Newport News

Author: , March 2nd, 2014

Newport, Vermont - Apple Maps

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Newport, Vermont is going through quite a renaissance.  What was once a sleepy town on the Quebec border is quickly becoming a boomtown, thanks to nearby Jay Peak Resort and an unprecedented investment of money from both the public and private sectors.

Newport is situated in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on Lake Memphremagog, a scenic glacial lake roughly 30 miles in length; with one end in Vermont the other in Quebec.  Local folklore even mentions that it has its own lake monster, called Memphre.  During the winter the lake is a frozen giant, perfect for ice fishing and skating.  While in the summer, it has a wonderful assortment of outdoor activities (which I’ll be writing about in the coming months!).  The fact that Newport is just 30 minutes from Jay Peak makes it the perfect spot to mix up your ski trip with a little shopping getaway.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Patricia Sears, the Executive Director of the Newport City Renaissance, a not-for-profit tasked with advancing and enhancing Newport’s economic environment, developing a cohesive and welcoming City design, and promoting the City as a tourism and investment destination.  An enthusiastic lover of her city, she led me on a tour around the downtown, saying hello to all the people she knew, while describing the many things that Newport has done and continues to do to make it such a vibrant destination.  Her excitement about Newport was palpable and very quickly, it’s easy to see why.

As we strolled through Main Street – the center of downtown life – Patricia pointed out all the things that are making Newport such an exciting place.  Newport is a perfect example of the modern Vermont: within just a few blocks we went from the sophisticated full service salon, Jon Somes Salon with its sleek urban ambiance, to Woodknot Bookshop and Turner’s Cafe, a charming bookstore and Café, to The Pick and Shovel – a quintessential Vermont General Store with everything from hardware and hand tools to shirts and pants.  It is a perfect balance of what is best about old Vermont with the addition of wonderful modern amenities. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, listed as CNN’s Top Spot to Visit in Vermont for 2014!

The Tasting Center began as the brainchild of Eden Ice Cider Company’s owners, Eleanor and Albert Leger, who were looking for a way to expand their business.  The result is a cooperative of venders featuring foods from all over the Northeast Kingdom.  Approximately 20 Northeast Kingdom farmers and venders, along with many more from the surrounding counties, sell their products in the Tasting Center, contributing to creating a destination for tourists looking to savor the best of what Vermont has to offer.

When you walk into the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, you immediately realize you’re in for a gastronomic treat.  Stands line both sides of the former department store with all manner of deliciousness, including Jocelyn & Cinta’s Bake Shop filled with a wide assortment of delicious baked goods, and Butternut Mountain Maple Farm, filled with all shapes and sizes of the sweet treat that Vermont is famous for. In the basement, you’ll find Eden Cider’s newly opened Tasting Bar and Winery, so you can sample their delicious Iced Cider and Aperitifs. I met several of the vendors, including the Legers, whose excitement about Newport and the Tasting Center was tangible.

Before we left, I was treated to lunch at the Brown Dog Bistro, a localvore-style restaurant with fantastic food, including burgers with beef ground freshly just across the way from our table at the Brown Dog Butcher. You certainly can’t get more freshly prepared than that! Patricia convinced me to try the Kingdom Mac and Cheese, made from some of the Northeast Kingdoms award winning cheese makers – worth every calorie! Brown Dog Bistro alone was worth the trip to Newport.


The hard work of both the Newport City Renaissance and the people of Newport have certainly merited all of the positive buzz focused on the town.  Even in the winter, it proves to be a wonderful place to explore.  In just a few months, construction will begin on a block–long multiuse building, which will bring hotel rooms, more retail and residences to Main Street.  With these developments on the horizon, the excitement around Newport will only continue to flourish.

Pride Vermont 2013

Author: , September 8th, 2013

Pride Vermont LogoJust when you thought it was safe to put your pride flags away, Vermont has different plans for you. While the Pride Festivities of New York, Boston and other Northeast cities are a distant memory, every September, Burlington holds it’s annual Pride Parade, celebrating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Pride Vermont 2013 will take place Sunday, September 15th from 12:30 pm – 5 pm. It begins with the Parade, which starts at the south end of Church Street and ends in Battery Park overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.

The Parade may finish in Battery Park, but that’s where the next festivities begin. The Vermont Pride Festival, best described as one big party, embraces the whole LGBT community (including our beloved allies). True to its Vermont heritage, expect to see people of all ages and backgrounds, from drag queens to the curious. The Festival runs from 1pm – 5pm and includes musical performances, booths featuring local LGBT organizations and other vendors, a children’s activity tent, and of course a beer tent.

A first for Pride Vermont this year is “OUT on Church Street.” On Friday, September 13th, from 6pm – midnight purchase a Street medallion, sold at participating businesses or through Pride Vermont. With the medallion (which costs $10 and benefits PRIDE Vermont), get 10% off at participating restaurants, shops, and stores, including Macy’s.

If you’re a foodie and looking to get your fill of local Vermont favorites, you’re in luck. Running concurrently with Vermont Pride in Battery Park is Northern Decadence Food & Travel Expo brought to you by the Vermont Gay Tourism Association. Northern Decadence features a wide array of events, including a tent filled with Vermont-based food vendors, cooking demos, and beer and wine tastings. There will be a Silent Auction with offerings such as ski passes, retail gift certificates and stays at Vermont Inns. Northern Decadence is $5 to enter (free for children) and runs from noon – 5pm.

For a full list of events for the week leading up to Pride and the weekend itself, visit Pride Vermont.

