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One of Vermont's northernmost lakes is Island Pond. Tucked in the Northeast Kingdom Region, Island Pond is only 15 miles south of the Canadian border. Because of the distances to major cities, the area is sparsely populated. This wasn't always so: in an earlier, more agrarian culture, Essex County supported a number of small towns engaged in farming and lumbering. In the 1850s Island Pond was the nations' first International Railroad junction, with 13 sets of railroad tracks running through the town. The natural lake was first called Knowles Pond or Knowlton Pond after the original surveyor. The Abenaki called it Menanbawk (meaning "island pond" after the 20-acre island on the lake), and it was not long before the townsfolk adopted the English version of the name.
Island Pond's five-mile shoreline is well-populated with seasonal cottages and year-round homes. The village of Island Pond occupies the northwest shore. At the south end of the lake, Brighton State Park offers a day use beach and bath house on Island Pond, although the majority of the park is centered around adjacent Spectacle Pond. The large lake carries few of the restrictions of many Vermont lakes; boat motors are allowed on the lake, making water skiing and personal watercraft permissible. Residents and lake visitors enjoy sailing, pontooning, tubing, wind surfing, canoeing and kayaking on the more-than-600-acre lake. Although much populated, the shoreline is still heavily wooded, keeping the 'northwoods' feel to boating on the lake.
Island Pond is an excellent fishing lake. The water holds brown trout (15-pounders have been recorded here), walleye, rainbow trout, perch, chain pickerel, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and burbot. Vermont Dept of Fish and Wildlife maintains a public boat launch for small and medium-size boats on the lake. The lake freezes early, creating opportunities for ice fishing, so fishermen utilize the lake nearly year round.
With the decline of lumbering in the area, vast stands of timber have come available for sale or lease, primarily as conservation areas. In the immediate area around Island Pond, Brighton Municipal forest and The Kingdom State Forest add hundreds of acres of trails and paths for hiking and cycling. The area holds a wealth of wildlife, making bird watching and nature observation highly interesting activities for nature lovers. The Kingdom Nature Trail at Brighton State Park produces a down-loadable self-guiding trail booklet that is invaluable in helping to identify many of the plants and natural phenomena, not just within the park but everywhere in the Northeast Kingdom. Moose, deer, bear and other wildlife are prevalent in the area and hikers should be watchful at all times.
Not far east of Island Pond, in the northeast corner of the state, the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge protects over 130,000 acres of wildlife habitat. This refuge is part of a vast corridor of protected land that straddles the New Hampshire border for many miles. The Refuge consists of a combination of ownerships and easements guaranteeing protected acres for American woodcock, ruffed grouse, waterfowl, various birds of prey, moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, beaver, fisher, and coyote. A visitor contact center is located 10 miles east of Island Pond.
All of these protected areas are well-supplied with trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and, in some areas snowmobiling. Island Pond considers itself the snowmobile capitol of Vermont, with thousands of snowmobilers arriving as soon as the snow falls and the lakes have frozen sufficiently to bear the weigh of the snow machines. The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers maintains hundreds of miles of groomed trails, with a very active chapter located in Island Pond. The local snowmobile club can help the out-of-state visitor legalize their sled for use on the trail system.
Island Pond is unusual in that the lake has never been dammed. The Clyde River, a tributary to Lake Memphremagog originates in Spectacle Pond. It flows from there to Island Pond and out the northwest side of the lake where it is joined by Pherrin's River. An interesting phenomenon occurs quite frequently when Pherrin's River rises rapidly, causing the Clyde to reverse it's flow back into Island Pond for several hours before it resumes its flow outward, taking the extra water with it.
At least one resort and a campground occupy a part of Island Pond's lakefront. Motels, guest cottages and small inns provide lodging for the week-end snowmobiler or those looking for summer vacation rentals on the water. The village of Island Pond provides all the necessities for a self-catering vacation, along with several restaurants, pubs and services. The area holds many quaint shops, farmer's markets and antique shops. The villages around Island Pond usually offer an annual festival of some type so the visitor can be assured of interesting local entertainment nearly every week-end in summer, with the inevitable winter carnivals popping up during the coldest months. Boredom is never a problem at Island Pond; there wont be enough hours in the day. There is currently real estate available on the lakefront itself for those wishing to make Island Pond a permanent part of their life.
A memorable vacation at Island Pond is only half an hour's drive from St Johnsbury and two-and-a-half hours from Montreal, QC. It's not hard to get to, but it will be hard to leave once you see Island Pond!
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