4 places to find quiet, natural beauty in Southern Vermont

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"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter."

Rachel Carson wrote those lines in her landmark book "Silent Spring." They came to us thanks to a news release from Liz Ruffa at Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert, advising would-be visitors that the grounds remain open during the coronavirus outbreak.

For those seeking "social distancing" the way that Henry David Thoreau described it — a silent communion with the woods — Southern Vermont offers many places for a walk, a ramble or a hike. Over the coming weeks we'll present options for such excursions, for the casual pedestrian and the ambitious hiker alike.

If you go, check ahead to make sure the trails are accessible and that access roads are passable. It is mud season, after all. Also: Remember to respect private property and follow all of the public health directives on social distancing and virus exposure.

Bennington and environs: There's plenty of places for a stroll in the hub of the Southshire, and a map available at the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce website presents multiple options. For shorter walks there's the Mile-Round Woods in North Bennington. The George Aiken Wildflower Trail at Bennington Museum is open, though the museum is closed. For history, there's the Old Bennington Walking Tour. The Robert Frost Trail, leading from the Robert Frost Stone House Museum off Route 7A, leads from the poet's farmstead to Lake Paran.

Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, Manchester: A flat mile-long walking trail around the 95-acre park's perimeter offers views of the Green Mountains, the Taconics and Mount Equinox. Additional trails lead to Hunter Park and to Manchester Elementary Middle School, near downtown. The park, named for a police chief killed in the line of duty in 1972, also features a dog park, basketball courts, tennis courts, fields and a brand-new concrete skatepark. More: manchester-vt.gov/town-parks-info

West River Trail: The former railbed of the misbegotten West River Railroad is currently split into two trail sections, with future plans to connect them into a single 36-mile trail. The lower section stretches from The Marina in Brattleboro to the old quarry on Rice Farm Rd in Dummerston. The upper section stretches from the former South Londonderry train depot to Townshend Dam, with several parking lots along the way, and is home to the annual West River Trail Run, scheduled for June. More: westrivertrail.org

Merck Forest and Farmland Center, Rupert: More than 30 miles of trails on 3,200 acres of working forest and farmland await visitors to Merck Forest, off Route 315 on the northwest edge of Bennington County. For outdoor terrain, sturdy boots are best at this time of year, and traction is always an added plus. There will be access to an emergency phone on the back porch of the Visitor Center, but visitors should not count on the availability of staff --- and cell service here is limited. The one-lane access road from Route 315 was passable as of press time, but changing mud season conditions can make the road challenging. More: merckforest.org

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