Few things compare to the adrenaline rush triggered by a trout striking a fly at the end of a fly line. The fisherman, with rod in hand, feels a short tug at the end of his line and, knowing a fish has thought the fake fly to be real, he snaps the rod skyward, tightening the line and sinking the hook in the fish’s mouth. A battle then ensues, fisherman versus fish, with the fisherman reeling in line, then releasing line, reeling in again as the fish runs, then darts back toward the fisherman, perhaps leaping in the air while trying to shake the hook. Should the fisherman manage to keep the hook in the fish’s mouth, the fish will eventually tire, and the fisherman can reel the trout ashore.
Yet even on days when fish disdain artificial flies, fly fishing makes for a wonderful excuse to breathe fresh air and listen to the meditative sound of running water.
“It’s another way to get outdoors and enjoy nature and be away from the everyday hassles of living and working,” said Roger Ranz, the owner of The Classic Outfitters, a fishing tackle store in South Burlington.
Plenty of anglers cast lines into Vermont waters. In 2009, the last year for which data is available, the state sold nearly 89,300 fishing licenses to residents and another 41,400 to nonresidents, according to Eric Palmer, director of fisheries for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (Vermont residents 65 and older can buy a permanent fishing license for $36). A 2010 survey by the department found that 19 percent of residents and 46 percent of nonresidents fishing for trout in rivers and streams used flies, and for good reason: Vermont has plenty of places to fish.
“In just about any corner of the state you can find a trout stream,” said Brian Chipman, a fisheries biologist with the Fish & Wildlife Department.
Bigger rivers like the Winooski and the Lamoille hold larger rainbow and brown trout; smaller, colder streams — prevalent throughout the state — usually hold brook trout.
“In Vermont, you don’t have to go more than 15 minutes to go from stream to stream to stream,” said John Synnott, co-owner of Stream and Brook Fly Fishing, which offers lessons and guided trips throughout the state.
Not that all fly fishing needs to take place in rivers and streams. Nor do trout need to be the target. Choosing where to fish in northwestern Vermont, said Central Vermont Trout Unlimited President Paul Zuchowski, ultimately “depends on what you’re going for.” Pike and bass inhabit warmer, slow-moving rivers and many of the state’s ponds and lakes. Lake Champlain contains even larger fish, including bowfin, gar and carp.
The tricky part often comes in picking the right fly to catch the fish, though that facet of the sport contributes to its appeal.
“It becomes a more cerebral activity along with enjoying the outdoors,” Ranz said.
Flies, typically made by wrapping some combination of thread, hackle and hair around a hook, can imitate insect larvae, baitfish or actual flies. A fly fisherman or woman must choose the right fly for the stream, for the season, for the time of day.
“I would say, as you’re approaching whatever you’re going to fish, a lake, a river, see what’s going on,” said Brian Cadoret, president of the New Haven River Anglers Association (NHRAA) and a guide for Stream and Brook.
Cadoret suggested looking to see if birds are feeding on bugs and said to watch for fish rising to the surface to feed. He recommended checking the water for minnows.
“Then open your fly box and see if you have anything similar,” he advised.
LEARNING TO FLY FISH
Fly fishing does require beginners to invest money and time.
“It’s not a cheap sport to get into,” Synnott acknowledged, though he added, “Once you have invested, the cost is nothing, or minimal.”
Improving technology has lowered the costs of fly fishing gear to make it, Ranz said, comparable to the cost of conventional fishing tackle. Ranz said The Classic Outfitters can sell a basic outfit — rod, reel, line — for around $120.
Yet having the gear and knowing how to use it are two separate things. Aspiring fishermen and women can take a class or hire a guide (the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association lists guides online at www.voga.org). Doing so allows fishermen and women to try fly fishing and improve technique before investing in a set of tackle and other equipment. Those not looking to foot the bill of a guide can advance their skills by taking courses. Central Vermont Trout Unlimited and the South Burlington Recreation & Parks Department offer a fly fishing workshop each spring, and the Fish & Wildlife Department offers “Let’s go Fishing” programs geared toward children but open to anyone.
