Essex County is a frontier - forest and wildlife share the domain with people on equal footing. It is not uncommon to see moose wandering alongside the road, unfazed by an approaching car, or hear loons calling each other, unfettered and at home. Lush woodlands of fir, spruce and mixed hardwoods known as a Temperate Boreal Forest, give this most remote part of the Kingdom its color and character. Farmers in the Connecticut River Valley contend with the harshest conditions in the State. The climate is extreme, the coldest day ever recorded in Vermont was minus 50 degrees in Bloomfield, where the growing season is less than 115 days.
Essex County has seen boom and bust over the past century, as the timber industry that sustained the villages and mill towns moved away from the Northeast. The Connecticut River, once choked with logs, now invites your imagination to drift along its banks, past Dairies of Distinction, covered bridges, steepled churches, and meandering roads. There are mountains to climb, glacial lakes to dip into, rivers and streams to navigate by canoe or kayak. This landscape offers richness for the imagination and soul, not to mention a chance to rediscover the peace that can be found at a waterfall or the exhilaration of reaching a rocky peak. Forest Frontier begins in Island Pond, once a major railway junction and destination for timber industry leaders. The grand houses here reflect the wealth of another era. The depot, home to the Island Pond Historical Society, is a reminder that this was the first international railroad junction linking Montreal, Canada with Portland, Maine. In its heyday, thirteen railway tracks ran through Island Pond. Two lines are still in service today.
Island Pond is the gateway into the northeastern reaches of the Kingdom. The Pherrins and Coaticook Rivers lead the way through thick woods and waterways, moose country. Hunters and trappers find deer and beaver on land that has been a source of timber for over a century. In Canaan, at the farthest corner of the Kingdom, the library is thought to have been a spot along the Underground Railroad. This route takes you through some of the least disturbed landscape of the Kingdom.
Destination #1: Island Pond Historical Society & Museum, Main St. Island Pond. Upstairs in the historic depot located at the center of town, photographs and artifacts give testimony to the colorful life of Island Pond's earlier years. Open Saturdays, 10:00 to 2:00, July through September, or by appointment.
Destination #2: Clyde River Outfitters, 10 Cross Street in Island Pond. Owned And Operated By Sportsmen For Sportsmen, Clyde River Outfitters features a wonderful array of guns, fishing rods and lures, fly fishing necessities, guide services, camping needs, hiking accessories, archery supplies and more! Also available are Home and cabin decor, including Adirondack styles, Vermont gifts and crafts, and a delightful children's corner.
Destination #3: Simon the Tanner, Cross & Main Streets in Island Pond. This family outfitter carries local crafts, lampshades, soaps, candles, syrups, walking sticks, and more in addition to a full line of shoes, boots, and clothing for the outdoors. Open year round, Monday through Thursday, 9:00 to 5:00, Friday 9:00 to 3:00, Sunday 10:00 to 5:00.
Destination #4: Lake View Store near Big Averill Lake in Averill. An eclectic mix awaits. Spinning wheels and fleece are available beside shelves of groceries, magazines, and postcards. If you want to learn to spin, ask storeowner Pricilla Roy about lessons. Work by local artisans is displayed. Open year round.
Destination #5: Quimby Country Lodge on Forest Lake in Averill. Quimby Country is surrounded by pristine lakes and miles of untouched forests. Set on six hundred acres, their twenty cottages overlook Forest Lake. Quimby's has been a secluded family vacation spot for over one hundred years and is a family oriented resort with the accent on service, comfort, and enjoyment of our natural surroundings.
Destination #6: Alice M. Ward Memorial Library in Canaan. The town library since 1930, this building has been a tannery, private home, and medical office. Locals tell stories of the building being used as the last stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves heading for Canada. You can browse the collections and head upstairs for displays from the Historical Society. You can join in an annual Moose Festival during the 3rd weekend of August celebrating the region's largest native animal. Open Monday through Thursday, 1:00 to 5:30, Friday 10:00 to 4:00, Saturday 11:00 to 2:00.
Destination #7: Silvio O Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge: Nulhegan Basin Division, 5360 Rt. 105 in Brunswick. This wildlife refuge is part of the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed, stretching from the northern tip of New Hampshire to the Connecticut coast. The Refuge is a catalyst to help citizens conserve and protect the variety and abundance of native plants and animals and their habitats throughout this region. In 1999, when the Champion International Cooperation announced plans to sell it's land holds in Essex county, the US Fish and Wildlife Service purchased 26,000 acres within the Nulhegan Basin, home to rare animals, migratory birds, and native fish. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources acquired about 22,000 acres next to the Nulhegan Basin to form the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The remaining 84,000 acres that surround these federal and state properties have been placed under easements, which protect the land from subdivision and development but allow continued timber management. Over 100 species of birds use the Nulhegan Basin during breeding season. Moose black bear, beaver, fisher, white-tailed deer and coyote live here. A variety of reptiles and amphibians can be seen and heard around the wetlands. The Nulhegan River and it's tributaries are alive with brook trout, bullhead, chain pickerel, chum and other fish. The Refuge offers high-quality hunting, fishing, trapping, bird watching, and hiking. For an introduction to this ecosystem, the Mollie Beattie Bog interpretive boardwalk gives information on the fascinating habitat and wildlife.