Vermont Canoe & Kayak Invites Locals to Paddle the Lamoille River
By Ken Picard
Words and photos courtesy of Seven Days
Paddling a river is a great metaphor for life. Some days the ride is lazy and tranquil, others wet and wild. But even when you don't know what's coming around the next bend, it's always about the journey, not the destination.
For more than a decade, Vermont Canoe & Kayak in Jeffersonville has served mostly tourists who come to dip their paddles into the nearby Lamoille River. But with the pandemic, and the resulting decline in out-of-state tourism, the new business owners are looking to Vermonters to spend time this summer enjoying all that the Lamoille River and its environs have to offer. That includes the nearby distillery, winery, retail stores and scenic bike trail.
Outing on the Lamoille River with Vermont Canoe & Kayak, courtesy of Vermont Canoe & Kayak
Vermont native Bronwyn Decker and her husband, Dean, bought the business in 2019 from a friend who was retiring. Based in Jeffersonville along Route 15 behind the Family Table restaurant and Cupboard Delicatessen & Bakery, VCK rents canoes, single and tandem kayaks, and standup paddleboards for self-guided trips and tours. And with four shuttles running to three put-in spots upriver, Decker said, the company allows paddlers to spend as little as 90 minutes on the water, or as much as an entire day.
"One thing we encourage is to pack a picnic," she added. "Be prepared to swim, hang out on the beaches, relax and paddle at your own pace."
VCK has partnered with Jim and Yva Rose, owners of Lamoille Valley Bike Tours in Johnson, for an E-Bikes & Boats tour ($80 per person). The four-hour excursion starts on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, where travelers hop on electric-power-assisted bicycles, or e-bikes, and pedal the historic railroad corridor for a 30- to 45-minute scenic ride to Jeffersonville. There, travelers grab their canoes or kayaks for a 90-minute paddle downriver, then get shuttled back to their e-bikes for the return trip to Johnson.
E-bikes can be ridden either like conventional bicycles or using motors that reach speeds of 20 miles per hour, making them ideal for novice and experienced cyclists alike.
VCK's Wheels, Water & Wine tour ($100 per person) is a five-hour, three-in-one excursion featuring the bike and paddle tour, then adding in a downriver stop at Boyden Valley Winery & Spirits in Cambridge. And after an hour of nibbling Vermont cheddar and sipping local vino, travelers will appreciate the assistance of an e-pedal back to Johnson.
Other VCK river tours include stops at the Vermont Maple Outlet and the award-winning Smugglers' Notch Distillery. There's also the Ice Cream Float tour ($100 per canoe), a family-friendly river run that features beachside Ben & Jerry's and other frozen treats.
As Decker pointed out, this stretch of the Lamoille River is rated as Class I, meaning that it's wide and easy to paddle, with gentle curves, few obstacles and no whitewater.
To address this year's concerns about COVID-19, Decker noted that VCK has adopted a system for disinfecting paddles, boats and life jackets between uses. Visitors are encouraged to wear masks in the tour company's office, where only one group is allowed at a time and all transactions are done without physical contact. VCK's shuttles carry single groups only.
On the river, social distancing is a breeze, Decker added. Boaters can give each other a wide berth; indeed, every paddler is six feet away from their own canoe partner. As she put it, "We've got a pretty safe gig going on."
And a scenic one. On the Lamoille, it's easy to get away from it all, as paddlers can spot deer, geese, eagles, muskrat and beavers. Last year, one paddler even saw a black bear along the river.
In 2020, VCK is offering a 10 percent discount to Vermonters with valid IDs.
"This year will be totally different for us, which is why we're trying to reach out to locals," Decker explained. "We have a beautiful state, and this is the year to take advantage of it."
About the series
This series, a partnership between Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Seven Days, will run seasonally, presenting curated excursions in every corner of Vermont. The idea is to highlight the state's restaurants, retailers, attractions and outdoor adventures so Vermonters and visitors alike can plan safe, local trips and discover new corners of the state. Happy traveling, and stay safe.