Though in some ways a solitary sport, fly fishing can connect people over the water.
“You like to fish with a friend,” said Ed Collins, a 65-year-old Essex Junction resident who works at The Classic Outfitters one afternoon per week.
Collins said fishing with another person provides companionship, but also safety in case of an injury. Even while fishing solo, however, a fisherman or woman may find company.
“On busy areas, you’re constantly running into fishermen,” Cadoret said. “Usually it’s just, ‘Hello, what are they biting on?’”
But Cadoret said it’s not uncommon to then chat for several minutes and trade flies or take photos.
More socialization takes place off the water. NHRAA, for instance, organizes events with guest speakers. Anglers can also meet up at conservation efforts. NHRAA and Trout Unlimited often organize river cleanups where members gather to pick up trash along waterways. And respect for nature serves as an integral part of fly fishing, because the sport is ultimately about enjoying nature.
“It’s really just that feeling of being in a river,” Synnott said. “Some people feel that’s where you belong, standing in a river, whether you catch fish or not.”
With mountains, forests and lakes stretching the length of the state, worldly adventurers see Vermont as a premier hiking destination. As a result, the Green Mountain State’s many trails frequently become crowded during the state’s brief summer, especially those paths that climb Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield and Killington Mountain, where views stretch for miles and miles.
Luckily, quieter and less-visited trails are within easy reach. Instead of tackling Camel’s Hump on a busy Saturday, why not climb its southerly neighbor, Mount Ethan Allen? As an alternative to hiking Mount Mansfield’s alpine ridge, take the less beaten path through nearby Nebraska Notch. And on certain days, there’s an excellent chance you’ll have the quiet Taconic Mountain trails in Hubbardton to yourself.
The following hikes represent a list of 10 recommended destinations. Many more abound across the state, so get out and explore this summer!
Bald Mountain, Woodford – 4.0 miles round trip, moderate difficulty
The hike up 2,857-foot B dald Mountain, located just outside Bennington, leads to some of the more distinctive viewpoints in southern Vermont. While the summit is no longer “bald,” the views through stunted spruce trees create a wild environment. Bald Mountain sits on the edge of the vast Glastenbury Wilderness in the Green Mountain National Forest, one of the most remote places in Vermont. Views stretch north to Glastenbury Mountain and south towards Massachusetts’s highest point, Mount Greylock.
The hike starts off Harbour Road in Woodford Hollow and climbs steadily up Bald Mountain’s eastern slope. Much of the trail follows old forest roads, ending at the West Ridge Trail. Travelers may follow this trail further north for 0.1 miles for more views. Also of interest at the summit is the mountain’s unusually chalk-white rocks spread throughout. Hikers may also take a longer route to Bald Mountain from Bennington.
Hamilton Falls, Jamaica State Park – 6.0 miles round trip, easy-to-moderate difficulty
A trip to Jamaica State Park is not to be missed when visiting southern Vermont. Hikers have an extensive array of trails to choose from, including the wide West River Trail and the challenging Overlook Trail. But the long and scenic hike to Hamilton Falls remains a favorite for park visitors.
The journey to the falls begins in the state park on the West River Trail, which is often used by hikers and mountain bikers alike. Follow this flat and open trail along the river (frequented by whitewater kayakers during the spring months) for 1.9 miles. The Hamilton Falls Trail leaves on the right and climbs moderately 1.1 miles to the falls. Visitors should plan on spending plenty of time exploring one of Vermont’s highest and most scenic waterfalls.
Hubbardton trails, Hubbardton – 1.2 mile or 2.3 mile loops, easy to moderate difficulty
Nestled in the Taconic Mountains and located only minutes from the historic Hubbardton Battlefield, these hikes offer a surprising amount of variety in a relatively small area. Hikers can choose from various loop options, with destinations that include a Japanese garden, a high waterfall, a narrow canyon, a series of boulder caves and views from the surrounding hills.
