Back when Burlington began reclaiming the waterfront, one of the first things they did was reacquire the old railroad bed running along the shore, a strip of land that effectively put the lake behind a fence. Once in public hands again, not only was access restored to most of the shore, but the graded bed provided a perfect foundation for a walking and biking trail. That’s how the Island Line Trail was born, and it now runs roughly 12 miles north out of Burlington.
Having an excuse to bike in Burlington was appealing enough; but, doing some research, I discovered a feature of this trail that really caught our attention. When the railroad was constructed, with investment from the Vanderbilt/Webb family of Shelburne Farms, a causeway was built from the town of Colchester, on the east shore, across Lake Champlain to the Grand Islands. During construction, an incredible amount of white Vermont marble block was used to raise the railroad bed above the lake bottom. The same white marble used to build the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, etc.. Now part of the bike trail, this marble causeway arcs 4 miles across the lake just a few feet above the water.
Two drawbridges once spanned gaps in the causeway to allow boat traffic to pass. One now bears a fixed span bridge. The other has been left open. Across this gap, a Bike Ferry now operates in the warm seasons to carry bikers and hikers over “The Cut” to continue onward to Grand Isle. The ferry, an unpresumptuous but effective operation, consists of a pontoon boat, and the fare is $8.
Terri and I rented a pair of surprisingly nice bikes at Local Motion in downtown Burlington, right on the trail. Riding north out of town, you pass through the urban center and the marina facilities, through parks and neighborhoods, across streams and wetlands, then finally out onto the lake itself. It’s a very, very nice ride. To the west across the lake are the Adirondack Mountains. To the east across the lake are the Green Mountains. Then there’s Lake Champlain itself, with sailboats everywhere. Hard to beat the views – this ride is sick with them.
At the Cut we stopped and watched big sailboats shoot through the gap under full sail just a few feet away, sometimes passing two abreast. Lots going on here. Back on the edge of town, we stopped to watch a bicycle polo match.
All in all an excellent way to spend a few easy hours – to see the sights from a different perspective with a side order of casual exercise.
The video above shows the whole round trip, with a stop at The Cut where all the boating action was in full swing. Also, the bicycle polo/hockey match on the edge of town.
After turning in the bikes, we grabbed a late lunch at a place called The Skinny Pancake – a locally owned string of cafés specializing in crêpes, but serving a variety of locally sourced foods. Really reasonable for food so fresh.
Then we piled into the car and headed north to Montreal, taking the scenic route.