow well out from shore, making this a perfect swimming spot for young children.

The park offers picnic tables with cooking grills, a food concession stand, volleyball courts, horseshoes, canoe and kayak rentals, and a swing set with a gorgeous view of the lake.  Sand Bar is also high on the list for windsurfers and kite surfers, who can be seen whipping around the lake when the wind is up.  All of these attractions combine to make Sand Bar the most visited day park in the state.

The park is open from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend, from 10:00 a.m. to “official sunset”.  I guess I can only be here virtually in November.


images:  Google Images

[1] The CCC was a nationwide public works program created during the Great Depression of the 1930s to provide jobs and training for thousands of unemployed men.  

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