A 1.2-to-2.0 mile loop brings hikers through the Japanese Garden and up Mount Zion Major, a low hill with good views of the lower Champlain Valley. A side trip takes hikers through a maze of boulder caves. Nearby, travelers can take a longer, 2.3-mile route to a series of waterfalls through a cool, narrow canyon. Visitors often explore both hikes in one day. All trails, found off Hubbardton’s St. John Road, are located on private property, so please be respectful of the land.
Mount Ethan Allen, Huntington – 6.4 miles round trip, moderate-to-strenuous difficulty
Situated just south of iconic Camel’s Hump along the Long Trail, 3,688-foot Mount Ethan Allen receives light visitation in comparison. While hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people flock to Camel’s Hump’s rocky summit during a sunny weekend, you might have the views from Mount Ethan Allen all to yourself.
Take the Forest City Trail from the Camel’s Hump parking area in Huntington and follow it to the Long Trail junction at Montclair Glen Lodge, an overnight shelter. Then follow the Long Trail south as it steeply climbs to the summit’s view points. Hikers can also access the peak from the Duxbury trail system. It’s best to arrive at either trailhead early since the parking lots often fill quickly with Camel’s Hump day trippers.
Osmore Pond, Groton State Forest – 1.8 miles round trip, easy difficulty
For those that enjoy a little history with their hiking, there’s the Osmore Pond Loop Trail in Groton State Forest. The beginning of the hike passes through the remains of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp used by the 1930s work groups to build roads and trails in the surrounding area.
The hike, which starts at the New Discovery Campground off Vermont 232, easily circles the pond with pleasant vistas sprinkled throughout the wooded shoreline. Hikers can add an extra mile to their day and climb Big Deer Mountain (1,922 feet) for views toward Lake Groton.
Mount Worcester, Worcester – 5.0 miles round trip, moderate difficulty
Located east of the popular Green Mountain summits, the Worcester Mountains receive far fewer visitors. Many that do hike in the range choose the easily accessible Hunger Mountain in Waterbury Center. Mount Worcester (3,293 feet), found just north, features comparable views in a quieter setting.
The Worcester Mountain Trail starts off Hampshire Hill Road, which is reached after traveling a series of back roads. The path begins a steady, moderate climb up Mount Worcester’s eastern flank. After a steady climb, hikers reach the open, rocky summit of Mount Worcester and its broad views.
Nebraska Notch, Stowe – 4.0-to-5.0 miles round trip, easy-to-moderate difficulty
While others are tackling beautiful and crowded Mount Mansfield, only a few venture into wild Nebraska Notch on the Lake Mansfield Trail, found just south of Vermont’s highest peak. The trail passes a scenic lake, waterfall, and beaver clearing before climbing to interesting views at Taylor Lodge.
The hike begins at the private Lake Mansfield Trout Club off Nebraska Valley Road. The trail skirts the club before following an old logging road through hardwood forests. The trail then climbs steadily, passing a set of waterfalls before entering a wide beaver-cleared area at the base of several cliffs. After a short distance, the trail reaches Taylor Lodge at its junction with the Long Trail. Continue on the Long Trail north to reach the height of Nebraska Notch.
Laraway Mountain, Belvidere – 3.6 miles round trip, moderate difficulty
Primarily visited by Long Trail thru-hikers, this unique mountain features excellent views west and south toward the Champlain Valley and Mount Mansfield. The trail also passes a series of interesting cliffs and rock slabs hidden in the forest.
Hikers should take Codding Hollow Road from Vermont 109, parking at a small lot where the Long Trail crosses the rough, dirt track. Following the Long Trail north as it climbs 2,723-foot Laraway Mountain, the trail eventually reaches a series of long rock slabs, with high cliffs jutting above the trail. The hike soon reaches a wide (and sometimes windy) vista. Hikers can continue on the Long Trail to visit the tree-covered Laraway Mountain summit, or stay and enjoy the northern Vermont views.
