Say the word “reservoir” and most people think “drinking water.” Sadly, some (not all!) water supply reservoirs are off limits for recreational boaters, including paddlers. But reservoirs created for either hydropower or flood control can be a dream if you enjoy kayaking and canoeing in unspoiled places!
We were reminded of this when we read Perfect Places to Paddle and The Road Less Paddled by Executive Editor Tim Jones. As Tim points out, the shorelines of flood control reservoirs are, of necessity, undeveloped, and often provide a near-wilderness paddling experience close to home. Generally speaking, power companies, at least here in New England, haven’t allowed much, if any, development along the shorelines of their reservoirs, either.
And on many reservoirs of all sorts, motors are either not allowed or are limited in size; even where motors are allowed, boat speed is often limited, too. This means that the kayak or canoe enthusiast won’t be subjected to the noise and large wakes of jet skis, water skiing, or other noisy, high-speed intrusions. The peace and quiet, plus the absence of shoreline development, can provide a wonderful recreational experience for active seniors, who are apt to be particularly attuned to this sort of relaxed boating. As an added benefit, most of these bodies of water have places to launch canoes and kayaks free or at minimal charge.
With all this in mind, we set out one late September morning last year to explore the Green River Reservoir, less than an hour’s drive from our home. Or, at least, it SHOULD have been less than an hour’s drive. Our trip unfortunately got off to an inauspicious start and took a BIT longer than we had planned. We had canoed this body of water once, many years ago, and therefore were supremely confident that we could easily find it again with no trouble at all. Big, big mistake! What was it that Robert Burns said about “the best laid plans of mice and men”?
Things had changed over the years, nothing looked familiar, and there were absolutely NO signs to indicate the location of the durned place. It turned out that a covered bridge, the landmark we were aiming for, is no longer there. After driving a maze of back roads in the area for an hour or two, going back, forth, around and around, we were finally forced to ask directions. We should have consulted an up-to-date map. With directions, we eventually reached our destination. Better late than never. . .
This particular reservoir has an interesting history. The Green River (really more a large brook than a river), flows into the Lamoille River which, in turn, runs through the village of Morrisville, Vermont. Long ago, Morrisville started its own Water and Light Department, which, to this day, uses the flow of the Lamoille to generate electricity. Many, many years ago, Morrisville constructed a dam on the upper reaches of the Green River to store water which can be released to augment the flow of the Lamoille River. Thus the Green River Reservoir was born.
For a long time, the reservoir was known mainly to locals and was not heavily used. But the word spread about this beautiful spot, and more and more people visited, creating more and more problems. In 1999, the State of Vermont purchased 5,110 acres, including the 653-acre reservoir, from the Morrisville Water and Light Department, and the area became the Green River Reservoir State Park. Now, the park is well managed and staffed from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day weekend.
On this late September morning, when we FINALLY arrived, there was only one other car in the parking lot. We unloaded our lightweight kayaks and carried them the short distance down to the water on a well-maintained path. Or, rather, we carried my Wilderness Systems Pungo 100 sit-in kayak. Edie’s liquidlogic Coupe has a built in wheel in back which lets you roll it easily to the water. Edie received this kayak as her 75th birthday present; she chose it after testing sit-on-top kayaks for our story Yakking About Kayaks. Incidentally, there is also a wider and more circuitous path to the water specifically designed for people with disabilities.
Even though we had arrived (MUCH) later than planned, a thick mist was still rising off the water as we launched our kayaks. The limited visibility made the whole scene mysterious and magical, like something out of a beautifully filmed movie, only better because it was real and we were there to enjoy it. We split up after launching: Edie paddled along the shoreline looking for birds, while I elected to paddle straight ahead, where at least one island was visible through the mist.
One of the major charms of the Green River Reservoir – and there are many – is its great variety. Over three miles long, it has forested, undeveloped shores, several large islands, and a number of small ones, some very tiny, which provide ever-changing views to the paddler. In addition, there are several long, fairly narrow bays that invite exploration. With the mist on the water, and limited visibility, it was great fun to see an island, large or small, suddenly loom up out of the mist to make it seem like an enchanted place. I made my way around one large, forested island a number of acres in size, past a few smaller islands, and then through a narrow channel between another large island and a much smaller one. It was great fun!
Although widely separated, Edie and I were sharing a great treat: the wild and haunting yodeling and wailing of loons echoing across the reservoir. Each year, one or two pairs nest on the reservoir. To our ears, it sounded as if two families of loons on opposite sides of the reservoir were calling back and forth to each other. At times it seemed almost like an echo; one family calling and the other responding almost immediately, with the calling frequent and prolonged. We found it a rare treat to listen to sounds which so powerfully evoke a sense of wilderness.
There are signs at the launch asking paddlers to respect the privacy of the loons and not to approach them too closely. However, loons either can’t read signs very well or aren’t inclined to heed them, because one of the loons kept popping up near my kayak, sometimes within 25 feet. These loony violations of the rules gave me several good opportunities for photographs, which didn’t bother me one whit. Neither did it appear to bother the loon!
Gradually the mist cleared, and I could see farther and farther ahead. Some splashing up the shore quite a distance ahead caught my eye. As I drew nearer, this resolved itself into a man in a kayak fishing close to shore. I paddled toward him and eventually drew close enough for a very pleasant conversation. It turned out that he and two friends were camped at one of the 28 primitive camp sites on the reservoir, though their campsite was set far enough back in the woods so that it wasn’t visible from the water.
It was now getting quite late in the morning, and time to look for my long-lost spouse, so I headed back in the general direction of the landing. Soon, Edie appeared, and we paddled along together, conversing quietly about our separate-yet-shared experience. Off in the distance we could see a very large bird that we decided was an osprey, but it soon disappeared from sight.
Since we had planned to be on the water a couple of hours earlier than we actually were, we had not brought a lunch. So we decided to end this outing and head for a local restaurant to refuel. It had truly been a wonderful adventure, so enjoyable, in fact, that we determined to do this sort of thing more often. We’re making plans for a number of kayak explorations near our home this paddling season– so stay tuned for more on those magical reservoirs!
If You Go
Before you go, be sure to visit Vermont Department of Forests and Parks. This site also (and this is important because, to repeat, there are no signs to the park) has detailed directions. Don’t make the same mistake that we did and wander around lost for a couple of hours! Be forewarned: the parking lot at the Green River Reservoir is very small, and once it is filled, the park is closed to additional visitors; no parking is allowed along the road.
Because the park is now so popular, we recommend that you plan your visit carefully. One strategy is to arrive very early in the day. Weekdays are always less busy than weekends, and cloudy or rainy days less busy still. Before Memorial Day or after Labor Day are also less busy. If you plan to go before Memorial Day weekend, check the website to be sure that the park is open.
The state charges a very modest $3 per person day use fee for Green River Reservoir. By the way, Vermont offers free lifetime day-use passes for resident seniors 62 years old or older (for a nominal one-time $2 price), good for all Vermont State Parks; click on the section for “Fees“, and scroll down to “Green Mountain Passport.”