In This State: ‘One of creation’s quiet retreats’

Holly Knox, Trails and Recreation Coordinator for the Green Mountain National Forest, shows off the woodcrafted sign that will officially name a trail and scenic lookout for campground host Lennie Waltrip at the Silver Lake National Forest Campground in Leicester. Photo by M. Dickey Drysdale

Holly Knox, Trails and Recreation coordinator for the Green Mountain National Forest, shows off the woodcrafted sign that will officially name a trail and scenic lookout for campground host Lennie Waltrip at the Silver Lake National Forest Campground in Leicester. Photo by M. Dickey Drysdale

This piece is by M. Dickey Drysdale, who has been editor and publisher of The Herald of Randolph since 1971. In This State is a syndicated weekly column about Vermont’s innovators, people, ideas and places. Details are at www.maplecornermedia.com.

Friday, May 24 was Lenny Waltrip Day at Silver Lake in Leicester, but it came as a surprise to him.

The beauty of mile-long Silver Lake has inspired the prose of writers and intense loyalty from the hikers and family who return there year after year to picnic, swim, or camp at tent sites hidden along the shore at left. Photo by M. Dickey Drysdale

The beauty of mile-long Silver Lake has inspired the prose of writers and intense loyalty from the hikers and family who return there year after year to picnic, swim, or camp at tent sites hidden along the shore at left. Photo by M. Dickey Drysdale

For three months of the year, Lennie is lord of a domain that is the antithesis of the 21st-century world. Silver Lake, a mile-long jewel of the Green Mountains, lies 600 feet above popular Lake Dunmore. Surrounded on all sides by forests, broken only by a grassy picnic area on the northern end, Silver Lake seems a place apart, a little miracle of solitude, even as it graciously hosts those who seek it out.

The particular magic of Silver Lake, which lies within the Green Mountain National Forest and the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, has been proclaimed for more than a century.“This is one of Creation’s quiet retreats,” said the Brandon Union newspaper in 1886. The Rev. Edward Davies of Reading, Mass., who wrote an early history of the lake at about the same time, was of the same mind: “You will find the air so pure and bracing and the place so quiet, that your health will begin to improve at once.”

Silver Lake, now known for its solitude, was for decades a popular spot for horses and buggies to reach on a five-mile trail through Leicester Hollow. Early camp revival meetings, with poetry and music, were held for 30 years, with as many as 3000 people attending. Photo courtesy William J. Powers

Silver Lake, now known for its solitude, was for decades a popular spot for horses and buggies to reach on a five-mile trail through Leicester Hollow. Early camp revival meetings, with poetry and music, were held for 30 years, with as many as 3000 people attending. Photo courtesy William J. Powers

A lake with a history

To the eye, Silver Lake appears to be an outpost of pure nature, but that would be deceiving.

It is actually the centerpiece of one of the largest hydroelectric projects in Vermont, delivering water through a huge penstock to a generating facility on the highway far below. (The head height of 676 feet was the highest in the eastern U.S. when it was built in 1917.)

Amazingly, no natural streams flow into the lake, and it receives much of its water from two large brooks that have been diverted to it.

A 200-foot-long hotel flourished on the northern shore for decades, and when the National Forest acquired the property in 1949, it proposed ambitious developments, including a paved access road, 105 campsites, and several buildings. These ideas, however, were vigorously opposed by residents of neighboring communities, who persuaded the Park Service to leave the lake virtually undeveloped.

Silver Lake is now part of the Moosamaloo National Recreation Area, the only national recreation area in the state. This scenic area encompasses 20,000 acres lying across the spine of the Green Mountains between Brandon, Middlebury, and Rochester.

Entirely within the Green Mountain National Forest, it is managed in cooperation with the non-profit Moosalamoo Association.

The area includes some 70 miles of trails, with a new emphasis on mountain biking — including a new trail along scenic Chandler Ridge. Popular also are the Falls of Lana, just a quarter mile up the trail to Silver Lake. Another wild and lovely spot, Sugar Hill Reservoir, offers swimming and boating. Details, including maps, are at moosalamoo.org.

In fact, its owner in the late 1800s, one Frank Chandler, was so moved when he inherited the land that included Silver Lake that he considered it a particular beneficence of the Almighty. He resolved to repay his good fortune by building a hotel on the shores of the lake and holding camp revival meetings there. The camp meetings, which also featured lectures, poetry readings and music, went on for 30 years; in one weekend alone, some 3,000 people drove their horses and buggies up the new road through Leicester Hollow to attend. (For the colorful history of Silver Lake, the writer is entirely indebted to William J. Powers Jr., whose sparkling history, “Silver Lake: Beyond the Myths,” was published in 2000.)

Even in 2013, the lake weaves its spell. The picnic area overlooks a little beach that affords a quiet view down the length of the lake, where you can sometimes see a group of young people catch the sun on a rocky outcrop.

Silver Lake’s only other concession to civilization is a series of rustic campgrounds strung along the northwest shore, close to the lake but invisible from the beach. Lennie Waltrip is campground host at Silver Lake, and lives for the summer with his wife of 59 years, Connie Waltrip, in a couple of tents — a “cook shack” and a sleeping tent — a few hundred yards from the lake itself.

A Middlebury resident who grew up in West Rochester, he’s been host at Silver Lake for eight years, and before that he spent six years as a volunteer with the Forest Service. He’s available every day, and every night, too.

“If somebody comes in after dark and I know there’s just one campsite open,” he explained, “I don’t want them rummaging through the other sites, waking people up, so I take them to the open one.”

