Camping on the Battenkill open
"I suppose we were just too busy rebuilding the campground, looking for funding to pay for work and providing customer service to campers at the campground to realize how many people thought we were closed after Irene's devastation."
The morning of Aug. 29 had the Battenkill and Roaring Branch Rivers, both border the campground, at record levels of flooding. It was around 11 a.m. when Lesley, sitting in the office realized that the Roaring Branch sounded different. She drove into the campground and the first thing she didn't see was the berm that held the river in its banks. It was totally gone. Within minutes three-fourths of the campground was flooded. The good news, no life was lost. Peter Pratt, who oversees the maintenance of the campground, had evacuated campers to higher ground away from the rising waters.
In 1961, Mary & Larry Pratt moved their family to what was known as the McCauley house on Route 7 just north of Arlington. Larry was a soil conservationist for Bennington County. He knew the local game warden who upon hearing where they were moving to said, "Don't be surprise come next spring when a dozen or so cars drive across your field, down through the trees into the meadow below to camp. They're fisherman, lining up to get the first catch on the opening day of fishing season."
It was then that the idea of the campground took hold.
For the next several years, the Pratt family carved out the campground. Two bathhouses were built, one in the wooded area and one on the edge of the meadow. The campground was built with conservation efforts in mind; large sites with trees separating most and allowances for spring, summer or fall floods. Sites along the meadow on the river had water and electric hook-up where sites near the where the Roaring Branch flows into the Battenkill River would always be basic tent sites. Lesley reiterated my father use to say that you can't change Mother Nature you just have to learn how to live with her. A few years ago the lower half of the berm on the Roaring Branch was removed to create a fan that would help with flood control, today that fan is still in place.
The first week after the storm, volunteers came in to help move debris from the Roaring Branch River that was left four feet higher than the land and littered with rocks, house parts and tree debris.
"The most common question people ask is did all those trees in the field come out of the campground?" And "What are you going to do with that wood pile?" Yes, that wood did come from throughout the campground and the Roaring Branch. A controlled burn, will take place when there is snow on the ground.
The one thing that this flood did give us was the material to rebuild the campground. Peter and Gary Lunderville, who own Moose River Campground and Excavating in St. Johnsbury, started work last fall and then started again this spring to revive the sites, roadways and other internal structures. The only changes are that the sites are a little bit bigger and more level. One setback did occur the beginning of May, when lifting the bathhouse for repairs, the building collapsed. The bathhouses were the only building with flood insurance and the settlement did not cover the cost to rebuild. Now just a few weeks away from the first holiday weekend, they were left scrambling to get permits to rebuild. Using the original footprint as required, it was modeled along the same lines with room for a unisex bathroom and shower unit for handicap use.
To help celebrate the rebuilding of this community treasure, join the Pratt family this September for concerts to help raise money to pay for the repairs and rebuilding. Check out their Facebook for more detail or their website at www.campingonthebattenkillvt.com.
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