Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A beautiful Columbus Day weekend

It was a fabulously warm and sunny weekend at The Ledges.  I am happy to add that a tremendous amount of cleanup work has already been done.  Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed their time and sweat to the task!  I'm also happy to report that the lake is apparently safe for swimming again - at least according to some authorities.  It was declared safe on October 7th by the Town of Wilmington.  However, the Bennington Sheriff's Department was still advising people not to swim.  Go figure!

But I was in the water, and although it was bracingly cold (63F), it was definitely much cleaner than it had been.  Water level has been allowed to rise as well.

The cleanup status is as follows: The stone ledge areas have all been cleaned up and are essentially back to normal.  The sandy beach area is still undergoing cleanup work - we have a fire every decent day and throw the wooden refuse on those as quickly as we can.  It's going to be a bit longer before the whole area is back to normal, and there isn't much time left.  What's not done will have to wait until Spring.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Help needed

I finally got up the courage to visit the Ledges last Sunday.  It was a sad day.

TransCanada had repaired the roadway in, but the gate was locked.  There was a sign stating that the health department had ruled the lake off-limits for swimming on 9/23/2011, but the lake had apparently been opened for boating earlier that week for the first time since the hurricane.

The lake level had been lowered dramatically since Irene went through, and I wondered why.  I didn't have to wonder for long, though.  Apparently a great deal of flotsam and jetsam had washed down the Deerfield River into Lake Whitingham, and until the lake level was lowered was floating on the surface, making navigation very hazardous.  Tires, washing machines, furniture, the walls of small buildings, and propane tanks were all suspended in the water.  But now that the water level is finally down, it is possible to begin the cleanup.

And what a cleanup it's going to need.  While the stony ledges themselves didn't suffer too badly, the cove that makes up the sandy part of the Ledges beach area is a natural locus for collecting floating stuff from all over the lake, and it is literally buried in 2-3 feet of logs, trash, sticks, and other refuse.  This can, in general, be separated into two categories: that which is reasonable to burn (mainly wood), and that which must be hauled out.  We've made arrangements to take out the transportable stuff that needs to be removed by boat, starting next weekend (the 31st), weather permitting.  We also started a large fire on Sunday and began the process of burning the wooden refuse.  That's going take a lot longer than a weekend or two, although maybe if more people show up it will go faster.  There is a deadline: over the winter, the water level will rise again, and refloat what we haven't cleaned up.

Since the gate remains locked, the only parking is along the swimming area roadway, which has a very limited capacity.  Since the work is difficult/tiring anyway, and since swimming is unsafe, a dozen people at a time seems the ideal number.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not an auspicious end to the summer

I visited southern Vermont over Labor Day weekend.  The damage caused by Irene was extensive to roads and infrastructure, and not a few private businesses and dwellings as well.  Pretty much everything that was in a river valley had some degree of damage.  But it was all due to water - hardly any wind was seen.

As far as The Ledges are concerned, this is how it stands.  First, the State of Vermont has closed all bodies of water affected by the flooding until further notice.  That means that, even if you should find a way into The Ledges, you will find signs and maybe even people telling you to go away.  Second, Rt. 9 from Brattleboro and from Bennington is closed indefinitely.  Miles-long stretches of this highway was washed away by the Irene-induced torrents.  Rt. 112 from Colrain is open, but only one lane exists at the moment, and there's a part of it that is missing just south of Jacksonville.  I also wouldn't be surprised if the road into the recreation area was also completely washed out - and I have no doubt that repairing it will be low priority.

In summary, I'd only attempt this in September if I had other business in the area.  I think it's going to be next season before things are back to any kind of semblance of "normal".

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene and Labor Day

As many may have heard, Hurricane Irene struck southern Vermont especially hard, with more than 11 inches of rainfall in some places.  There was immense damage across southern Vermont and adjacent New York and western Massachusetts.  The Deerfield River, which flows through Lake Whitingham (where the Ledges is) was one of the rivers which flooded badly, causing a great deal of damage to downtown Wilmington.  I am planning to assess the situation myself starting tomorrow.

I've done some calling around in preparation, and this is what I've learned.  First, downtown Wilmington remains closed while the authorities decide which buildings need to be torn down and which can be repaired.  This means that there is no ability to pass through Wilmington via Rt. 9 from the west.  It is not certain when that road will reopen, since there is damage also along the road outside of town (as I understand it).
Second, the eastern half of Wilmington is accessible.  That includes the Shaw's grocery store, the drug store, and gas stations.  But there are some caveats.  Rt. 9 between Brattleboro and Marlboro is closed indefinitely, so any thoughts you might have of reaching Wilmington that way should be abandoned.  Rt. 100 south is open, as is most of Rt. 112 (which goes to Colrain MA).  However, you cannot pass through Jacksonville VT (where Rt. 112 meets Rt. 100) because Rt. 112 is washed out at that point.  There are ways around that problem, but the directions are non-trivial and more than I can post here.  Interstate 91 in Deerfield is also closed due to the Deerfield River undermining the bridge that crosses it.