Bluff Mountain, Island Pond – 3.2 miles round trip, moderate-to-strenuous difficulty
Way up in the Northeast Kingdom sits this hill overlooking Island Pond and its village. The Bluff Mountain Loop Trail is familiar to those that live in the region, but hardly frequented by those outside the area. The trail is moderately difficult, with some steep stretches near the excellent viewpoints.
The trail starts near Island Pond’s village center, just off Mountain Street. The first mile climbs easily through the woods before reaching a junction: the left route (Lookout Trail) climbs quite steeply with the help of ladders up bare ledges; the right-hand path (Bluff Mountain Trail) heads up the mountain on a less-steep route. Both trails end at a viewpoint overlooking Island Pond and beyond into the Nulhegan Basin.
Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Swanton – 1.5 miles round trip, easy difficulty
The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Vermont’s famous “swamp,” is better known to boaters and kayakers than hikers. But there are two easy trails worth exploring, especially during wildlife migration seasons.
Both the Maquam Creek and Black Creek trails start at the refuge’s visitor center just off Vermont 78. The hikes cross the swampy area on several footbridges and boardwalks, offering many views of this northern delta. A quick walk through Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge will bring you to one of the most unusual habitats in the state.
Revered singer-songwriter, musical and political activist Si Kahn returns to this year’s Champlain Valley Folk Festival July 29-31on the Great Lawn of Burlington’s Waterfront Park and at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center.
Most recently appearing to enthusiastic audiences at the 2008 Festival, Si’s songs of family, community, work and freedom have been recorded by more than 100 artists and translated into half a dozen languages. Such songs as Aragon Mill, Gone Gonna Rise Again, Go To Work On Monday, and Rubber Blubber Whale have become a part of the oral tradition, and are sung in folk clubs and living rooms around the world.
Now in its 28th year, the Champlain Valley Folk Festival brings together the best elements of the area’s centuries-old and recent traditions – its Quebecois, Native American and European roots, as well as great music from the wider world. This year’s festival will include World Gypsy Jazz, African music from Mali, ragtime and blues from a precocious 22-year-old blind musician from Brooklyn and a variety of styles from some of Vermont’s finest performers.
The Champlain Valley Folk Festival moved to Burlington’s Waterfront Park from Kingsland Bay State Park in 2010 to make this outstanding music festival accessible to more people. Events will be held at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center and on the Great Lawn of Burlington’s Waterfront Park. For music listeners, performers rotate among multiple venues, combining talents in themed workshops or sharing their music concert style. A large dance tent with a wooden floor will feature participatory dancing – contras, squares, English, Scottish, Swing, French waltzes, a family dance and more. A variety of craftspeople will display their wares, and a variety of food vendors of various ethnic backgrounds will be on the grounds.
The Festival begins at 5 pm on July 29 and winds up on Sunday, July 31. Tickets: Flynn Regional Box Office (www.flynntix.org, 802-863-5966) or at the gate. For more information visit www.cvfest.org.
Stowe Theatre Guild will present “Oklahoma!” with a cast of 30 local thespians under the direction of Kristen Bures and music director Martin Hain, at Stowe’s Town Hall Theatre Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. from Aug. 17 through Sept. 3.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration is set in a Western Indian territory just after the turn of the century, where the high-spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provides the colorful background against which a handsome cowboy, and a winsome farm girl, play out their love story.
Tickets $22 for reserved seats; $20 at the door. Stowe’s Town Hall Theatre is located on the second floor of the Akeley Memorial Building, 67 Main St., Stowe.Tickets can be purchased online at www.stowetheatre.com or by calling 802-253-3961 and by e-mail to [email protected]
World-renowned violinist Soovin Kim will be joined by an exciting lineup of musicians including Guarneri String Quartet violinist John Dalley, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival artistic director and composer Marc Neikrug for the 2011 Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival.
The Festival takes place Aug. 20-28, with concerts at Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College and other venues in the Burlington area.
Festival Concert Series
Sunday, Aug. 21, 3:00p.m
The Poet’s Voice
Wednesday Aug. 24, 7:30p.m.
In Living Color
Friday, Aug. 26, 7:30p.m.
