It took me a while to get back on my wheels – my Trek-brand hybrid bicycle – but I have done it. And I am proud of myself. Most anyone would be after sustaining a traumatic brain injury – while bicycling – and recuperating/recovering to the point of resuming something that formerly was a big part of his day.
After five straight days of on again/off again rain, Tuesday brought the northern New England sun back. So, bicycle went on the car’s rooftop travel rack and off I went to a favorite starting point for cycling on the Champlain Bikeway.
The bikeway (http://www.champlainbikeways.org) is a network of bicycle-ready trails – some of them set-aside bicycle lanes on highways – that circles big Lake Champlain, a focus of life in western Vermont/the eastern Adirondacks of New York State.
My starting point yesterday was Airport Park in the town of Colchester. Bicycle off the car rack, water bottle in its cage on the bicycle frame, I headed north, first through a residential area and then onto a bridge built solely for cyclists and walkers crossing the Winooski River’s mouth at Lake Champlain. A gentle uphill ride for a moment is about the biggest terrain challenge for bicyclists on this section. Then it’s back to a pancake-flat trail.
Crossing the Winooski River (I see this Lake Champlain tributary every day as I live only a quarter-mile from its passage under Vermont highway 2A and the town of Essex Junction on its north side.
Once across the bikeway bridge, the native, natural side of Vermont in the form of a riparian forest grows along the bikeway – lakeside and upland side. Little yellowish signs tell passersby that this natural area – “open space” in the parlance of municipal zoning gurus – was preserved by action of the Winooski Valley Park District.
According to its Web site (www.wvpd.org): “The Winooski Valley Park District is a public, non-profit organization created in 1972 through cooperation between its seven member communities. It is funded by the member communities, membership dues, grants, and tax-deductible private donations. The Park District's goals are to acquire and manage open space, wildlife habitat, and natural areas while encouraging the areas' natural diversity and ecology.
“The Park District's member communities are: Burlington, Colchester, Essex, Jericho, South Burlington, Williston, and Winooski. The support these towns provide is instrumental to the Park District's capability to maintain parks and open space in these towns for the enjoyment of community members and visitors.”
It’s hard for this former Pennsylvanian to fathom the notion of such a level of cooperation between just two Pennsylvania municipalities, much less seven.
Back on the trail, I pedal, then coast, then repeat the motions. I encounter other lone riders and the occasional boyfriend/girlfriend couple. Oh, and roller bladders, too.
Almost from the moment I enter the riparian woods, with gentle wavelets rushing ashore on the lake to my right, I hear birdsong – lots of it, in fact. And it reminds me of the many times I rose before dawn to conduct Breeding Bird Survey routes in Lebanon and Tioga counties, Pa.
It’s hard to collect field notes while cycling, save for the occasional rest stop, so l let my memory do the note-taking. I heard the following bird species (identifying only six by sight alone): Double-crested cormorant, mallard, Canada goose, pied-billed grebe, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker, American crow, common raven, blue jay, common grackle, red-eyed vireo, blue-headed vireo, warbling vireo, yellow warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, American goldfinch and least flycatcher.
I’m sure I missed some species. A more careful and easy-going survey would reveal many others.
The central point here, though, is this: Protected, open-space, natural land is critical to keeping this avian diversity. And the presence of the bikeway and its natural surroundings also heightens the value of the nearby human residential community.
I’m now on a section of trail created through the reuse of an old, abandoned railroad bed. Up ahead is the Burlington Waterfront, a focal point for people taking a break from downtown Burlington that’s just a couple of blocks up the hill from the King Street ferry dock.
I know when I’ve entered the busy waterfront neighborhood when I approach a sign that declares the area is open only to bicyclists and pedestrians. That’s as it should be. For its people traveling about on foot and by bicycle who notice the world about them, not just what comes and goes in the flash of a second from the car window.