The River You’ll Return To

by MK Bateman

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!

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