Despite the state’s planned reopening in July — if not sooner — many expect Vermonters to stick to the outdoors when it comes to summer recreation.
Gov. Phil Scott announced in May that most pandemic restrictions would be lifted as soon as the state was 80 percent vaccinated, a threshold Vermont grows ever closer to crossing. Either way, the state has dropped its quarantining and testing requirements for out-of-state travelers and mask requirements for the vaccinated, both indoors and out.
Still, a trend toward seeking recreation outdoors that started last year is expected to continue into this summer, according to the people who manage some of the most popular sites for outdoor recreation in the state. Adjustments made to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 — a pathogen that spreads most easily indoors and is less likely to be transmitted in outdoor, distanced settings — have proved popular and effective enough that some of them may be here to stay. At least for the short term.
A surge in enthusiasm for Lamoille County’s trails and campsites is expected to only grow this summer, even as the state reopens indoor entertainment venues, bars and restaurants.
Because of the dry spring, all of the trails managed by the Stowe Trails Partnership were open in May. The growing use of trails has been exciting, but the group needs to address some of the complications this interest has brought.
“We’re really trying to promote real etiquette this summer, because we’ve seen such a huge increase in demand,” said Rachel Fussell, executive director for the partnership. “Leave no trace: if you drop trash or have litter, pick it up. Be kind to one another and the environment that you’re in. We’re trying to make sure people are always being kind and considerate to folks as they’re out riding or trail running or dog walking.”
Last year, the trails saw a 30 percent increase in usage, a trend reflected in statewide numbers that is only expected to grow this summer. COVID-19 guidelines will still be in place on the trails as the number of vaccinated people grows to ensure everyone feels safe.
Along with promoting trail etiquette, Fussell said there were new additions to trails and enhancements geared toward beginners and families along with a connection between Bear’s Mountain Bike Trail and Cady’s Hill Climb Trail.
The Vermont Parks and Recreation Department is also going into summer expecting surging interest and intense competition for camping sites. Despite not even opening reservations until July last year, parks saw great attendance, according to parks representative Rochelle Skinner.
“So what we’re seeing for this year is huge,” Skinner said. “People are making reservations early. We’re seeing a lot more group activity. People can’t wait to just be with other people and be outside.”
Luckily for outdoor enthusiasts, a new online reservation system is now live on the state parks website, including the popular Waterbury Reservoir, which was formerly first-come, first-served.
Along with allowing larger events this year that were not allowed during last year’s pandemic summer, parks are also bringing back the interpreter program, providing visitors with access to natural and cultural history. Concerts and readings in the parks will also be allowed.
Arts Week is Arts Summer
A newer summer event in Lamoille County has been Stowe Arts Week. Now, what was once a jam-packed week has been widened to take place over the course of the entire summer.
According to Rachel Moore, chair of the Stowe Arts and Culture Council and executive director of The Current, many of the town’s arts groups are headed outdoors for the summer to allow better and safer access.
Moore’s organization puts on the annual “Exposed!” sculpture exhibition. This year, there will be no grand opening but instead a series of smaller outdoor events with different artists speaking on various exhibited sculptures.
Stowe Performing Arts is returning with popular outdoor events like Gazebo Concerts and Music in the Meadow. Spruce Peak Performing Art Center is planning to hold outdoor concerts, as well as indoor events as state COVID-19 regulations allow.
Many of the concerts, art talks and exhibitions coordinated by the Stowe Arts and Culture Council will be also streamed and recorded, Moore said.
“I understand that there is this virtual screen fatigue happening, but it’s also opened up a lot of possibilities where we’ve been able to put a lot of our content online,” she said. “People can watch it later, it’s always accessible and we’re recording things so people can pop in live if they can’t get out of their house or don’t want to leave their house.”