Summer Fun, Vermont Style - My Family Travels

Want to enjoy budget summer fun in Vermont? FTF gives you the inside scoop on where to stay and what to do in the snow-free Mt. Snow Valley.

It's not sleek or chic like Woodstock, but there's more creative family-friendly energy throughout the year in the towns that make up the Mt. Snow Valley than any other areas I've visited in Vermont. Little known to those outside Vermont, this pocket of entrepreneurship has much to offer families in search of an authentic New England experience – it's locked in time but by no means isolated.

Families will be happy to know that "The Valley" is ably represented by a dynamic Chamber of Commerce that coordinates the activities of the six towns that make up the physical and creative geography: Wilmington, East and West Dover, Wardsboro, Marlboro, Halifax, Jacksonville and Whitingham.

Events, Eats and Emus

Route 9W from Brattleboro puts you in Wilmington, the provincial capital of "The Valley" and the home of the Chamber (877/887-6884). Annually over the Independence Day holiday, there's a moonlight hay ride across the beautiful Vermont countryside just before the gala fireworks celebration. The ride is topped off with fresh homemade strawberry shortcake. This happens at the Adams Farm (802/464-3762) in Wilmington, a perfect example of Agri-Tourism – small, working family farms that turned to tourism when the financial bottom fell out of the produce market. Carl and Jill Mancivalano do a wonderful job introducing kids and their parents to life on a real farm. In addition to the moonlight hay rides, the couple have genuine sheep-shearing days complete with yarn spinning, wool picking and carding. They sell the products made from the wool in their gift shop as well as hand creams from the goats' milk.

Then there are the sleigh rides, milking goats, haunted hayrides in October, sugaring-off and an intimate theater where the animals play their parts in various kinds of inventive and funny pantomimes and plays. The Mancivalanos do a superb job of educating families to the joys and hard work of farm life and the bonds created between humans and animals.

Toddler alert:  The petting farm is special with little picnic baskets prepared for feeding the critters.

An Olde-Fashioned Summer Weekend

On July 4 the real thing happens – fireworks at 9pm at Baker Field in Wilmington! Get there early for live entertainment, food and various vendors. Call the Chamber at 877/887-6884.

Al Wurzberger runs the 1836 Country Store in Wilmington Center. It's a sprawling, fun and authentic New England establishment selling stuff from weathervanes to genuine German beer steins. The kids can buy all kinds of penny candy while parents can buy some of the best maple syrup anywhere. The store is a converted barn with all the original fixtures in place. There's a small deli attached (Mother's Deli) that ranks its home-made chili – the Wicked White Bean and Chicken Chili is the hottest.

Next door is an equally old and charming barn, the Norton House (802/464-7213), which is the quilting center of the Valley, with reams of fabrics, quilting computer programs and classes for all levels. The fun continues all summer long, even in an area named for snow.

Adventure Camps for Kids

Families looking for a longer stay should check out the Mt. Snow Resort (802/464-3333) which has an ambitious and creative program for families. With plenty of activities like mountain biking, golfing, hiking, in-line skating and heated pools, Mt. Snow has packages combining lodgings with very well-run children's programs year round.

The highly regarded, licensed Kid's Adventure Camp for children 6-weeks to 12-years (children are divided into the appropriate age groups) offers toys and games, short hikes, water play and crafts. More challenging activities like scavenger hunts, swimming, in-line skating, the climbing wall, and other activities are offered for older children.

For older kids, mountain biking, hiking and golf are also offered. Parents learning at the golf school, playing a round, or mountain biking, can be sure their children are active and well taken care of. We've seen the facilities and met the director. The place is colorful, clean and well equipped.

Details, Details

Our tip for a one-call-does-all approach is to visit the Mt. Snow Resort website or call Mt. Snow Vacation Services at 800/245-SNOW. Choose from among 60 lodgings, many of them very family-friendly.

They'll help you put together a family biking package with lessons on mountain bikes, paths to try, rentals, etc. They also have access to the Adventure Center where active families can skateboard safely, do some in-line skating and try their skill at the Climbing Wall – a true challenge! Mom and Dad can "do" the Mt. Snow Golf course and school (18 hole) in the meantime.

To plan ahead and learn about local area festivals and the best values in lodging, call the folks at the Chamber of Commerce (877/VTSOUTH). They have a clear sense of what's happening in the Valley and how to access it.

By the way, a fun place for the family is Deacon's Den (802/464-9361) next to Fennesseys restaurant in West Dover. It's a calamitous eatery with a wacky, thrown-together feel. All kinds of happy flotsam decorate the place. Dogs may walk in and out, the burgers are great and the family entertainment is fun. They have open drawers of jelly beans, and give away about 3,300 pounds of the stuff yearly.

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