He’s 83 years old. And he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“This is my cathedral,” he told a visitor recently at the picnic table in front of his tent.

He still remembers vividly his first visit to the lake in 1958. “I stayed a week,” he said. “Came back for a week the next year, too.”

Lennie (nobody calls him anything else) is the first person that hikers meet when they arrive at the lake, and the last they see when they start to hike down. Many stop to chat.

“I like to talk to people,” he confirmed. “They come here from all over the world, and I say ‘hello’ to them all.”

He remembers a “guy from Hong Kong” who visited every September, a month in which he also sees lots of English visitors. Opera singers performing in Middlebury dropped by, too — and invited him to a performance.

Lennie’s outgoing nature has endeared him to hundreds of visitors, and this year the Forest Service took notice. Friday, May 24 was the annual cleanup of the lake and campsite grounds, and a dozen workers from the Green Mountain National Forest ranger stations in Rochester and Middlebury participated, including Christopher Mattrick, the district ranger for the Rochester and Middlebury ranger districts.

Suddenly, at 11 a.m., they dropped their chain saws and rakes, showed up in front of Lenny Waltrip’s tent and called him over.

First there was a plaque, presented by Trails and Recreation coordinator Holly Knox: “For your steadfast dedication to the public and your outstanding work at Silver Lake. Your devotion and spirit of service will long be appreciated.”

But that wasn’t the half of it.

Knox then led the group to an informal trail that has been stamped out over the years by enterprising hikers, leading to a spectacular view of Lake Dunmore, the Champlain Valley, and the Adirondacks beyond. Now, she explained, the trail would be an official Forest Service trail. Indeed, a new wooden sign revealed the new name of the viewpoint.
“Lennie’s Lookout,” it proclaimed.

Lennie’s face broke out in a smile of surprise and delight.

“I’m gonna hold onto this job,” he grinned.

Lennie Waltrip admires the stunning view from Lennie’s Lookout, which looks over Lake Dunmore to the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks beyond. Photo by M. Dickey Drysdale

Lennie Waltrip admires the stunning view from Lennie’s Lookout, which looks over Lake Dunmore to the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks beyond. Photo by M. Dickey Drysdale

The National Forest folks then accompanied Lennie on the quarter-mile hike to his Lookout, atop a ridge of granite. In truth, there wasn’t much to be seen that day, as fog hung over the valley. But Lennie Waltrip had been there too many times to count, so he could see the view anyhow.

“Oh god, it’s beautiful here,” he breathed.

The group turned around and in 10 minutes, all were back at Silver Lake.

It was beautiful there, too.

Comments

  1. Kathy Nelson :

    A very nice piece. The author could easily be talking about the beautiful Seneca Mountains and the amazing Hawk Rock in the Northeast Kingdom. It’s hard to understand why urban people seem to think a lovely place near their dirty cities is worth saving while a truly wild and beautiful place away from all the busy highways and polluting factories is not. I wonder how the people of Leicester would feel if this Silver Lake area suddenly became surrounded by 30-40 five hundred foot industrial wind turbines. Oh, and don’t forget about all the birds and bats those turbines kill, and the noise that drives all living things away.
    I suppose those people of Leicester will want the rest of Vermont to support it when the wind developers begin their assault there. And don’t think they won’t. They are already attacking the national forest in Deerfield to extend the useless, junk turbines at Searsburg.

  2. Jason Farrell :

    Silver Lake has been a part of a 2.2-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric dam for nearly 100 years (1916). The Silver Lake station is certified as a small, low-impact project by the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute and it qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places. Far from “small” the station’s ginormous black-painted penstock is approximately 3 feet wide and is 7,000 feet long. A gentle hum can be heard as you hike beneath it as it looms large above on the Silver Lake Trail near the Falls of Lana in the Green Mountain Forest. It’s massive. At 676-foot head, Silver Lake’s is the highest in Vermont and this renewable energy project is currently owned and operated by Green Mountain Power.

    http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/4551591.jpg

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/wo1ves/7792769068/

    Last summer, at Lenny Waltrip’s insistence, my family and I hiked from his tent at Silver Lake about a half mile east on our way back down to the trailhead we’d parked at beside Lake Dunmore. Mr. Waltrip implored us to take a moment to go off the main trail to see the view from a vantage point well above the Lake. It was absolutely gorgeous. And, it’s filled with visual and auditory noise from the Silver Lake project.

    I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Waltrip for his eagerness to share such a beautiful spot with us. He didn’t fixate on what he thought was wrong with the view, or what he felt should be improved, removed, debated, instead he focused on the beauty that he saw and he wanted to share that with us.

    I’m glad I took him up on his offer. It appears that there are a lot of others too, who aren’t dissuaded from recreating and living near this project despite its environmental impact.

    http://mountaintimes.info/news/features/2013/01/silver-lake-hydro-project,-a-great-winter-hiking-destination/

  3. Adam Waldrip :

    Other than the authors failure to spell my Dad’s name correctly I think he got the Silver Lake area and my Dad’s connection to it nailed down pretty good. Thank you for that.

  4. David Waldrip :

    Adam thanks for telling me about this article about your Dad. We can not forget about your wonderful mom who has been with him at the site all these years. Your father has done so much for the National Park Service and this area throughout the years making it a better experience for the campers and hikers who have had the pleasure of meeting Connie and Lenny. The author wrote an excellent article and I feel I need to get in my truck and head to the Green Mountain state and hile up to Lenny;s Lookout and pay a visit.

    Respectfully,

    Dave Waldrip

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