East Meets West
Sunday, Aug. 28 at 3:00p.m
Echoes of the New World
Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College. In Living Color at FlynnSpace in partnership with the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Free Bach on Church Concerts
Tuesday, Aug.23, 12:15 p.m.
with Elena Urioste, violin
Thursday, Aug. 25, 12:15 p.m.
with Joshua Smith, flute
Tickets: Flynn Regional Box Office: www.flynntix.org or (802) 86-FLYNN.
Battery Park will come alive with the music of national and local stars during the 2011 Burlington City Arts Free Concert Series. All concerts are free and open to the public,Thursdays at 6:30p.m.
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Burlington City Arts, and the Battery Park Concert Series, which was one of BCA’s first efforts in 1981. The Free Concert Series has become a tradition in Burlington’s Battery Park for young and old, residents and visitors.
Local food and drink vendors will be present at each concert, but please note that alcohol and glass containers are prohibited in the park.
For more information about call 802.865.7166 or visit www.burlingtoncityarts.org.
July 14 – Barika
Barika is deep groove music, inspired by the sounds from the Wassoulou region of the Malian area, whose music is often defined by the familiar tones of the The Kamel N’Goni – a pentatonic, African harp. The ensemble consists of drums (Caleb Bronze), bass (JP Candelier), keys (Andric Severence), Kamel N’goni (Craig Myers), trumpet (Dave Purcell), trombone (Gordon Clark), and tenor sax (Deva Racusin) in addition to a rotating cast of special guests from Vermont and beyond. (www.myspace.com/barikaensemble)
July 21 – Scars On 45
Scars on 45 is a quintet from Leeds, England, that combines the gentle melodic intensity of Snow Patrol or Keane with the added allure of co-ed vocals. The band’s name was inspired by Emmylou Harris — taken from a radio interview in which she recalled her father telling her as a young girl that she better not get any “scars on his 45s” as she played them. (www.myspace.com/scarson45)
July 28 – Saints of Valory
Based in Austin Texas, Saints of Valory offers quite the international flair. Front man Gavin Jasper is Brazilian, guitarist Godfrey Thomson is American, on drums Gerard Bouvier is from France, and keyboardist Stephen Buckle hails from Canada. With roots in classical and film scoring, jazz, latin and rock, Saints of Valory creates an interesting fusion of rock and pop. (www.myspace.com/saintsofvalory)
Take a Seat in the Islands, presented by the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Lake Champlain Transportation, will transport you to a world of flora, fauna, ships and sunsets, all appearing on ample benches of maple and poplar, made by NA Durso Woodworking of North Hero. Sixteen benches will be on display through Aug. 13 in venues throughout the Champlain Islands. Maps showing the location of the benches can be found at local stores, or at www.champlainislands.com.
These one of a kind works of art will be sold at a live auction and cocktail party on Saturday, Aug.13 at 6:30 p.m. at the North Hero Community Hall. Senator Dick Mazza and radio personality George Goldring will serve as auctioneers, and 16 people will go home with a beautiful work of art that is practical, too. Tickets to the event are $25 and are available at the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber – (802) 372-8400 or [email protected]
The artists are Paula Bradley, Heidi Chamberlain, Sarah Cormier, Linda Effel, Maurie Harrington, Linda James, Sandra Lambert, Rachel Laundon, Denise Limoge, Marie Limoge, Hannah Maynard, Amanda Schirmer, Kay Webb and Brian Welsh.
For information, call the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber at (802) 372-8400 or go to www.champlainislands.com for a complete list of the sponsors, artists and photos of the benches.
The Burlington Ensemble will present two concerts entitled “Summer Serenade” at the All Souls Interfaith Gathering in Shelburne There will be picnicking on the hill at 5:30 p.m. and the indoor concert will commence at 7:30 p.m.
The July 29 concert will present works by Martinu, Francaix and Beethoven.
Works by Martinu, Haydn, Puccini, Dvorak and Schubert will be featured at the July 30 performance.
Tickets are $40 per person. Proceeds support musicians for the 2011/12 Benefit Concert Season.