In short, it's going to be a while before people can get to the Ledges again.  And even if you could get there this weekend, I would advise people not to swim, because all of the flotsam and jetsam from Wilmington all washed into the lake.  The water levels are also likely to be extremely high.

I will update this blog based on what I find this weekend.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What a difference a week makes

If you recall, I'd posted last about concerns that the water level had fallen too low for cliff diving.  Well, that has changed.  On Monday and Tuesday last week, some 4-5 inches of rain fell, and the water level at The Ledges rose more than five feet, by my estimate.  Levels are now comparable to mid-July, and are certainly the highest they've ever been that anyone can recall for this time of the year.  Needless to say, it's now perfectly safe to once again jump and dive from the cliff.
This is exactly what a lot of people did yesterday (Saturday).  We had quite a crowd on that cliff.  Of notable mention was the party of 30th-birthday celebrants (two members had birthdays the same day).  They decided to hold a birthday-suit birthday party, played cards, and passed out cake.  Also, a group of barely-post-college folks arrived from Troy, and seemed to enjoy visiting for the first time.  All in all, Saturday was a pretty cool day.
But summer will not last forever.  There's only a short time until Labor Day weekend.  This is important, because the Sunday of every Labor Day (weather permitting!) there is a barbeque, starting around 3PM.  Therefore if you show up that day, bring food, and be prepared to share.  Let's cross our fingers and hope for a sunny, warm day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jumping off the cliff

Last Friday I executed a beautiful swan dive off the cliff (not to be modest or anything), but as I pulled up underwater I scraped the top of my foot on the rocks.  While completely minor as far as cuts go, this is a signal that the water level is getting a bit low this season for diving.  Even jumping should now be done with caution since shortly after I scraped myself, a girl did the same thing with a very ordinary jump.  The water has now dropped to the point that the rock pile on the island is showing, which means we've probably only got a week or so before it's truly hazardous to jump.  Better get there while you can!

This got me to thinking about exactly how people take the initial plunge of naked swimming, in daylight, with people they've just met.  For people who've never tried it before, visiting The Ledges may seem like a long way to go for an experience whose benefits are unclear.  I can well imagine the internal conversation about whether it's worth the effort, balanced against the fear of trying something society as a whole is not sure what to make of.  But I always tell people who are sitting on the fence (or waiting to jump off the cliff!) the same thing: everyone should try this at least once.  If you make it all the way there, and spend the afternoon, get up the courage to immerse yourself in the experience, you will almost certainly come back for more.  So I encourage you to think about that next time you're in the process of talking yourself out of going for the first time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Heat wave

Heat waves happen pretty much every summer.  Last weekend's (July 21-23) was the first of this year.  I had some vacation days saved up so I took Thursday and Friday off, figuring it would be better to be immersed than stuck inside with the air conditioning on.

I visited The Ledges each day.  When it is hot the water drops faster, because of the increased electricity demand.  On Friday it dropped an entire foot.  There's now a substantial amount of sandy beach available, and plenty of rock surface also, so the beach real-estate crunch is over.  We also had a number of new people drop in to jump and dive off the cliff.  Perhaps the most memorable was a group of camp counselors who were on a 2-day inter-term, from some camp in Maine.  They were on a tight schedule but they seemed like they had a lot of fun nevertheless.  (I think they taught the local teenagers a thing or two while they were at it.)

Weather looks good again this weekend.  Hope to meet you there!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Upcoming weekend of July 16 and 17

I visited The Ledges on both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend.  Water level was still pretty high, but it has started to fall rapidly now.  Hot weather means that the dam operators put the water to use in generating electricity for all those air conditioners, so on really hot days the water level can drop by an entire foot.

The top of the lower ledge is now poking out of the water, enough so that you can set a few towels on it and not regret it.  This was good because we needed all the space we could get, especially on Sunday, which was a rare beauty of a day.  So many people showed up that I was tripping over people who'd set up on some of the paths, and I would have made a lot of money charging berthing fees for the boats that were anchored.  Parking was difficult too - cars on both sides of the road quite a ways up towards the intersection.  There were all the usual regulars, plus some newbies.  Saturday was nice also, but much windier, and swimming into the wind reminded me more of the ocean than a lake.

This upcoming weekend looks really good so far.  I'm hoping for more real estate, since it's going to be hot all week, and it is forecast to be sunny both weekend days.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The How, Where, and Why of The Ledges

"Bare your soul, and see if it tans"

The Place
The Ledges is a clothing optional swimming area on Lake Whitingham, in the town of Wilmington VT.  It consists of a long stretch of wooded shoreline, about 1/2 mile worth, with multiple large outcroppings of ledge.  When the water is lower, there is a sandy flat area too.  There are also two cliffs you can jump off of when the water level is appropriate.  One of them has a rope swing.

