The Woods are Worth Protecting: Childhood in South Hero

Exploring the woods on Fox Hill at Crescent Bay Farm

Exploring the woods on Fox Hill at Crescent Bay Farm

I’ve shared some stories of my own childhood in the Champlain Islands over the years. Running around in the woods, playing in the brook, gardening with my mother, climbing trees with my brother. Those years spent outdoors taught me so much about the natural world and myself, and set me on the path to doing the work I do today: working with the South Hero community to protect the land that makes our community so special and helping folks get outside to enjoy it.

I received a delightful email last spring after our “Meet the Lambs” event at Paradise Bay Farm. Upon receiving an invitation to the event, South Hero Land Trust member Martha Cushman was flooded with memories of summers spent on Paradise Bay when she was a young child. She wrote to me to share some of those memories.

Between 1938 and 1984, Mrs. Cushman’s family rented a cottage from the McConnell family on the southeastern tip of Cedar Cliff, high above Lake Champlain. One of the memories she shared with me was of going to collect their mail and milk. She wrote that she would “walk from the camp across the beach on the low end of the bay, turn left at Mr. Richards’ house, head up the hill through a wooded area and finally come out into the meadow and sunshine. We would then walk to the road… on the north corner was an old barn with silo, and on the south corner [of the barn] was the mailbox holding the milk.” Mrs. Cushman then wrote, “I would very often take this walk with Mrs. McConnell, who had kindly consented to introduce me to the wildflowers along the way so that I could earn one of my Girl Scout merit badges.”

There was something magical about this memory, eliciting for me hot summer days, dusty roads, and wildflowers along the verge. It is the magic of childhood, and more specifically, of a childhood spent outdoors.

Having read this lovely memory, I wondered if other South Hero Land Trust members would be willing to share their own stories with me. Over the next several months I was lucky enough to collect some wonderful memories.

Two girls have fun and learn to “see” trees in a new way on Fox Hill at Crescent Bay Farm.

Two girls have fun and learn to “see” trees in a new way on Fox Hill at Crescent Bay Farm.

Richard Bingham and his family began coming to South Hero in 1938, at the end of the Great Depression. They rented a cottage next door to Martha Cushman’s family. He says that “life at Camp Cedar Cliffs was just wonderful.” There were three families who came every summer for many years. The Binghams would arrive around Memorial Day, when the lake was still cold. It would be a big event to get into the water right away.

The McConnells had two boathouses and two outboard motorboats, as well as a big inboard boat called the ‘Merrimack.’” Each summer the three families would make an event of taking a boat to Cedar Island or Savage Island for a picnic. Savage Island had a sandy beach where they would hunt for “moonstones,” gathering all the “little polished quartz pebbles tumbled by the sand.” They would go fishing and catch huge buckets of perch, clean them, roll them in cornmeal, and have a big fish dinner.

Thirty years later, Steve Robinson was a farm boy in South Hero. “We’d bike to White’s Beach and swim all summer long. We’d take a piece of driftwood and float far out into the bay.” Steve also remembers playing Little League baseball, camping on Fox Hill with the Boy Scouts in winter to earn his Polar Bear merit badge, and duck hunting with the principal of Folsom School.

And in another thirty years, Silva Warren was growing up in the South Hero woods and fields. Silva wrote to me from Mount Holyoke College, where she is in her senior year. “I loved being a kid in South Hero. I spent a lot of time playing outside all year in our yard, playing games, building snow forts and creatures, playing in the sprinkler, and eating food out of our garden.” In the winter she would build tiny homes for animals and have snowball fights with her sister and dad. Summers were spent at White’s Beach with other South Hero families. “I remember playing in the water until I literally turned purple, getting out, and then getting back in as soon as I could stand it.”

Silva was one of the first students to participate in “the Land, the Farms, and Me,” a place-based agriculture and nature education program that South Hero Land Trust helped create at Folsom Community & Education Center. For nine years she and her classmates spent time at local farms and natural areas, learning from farmers, foresters, and community members. “The best part of being a kid in South Hero was all of my access to the outdoors. I feel very lucky to have had the lake and a wonderful backyard, as well as all the other natural spaces.”

Time to be wild and explore the woods and other natural places is an important part of childhood in a rural community like South Hero.

Time to be wild and explore the woods and other natural places is an important part of childhood in a rural community like South Hero.

The Land, the Farms, and Me is one way that South Hero Land Trust has helped make sure that children in South Hero are still experiencing the magic of a childhood outdoors. The community trails we have protected and built help ensure that children and their families have access to outdoor spaces near home for exploration, recreation, and learning.

Beginning with the Round Pond Natural Area in 2001, and looking forward to the opening of the Tracy Woods Trails soon- we work hard to make sure that these spaces are protected for generations to come. Through our Naturalist Walks and other programs, we encourage community members to get outside and explore the land with us. We are proud to work with the local community to protect the places where children and community members of all ages get outdoors, and experience the magic of exploration and play in the woods.

These stories from Martha Cushman, Richard Bingham, Steve Robinson, and Silva Warren show how access to nature- whether in your own backyard or to the beautiful lake surrounding us- is an essential part of childhood in South Hero, and something well worth protecting. Thank you for being a part of this journey, and protecting these special places with South Hero Land Trust.

What are your favorite memories of childhood, whether in South Hero or another special place? I would love to hear your stories. Email me at

Emily Alger