See you there!

The River You’ll Return To

Author: , July 28th, 2013

Rock River Stones

Photo courtesy of Rock River Preservation, Inc.

When my partner and I first moved to Vermont from New York City, I remember reading the slogan: “Vermont: Welcome to the West Coast of New England.” For me, it cemented that we had made the right choice to move to the Green Mountain State. Vermont, like California and the Pacific Northwest, has a legacy of embracing all types, while still retaining an identity all it’s own.

One of the communities that has benefitted from this attitude is the LGBT community. While we may not be to everyone’s liking, Vermonters seem to share a collective motto: do what you want, just as long as you don’t scare the horses! It’s a saying that expresses why Vermont is a safe and comfortable environment for everyone.

Case in point: gay swimming holes. Vermont’s beautiful mountains have shaped crystal-clear rivers that literally carve through dense green forests… Nature has produced a veritable playground for gay men! One well-known gay swimming hole, Rock River conveys this sentiment perfectly. True to its Vermont locale, a non-profit organization, known as Rock River Preservation, Inc. was founded, in part: “To protect access to a traditional gathering spot in Windham County for gay and bisexual men from across Vermont.” Gotta love Vermont!

Recently, I took a trip with my partner and our dog to Southern Vermont to visit this gay landmark. It was a beautiful day, hotter than you’d expect for July in Vermont, but perfect for a day at a swimming hole. The directions we’d gotten off the Internet were a bit convoluted, but we knew we’d arrived by the sight of shirtless gay men spraying each other with sunscreen on the side of the road. We parked the car and began the 30-minute hike to the swimming hole.

We started by walking a short way up Williamsville Rd. to what looked like a dirt driveway on the right side of the street. We hiked by a bunch of cabins, including a derelict one, until we got to the path, which trailed above the beautiful Rock River below – definitely scenic.

The couple we had seen earlier joined us on the walk and we had a nice conversation with them…they loved our dog, which meant I immediately liked them! One of them was wearing flip-flops, which proved to be a difficult choice. Like many Vermont Rivers, the Rock River suffered damage from Tropical Storm Irene, so the trails are washed away at one point, forcing intrepid gays to climb over rocks and ledges before getting back onto the trail. Don’t worry though; this part is clearly marked by green markers to keep you on the right path. With a good pair of hiking boots, you will be just fine.

Soon after the washed away section, a sign posted to a tree indicated that it’s okay to disrobe – it is a gay swimming hole, after all. Be careful to wait until you see this sign, since the swimming areas leading up to it tend to be filled with families and children. Just a little further on, we arrived at what is referred to as the “second pool.”

With our new friends continuing on, we decided to take a moment to get cooled off. We happily swam with the dog in the cool, sweet water. There are some springs leading down the hill, which feed into this swimming hole. The water is extra cold in these areas, so keep an eye out. Beautiful as these mini waterfalls look, they are chilly!

After we had sufficiently cooled off, we headed up a set of wooden stairs to continue to the third and final swimming hole. We had to cross the river at one point to get to our destination. A second set of wooden stairs, which were clearly marked, lead to the water. This section of the river was very shallow, so people who aren’t strong swimmers won’t have anything to worry about – more like walking through a deep puddle than anything else.

While the previous swimming hole had basically been empty, this swimming hole was filled with naked men lounging and swimming. We were surprised by the number of people for a weekday, but as the Rock River Preservation website points out: “Swimmers and sunbathers…prize the cool, clean water and warm rocks for summertime recreation.”

We found our friends and settled in. The beach area was set up with towels, umbrellas, and even one tarp at one end. The environment was welcoming, which is always nice when you’re completely naked! We were careful to keep the dog near us, but everyone seemed to enjoy having him around. We spent a few hours swimming, laying out on the rocks and enjoying the warm sun. It was a picture perfect day.

Behind the beach, the woods are a perfect hideaway for those of you who are looking for (ahem…) a little extra fun, but we stayed by the river. No judgment here…it’s just that I’m a married man!

I will say that the Rock River is well named. Pebbles, water-worn rocks and boulders cover the entire riverbed and its banks. Those with sensitive feet (like me) may want to have some flip-flops to maneuver through the shore stones. Some of the most beautiful things at the river were the stacked rock sculptures people had created throughout the area. They certainly gave the place a magical quality.

After a few hours, we said goodbye to our friends and headed home, very relaxed. Rock River is absolutely worth the trip.

Where to Stay: Click here for a list of LGBT friendly lodgings near the Rock River.

Directions to Rock River:
From North: Take 91 South to Exit 4 for Rt. 5 to Putney. Go 2.4 miles on Rt. 5 onto Schoolhouse Road. Follow this road for 2 miles and make a slight left onto East-West Road. Got another 2.4 miles, then make a left turn on Dummerston Covered Bridge Rd. At the end of the road, turn right onto Rt. 30 (West River Rd). Go 2 miles to Williamsville Station. The turnoff is just before a large bridge over Rock River. Pull over and park on the east end of the bridge. Be careful crossing Rt. 30 – it’s a busy road!
From Brattleboro (From South): Take Rt. 30 north. After 7 or 8 miles, when you see the turnoff for Maple Valley Ski Area, continue north on Rt. 30 for another 1.5 miles, until you reach the Williamsville Road turnoff on the left. The turnoff is just before a large bridge over Rock River. Pull over and park on the east end of the bridge. Be careful crossing Rt. 30 – it’s a busy road!