The Green Mountain State – Barre, VT


We quickly figured out why Vermont is called “The Green Mountain State:” It rained nearly every day we were there. And it rained a lot. Fortunately, we had a couple breaks in the weather and were able to venture outside long enough to see the area.

One of the many pretty drives you can find as you weave your way from Maine to Vermont
One of the many little towns you can see if you stay off the interstates
There is no shortage of farmhouses to be seen along your path. It appears this one uses a mixture of roofing materials with the job left half-completed, and I’m guessing the clapboards under that ivy are full of bug holes
Fortunately we did not see any moose in the path of our direction. Unfortunately, Alayne did not get to see any moose whatsoever (she saw a rock formation that looked like a moose, but you can’t count that)
There is no shortage of rolling hills throughout New Hampshire along U.S. 2
This little pond view is so typical of the Northeast
Alayne happened to like this view as we passed through Barre, Vermont

We chose to stay in Barre (“berry”), which has a population of about 8,000. The town is famous for its granite production. Offering some of the finest grain available, granite like Barre’s is renown for its durability in weather. Because of this Barre has been supplying grave markers and other granite products throughout the world for over 200 years. Unfortunately or not, mechanization of that industry has reduced the need for miners down to about six from 35 at one quarry, this according to our guide at the granite museum. This major dent to employment in a critical industry partially explains my next paragraph.

Barre is one of the world’s leaders in granite finishing, primarily grave markers. This machinery once processed a significant portion of the world’s granite. It’s since been replaced by computer-controlled machinery
One of Barre’s local merchants will gladly place your name on this tombstone. Whether you are happy about that or not probably depends as much upon the circumstances as it does the finished product
Imagine a bunch of these being driven by overhead belts. I’m sure these grinders were state-of-the-art at the turn of the century (the previous century, not this one)

The first thing I noticed about the Barre and Montpelier area wasn’t its granite, but the fact that it appeared to be poorer than many of its northeastern neighbors. Vermont’s major industries are mining, fruit production and dairy farming (all lower-paying industries), yet Vermont citizens enjoy some of the highest taxes of any state in the union. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked that some areas look poorer on average relative to other areas we’ve traveled. In comparison to our last Texas home, the median household income in Barre is $38,000 compared to $87,000 in McKinney. That’s not an insignificant difference in median household income, although I’m sure much of McKinney’s upside is the result of double-income couples in higher paying jobs. According to City Data and Zillow, state taxes in Vermont are 7-8%, while property taxes are nearly 2%. Contrast this with Texas, which has a similar property tax, but no income tax. The primary issue is that a higher relative tax burden is being placed on the lower paid people of Vermont. The other issue Vermont suffers from is population density, being 30th on the list and half as dense as Illinois, by example. This leads to higher cost of infrastructure per capita (per person). Our mining guide told us of a teacher he knows who pulls down $90,000 plus benefits to instruct a class of six! So, the appearance of “poorer on average” was easily borne out using available data at hand, and it should now be obvious why one particular senator thinks U.S. citizens as a whole should do more for the state of Vermont (as if they aren’t already, with Vermont third highest on the list of federal assistance takers among the country). The negatives of their economic situation aside, citizens of Vermont can enjoy endless mountain views and plenty of space in which to hike or ski.

I found it a bit ironic that this cautionary tale regarding granite silca dust was just 30 feet from the crushed granite play area
I commented before on how Alayne loves these goofy things. I can’t keep her away from them. She’s a bit like a Labrador retriever drawn to water in that regard

I was sort of expecting that the state’s capital of Montpelier (pronounced “mont-peeler” very quickly), would be a sizable city, but it wasn’t. As it turned out, its population is only around 7,800. As such, we were able to easily see it in about five minutes of driving time.

