Community News Service
Last Saturday was forecast to be a rainy day in Charlotte. Nevertheless, Mount Philo State Park’s parking lot was completely full that morning, and upwards of 300 visitors continued hiking undeterred when the rain started by early afternoon.
A plaque on the summit reminds visitors that Mount Philo is Vermont’s oldest state park, founded in 1924. The park is also the state’s most popular, with upwards of 70,000 visitors annually, according to Park Manager Colleen Metzler.
As of September, the park had nearly 55,000 visitors since it opened on Memorial Day.
Visitors praise the ease of the hike and the beautiful views from the summit of the Champlain Valley and across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks in New York state.
Mount Philo State Park owes a great deal of its popularity to its accessibility. The mountain is a mere 968-feet-tall with a relatively gentle .75-mile hiking trail and it sits just 15 miles south of downtown Burlington. The park is also one of the few wheelchair-accessible parks in the state.
“We came here to do a nice, easy hike,” said Jordan Litner of Winooski, who was hiking alongside his wife, their young kids and their new puppy, Penny, on Saturday. “It’s a 30-40 minute walk for one of the best views.”
With the popularity of the mountain comes wear and tear on the land from visitors. Metzler says that in general, visitors are very respectful of the park.
Wooden signs planted around the footpaths on the mountain remind hikers to stay on trail and avoid treading on restoration areas.
Additionally, dog waste bags and receptacles are affixed with signs that ask pet owners to keep their pets leashed and clean up after them in the park.
Mt. Philo is a new assignment this year for Metzler and Pam Brady, the park’s new assistant ranger.
This season, park facilities have been open longer each day than previously. The park opens at 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., and as of June 29, admission fees are charged beginning at 8 a.m. as well. The park continues to close at sunset each day.
In addition to hiking trails, the mountain has a small campground near its summit overlook, with seven tent campsites and three lean-tos.
This year, the facilities at the park are staying open longer than usual. Most years, the park officially closes on Indigenous Peoples’ Day (formerly Columbus Day), but this year, the park facilities will be open until Oct. 20.
“After the closing date, the facilities are closed, but the park is still open for public use and we don’t charge fees,”Metzler explained. “Between October and Memorial Day weekend, we don’t track how many people are here, but people still hike every single day,”
Extending the presence of rangers at the park also aids in the preservation of the mountain given its heavy foot traffic.
Currently, the park’s most concentrated conservation effort is educating visitors on how to enjoy the mountain without damaging it. Metzler said that this includes reminding visitors to stay on marked trails, take all trash out when they leave, carpool and choose to hike on the road when trails are muddy. In general, she said, people cooperate.
“People are super-respectful of the park,” she said.
Metzler says that at least one K-12 school group comes to the park each weekday, and that she especially enjoys watching children learn about nature and conservation at the park.
“I love that Mount Philo is a great park for people who are new to nature,” Metzler said. “Personally, this was the first hike that I had done in my whole life, and now I am a park ranger, which is pretty cool.”
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.