When should I come?
The Ledges is at its best between the end of July and the end of September.  If you come too early in the season, the water level in the reservoir is very high and space is limited.  If you come too late in the season, you may find it somewhat on the chilly side.  The best days are those that are sunny, warm or hot, and not too windy.  People show up as early as 10:00 AM, and often stick around until closing time (around dusk).

How do I get there?
The best way to reach The Ledges is to start at the intersection of Routes 9 and 100 South, in Wilmington.  This point is a bit over two hours from Boston and four hours from New York.  Proceed south on Rt. 100 for a bit over a mile.  After you've crested the hill, there will be a dirt road on the right with signs for "Flames Stables".  Take that road and proceed more or less straight down the hill to the road's end, where you will pass through a gate that is the entrance to the TransCanada (formerly NEPCO) recreation area.  Park, and walk down to the lake shore.  Turn to the right and proceed past the end of the TransCanada area and follow the path.  It will take you to The Ledges.  If you did everything right, you will find a sign announcing a pending encounter with nude sunbathers.

If you'd like a map link to help get you there, here's one: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Wilmington,+VT&hl=en&ll=42.832926,-72.873173&spn=0.010102,0.021393&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=44.47475,87.626953&t=h&z=16.

The trail from the main TransCanada recreation area to The Ledges is full of roots at the beginning and is an excellent place for the unwary to sprain an ankle.  Please be careful!  There are other ways into The Ledges from the upper parking lot, but they all have challenges.  If you are not steady on your feet, you may want to reconsider your visit.

Parking is somewhat limited, so if you are coming in a group, share a car.  There's a lower parking lot in the main TransCanada recreation area near the water, which is relatively small, and an upper lot which has enough room for a fair number of cars.  The parking lots may fill up on busy summer weekends, usually between 1 - 2PM in the afternoon, so you might want to plan to come before or after that time.

How much does it cost?
It costs nothing to visit The Ledges.  You just have to come early enough to get in.

A wide variety of people visit The Ledges - from young children to senior citizens.  There is a local crowd of "regulars", who are universally helpful, kind, and pleasant, and hang out mostly on the main group of rocks.  They may remind you of basking seals.  The swimming area is quite large, though, so if you are looking for more privacy, go up the shore further and you will likely find some.  Younger folks often congregate around the cliff with the rope swing.

In the main (clothing required) part of the TransCanada recreation area, there are porta-potties and cookout centers.  We have none of these things at The Ledges; if you need them, you'll have to dress and walk out.  In addition, you should be prepared to take all trash back with you.

What should I bring?
I tend towards a minimalist approach, and bring mostly just myself.  But some folks bring chairs, beer cooler, sandwiches, and barbeque grills.  For people going the first time without clothes, sunscreen is a must.  If you plan to be there a while, bringing some water is also a good idea.

The Ledges has been around for a long time.  Whitingham Reservoir was constructed in 1926, damming the Deerfield River for recreation and power generation.  As a clothing-optional swimming spot, it's been popular since at least the mid-1960s.

The Law
Nudity is legal in the State of Vermont.  However, lewd and lascivious behavior is not.  The take-away: if you're feeling frisky, rent a room.

It's also a good idea to remember that The Ledges remains open due to the good will of the Town of Wilmington.  So please, don't cause a ruckus.  Get dressed before you return to the main NEPCO area, and please don't drink to excess or be rude to people.


The internet is a wonderful medium.  Unfortunately, it can be used for evil as well as good.  At The Ledges, taking pictures is frowned upon, unless you explicitly get the permission of the photo subjects.  People who are caught taking pictures without such permission may discover that water and cameras do not mix very well.

Will I like the Ledges?
There's no simple answer to this question.  In my experience, if you look at clothing primarily as a means of adhering to a social norm, then you'll probably have a pretty good time, provided you pick a day with decent weather.  At The Ledges, where being undressed is the norm, you are unlikely to run into folks who do not understand naturism.  Many people report a sense of relief not having to worry about managing their garments all the time.  Surveys show that most Americans support naturism, in the abstract at least, but your individual mileage will no doubt vary.  There are also some reported gender differences: more men than women are willing to try it, but women who do try naturism report enjoying it more than men, on the whole.

But there is no doubt that there are people in this world who are fearful of nudity.  Such people find it much more of a challenge to take the plunge.  There is one group in particular who, in general, cares more deeply about appearance and what their peers might think - teenagers.  Many teens wouldn't be caught dead at a naturist beach with their parents, who already embarrass them on so many levels.  Being in the presence of other unclothed adults is also anathema.  Thus teenagers, when they come to The Ledges, often show up in packs and stay away from everyone else.

What else is around?
The Wilmington/Mt. Snow region has a number of summer activities, and there are decent restaurants in town also.  You can grab a local paper in the Shaw's Grocery Store in town, which should list what is going on.  Patronize the local shops if you have time too!

Yeah, go ahead and bring 'em.  The place is quite family-friendly.  But if your kids are under 7, you may want to visit by yourself first, just to check the place out.  Getting in and out is not always trivial and we wouldn't want anyone to get hurt.