The Burlington Ensemble is an organization dedicated to creating concerts to serve the community and build new audiences. The performers are a fluid ensemble of Vermont musicians, mostly VSO members.
For more information contact Michael Dabroski at [email protected] or call (802) 598-9520
You can also visit www.burlingtonensemble.com www.facebook.com/burlington.ensemble
Our visit to Toronto and the family-friendly Toronto Islands was coming to a close, and with just a couple of days left to do as we pleased, my daughter and I decided to explore more of the province of Ontario. We headed to the resort town of Niagara-on-the-Lake with the goal of visiting Niagara Falls. I’d only been to the American side, and I’d been told that the Canadian side was even more impressive and dramatic.
“If you haven’t been to the Canadian side, you haven’t seen anything,” a teenage boy we met on the way confirmed for us.
With Toronto’s tall buildings behind us, we drove through Canadian wine country with its farms, flowers and lush greenery. Everywhere we looked were signs inviting us to visit wineries, including one owned by Wayne Gretsky.
Our plan was to visit the falls on the second day. The first day we’d relax and do a little wine-tasting. The sun was bright, and its warmth soon had us stripping off our layers of sweaters and jackets and leaving them on the rental car’s back seat. Little did we know how changeable the weather could be at this time of year.
A few of our days in Toronto had been cloudy and cold, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my head now telling me to get to Niagara Falls while the sun was shining. Instead, we stopped at Ravine Vineyard for a tasting tour and met Alex Harber, whose family has owned the farm since 1867. Harber showed us the wine-making apparatus and the restored farmhouse that has kept as much of the old wood as possible in a modern setting. He poured their new Redcoat, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. We tried whites, too, as well as their ice wine, an after-dinner treat in Canada.
The next day, we had breakfast at the inn and then left for Niagara Falls. By now the sun was only peeking periodically through our window on the 20-minute drive, and we had to retrieve the sweaters and jackets from the back seat of the car. The closer we got to the falls, the colder, windier and foggier it became. What had happened to yesterday’s nice warm sun?
That was exactly what the tour guide asked rhetorically when we reached Table Rock, where it’s possible to watch the falls through a window on days like this one. An elevator takes visitors to various viewing spots as they watch the mint-colored waters come tumbling down. But we wanted to see the Horseshoe Falls outdoors since the view from here was so obscured by fog.
A fierce wind blew as we zipped our jackets and tied up hoods. Some hardy visitors, especially little ones, didn’t seem to mind the water that soaked hair and shoes as they took pictures of a lot of mist and a bit of falls, posing, smiling, holding onto umbrellas and pulling their raincoats shut. We could see a fraction of the magnificent Niagara Falls, and we could certainly hear the waters, but we needed to use our imagination to get the full picture.
Eleven million tourists from around the world come here each year to glory in the wonder of this natural beauty and stand where we were standing. In 1885, the Ontario government passed the Niagara Falls Park Act for the preservation of the natural scenery. Over many years, more and more land was acquired, and today the Ontario Niagara Parks system encompasses 4,250 acres. The admission fee and other monies collected here go to help with the enhancement and preservation of Niagara Falls.
As we left, an attendant at the visitors center suggested we come back in the summer.
Perhaps we had come at the wrong time for the falls, but we had come at the right time to see one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays. This is the 50th anniversary year of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which will run until Oct. 30. As a former theater critic, I can say that the acting and set design were as good as I’ve seen anywhere.
With plays presented on four stages, the Shaw Festival is well-known nationally and internationally. Across the street, visitors can see a statue of Shaw in front of stores and cafes. A four-legged visitor the day we were there seemed upset that the Shaw statue did not respond in the way of most humans.
On Queen Street, we looked into some of the quaint tourist shops selling gifts, clothes, handmade goods and foods. After sampling a selection of fudge, we walked away with a bagful of different flavors.
This area is also historically significant in that it played a part in the fighting in 1812 between the Americans and the British. In one event, Americans occupied the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for seven months before British forces forced their retreat. In defiance, the Americans burned the town to the ground.