We spent about five hours tracking down and looking at covered bridges. They are a bit like Grandpa’s ax in that I’m betting they’ve all been totally rebuilt, much like Vermont’s floating bridge, about eight times since the 1800’s
The views of the rivers under the covered bridges were probably as good, if not better, than the covered bridges themselves
Just another babbling creek in Vermont 😀
The inside of the covered bridges are fun to look at, but you best not be in the middle of one when traffic comes, because someone will have to move
I learned to find the covered bridges by looking for crossroads off the main highway with posted weight limits of 10,000-16,000 pounds. I wondered what would happen if I took the 35,000 pound RV over this one (assuming we could chop four feet off the top of it)
As mentioned, the views of the creeks and rivers beneath the covered bridges are probably as photogenic, if not better, than the bridges themselves
Most of the covered bridges we saw stated the late 1800’s as the date of first construction. However and as mentioned, I’m willing to bet they have been rebuilt umpteen times since then
We never did try the maple syrup in Vermont
This is same bridge as in the prior photograph but seen from the other end

We spent one afternoon looking at covered bridges. They are sort of tricky to find because the state isn’t compelled to call them out. You have to find them on the map, then find the roads leading to them on the map. I learned to spot signs at crossroads off the main route that posted “no loads greater than 10,000 (or, 16,000) pounds” as an indication that a covered bridge was nearby. All you have to do is then turn and follow the crossroad to the bridge. It also helps to keep tabs on which side of the road you are traveling on the river is so you know whether to look right or left.

The drive up Smuggler’s Notch is pretty, but don’t plan on taking an RV or a trailer, and don’t plan on going after October or when the snow hits
This picture of the side of Smuggler’s Notch doesn’t do it justice

Along the way to the covered bridges, we found Smuggler’s Notch. It represents the highest pass in the Green Mountain range. It was first put into use when Pres. Jefferson barred trade with Britain and Canada as a means of shuffling illegal goods between Vermont and Canada. It was put into later use for the same reasons during Prohibition.

There is no shortage of sights like this in the Northeast . . .
. . . or sights like this . . .
. . . or sights like this

On our way back from the covered bridges, we took time to go see Vermont’s only floating bridge, which passes over Sunset Lake. First opened in 1820, it is much like Grandpa’s ax in that it is has been rebuilt so many times that the latest iteration probably resembles nothing like the first. But it gave us something to do. The reason it floats is because Sunset Lake is too deep to accommodate ordinary supporting piers or piles. Apparently engineers have tried everything from floating logs to Styrofoam-filled barrels for flotation, with the latest design using replaceable, fiberglass pontoons. This eighth attempt was completed in 2015 and Brookfield, Vermont will get to see how well it lasts.

The view from one end of Vermont’s only floating bridge which passes over Sunset Lake. It’s gone through lots of trial and error since the 1800’s, the latest iteration being constructed in 2015. Those are ripples in the water and not lily pads
A view of a barn on Sunset Lake
This wouldn’t be a bad place to live if competing grocery stores and a decent restaurant or three could be found within 30 miles (I didn’t see one).  Zillow seems to suggest that a house on Sunset Lake near the floating bridge can be yours for $265,000
Sunset Lake from the $2.4 million floating bridge (80% of which was covered by federal funds)
Our campsite at Limehurst Lake Campground can be found dead center in the picture

Our stay in Vermont occurred at a little mom-and-pop campground called Limehurst Lake. While it was nice enough, the lake wasn’t anything to write home about. Alayne walked around it in 20 minutes. It had too much algae for my tastes to consider swimming in it. This said, the campground appeared to be a great place for kids and families, and their Wi-Fi rocked.

Alayne walked the trail around Limehurst Lake and only received one mosquito bite that she could find. I found them buzzing around my head to be maddening and gave up within 100 feet

While it was very-wooded and pretty, I didn’t find anything about Vermont that would cause me to ever go back for anything longer than a week or so. The area we were in lacked many of the conveniences I eventually require of any medium sized metropolitan area (upscale competitive grocery stores and a wide selection of decent restaurants within 10 miles, just to name a couple). After a week, I was ready to head toward upstate New York while watching Vermont fade into my rear view mirrors.

One last view of our fairly spacious campsite at Limehurst Lake. it was plenty peaceful and quiet, but just a little too far removed from society for me, at least for longer than a week or so

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