The town itself, with the lake lining it, is charming. Runners and bicyclists are everywhere, and there are hardly any cars on the colorful side streets of Victorian, Regency and Edwardian structures.
That is sure to change during the summer, and one of these summers we’ll be there again. This time we’ll choose a warm, sunny day for our visit to Niagara Falls.
WHEN YOU GO
We flew Air Canada into and out of Toronto.
For further information, contact the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce: www.niagaraonthelake.com.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake we stayed at the Oban Inn and Spa Resort: www.obaninn.ca.
In Toronto we stayed at the newly remodeled downtown Holiday Inn. It’s comfortable without frills, offers good service and has a nice restaurant: 30 Carlton St.; phone 416-977-6655; www.holidayinn.com.
The Canadian dollar is currently stronger than it has been in recent years. Canadian ice wine and maple syrup will cost more than in the past.
NEFCU celebrates 50 yearsBy Luke Baynes
A lot can change in 50 years.
In 1961, a year when gas prices averaged 31 cents per gallon and the average cost of a new home was $17,724, the newly founded IBM Employees Credit Union in Essex had 473 members and $2,298 in assets.
On May 25, when the renamed and community chartered New England Federal Credit Union celebrated its 50th anniversary with an open house at its main branch in Williston, it had more than 79,000 members and over $823 million in assets.
What began with seven IBM employees is now the largest credit union in Vermont. The credit union still has a branch at IBM but also has five others — Williston, Essex, South Burlington, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, and St. Albans.
President and CEO John Dwyer and Chief Financial Officer Susan Leonard said NEFCU’s success is due to its decision two decades ago to focus on the mortgage business at a time when many credit unions lacked the scale or expertise, plus the simple fact that they’re in business to serve their members.
“I think the goal for any credit union is to make sure that you return to members,” said Dwyer, who began with NEFCU 24 years ago and became CEO in January 2010. “We’re nonprofit. We do business for members, so we try to make sure we do value every day.”
With the banking industry still recovering from the subprime mortgage crisis that helped cause the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, one could hardly call these the salad days for mortgage lending. But Dwyer said NEFCU is in a stronger financial position now than before the subprime meltdown and that 2009 and 2010 were, respectively, NEFCU’s second- and third-best years ever for mortgage originations.
“Vermont has been fortunate that neither we nor any of the other local Vermont credit unions and banks originated the kind of loans that we all read about,” said Dwyer. “There has been some subprime lending in Vermont – primarily by people who aren’t here anymore.”
Leonard, who was promoted to CFO a decade into her 20-year career, agreed that NEFCU has made it to 50 because of its responsible lending practices, but said that responsibility starts with its members.
“Our members are responsible, and I think you can make the case that Vermonters in general are fiscally responsible,” Leonard said. “We really take our responsibility in that relationship very seriously and make sure that members are getting into a mortgage that fits them.”
Another thing NEFCU takes seriously is charitable work and its status as a good corporate citizen.
“Not only have we grown from an asset standpoint, but we’ve grown in our awareness that we need to participate more (in the community),” Dwyer said.
Some of the ways NEFCU gives back to the community are by hosting seminars that teach young adults about the importance of managing credit cards responsibly, having annual “Blankets of Hope” drives to provide warmth to the needy, and its participation in the “Big Change Roundup,” which raised $18,683 to benefit Vermont Children’s Hospital last year.
Looking back at the past two decades, Leonard spoke with pride about her company’s ascension to a prominent place in the local community, and its contribution to Vermont’s growth as a whole.
“Over the past 20 years we’ve had such incredible growth and change, especially in Chittenden County,” Leonard said. “We’re all proud that we’ve been able to be a part of that growth and that success.”
Dwyer echoed her comments, praising both his employees and his company’s member base.
“When you reach this kind of milestone, it’s nice to have capacity, it’s nice to have the 170 talented people we have working here, it’s great to have 79,000 members and it’s about focusing to make sure that what we return to the member is something they value,” said Dwyer. “We work hard every day to make sure we’ll be here another 50 years.”