Will Pedal for Ice Cream: On the Burlington Bike Path
We walked out of the ECHO Lake Aquarium on our first day in Vermont, intending to cross the Burlington bike path and make our way toward downtown. But we didn’t get very far before our friend spied a maple creemee stand and insisted we taste this Vermont foodways tradition. I tried to keep my lip from curling as she explained that creemees are soft serve mixed with maple syrup. Soft serve ice cream! Why bother? But I dutifully agreed to try it, and fell in love at first lick. Creemees pack a powerful maple flavor and a silky, slightly sticky texture. Every day thereafter, each bicycle trip we took just happened to pass a maple creemee stand.
Like maple creemees, the Burlington bike path has a long and storied history in Vermont. Burlington claims it’s one of the oldest in New England. The city section is part of the Island Line Trail system uniting several area bikeways to form a 14-mile-long route running roughly north to south along Lake Champlain. I decided we would ride it on one of our last days in Burlington.
As I’ve explained before–no doubt ad nauseum–Mr. Spoked is not a fan of bike paths, but he rides them anyway because of me. And I ride them to understand how cities respect (or disrespect) bicycle transportation within their limits. Many trails are used for recreational purposes; it’s a happy accident when commuters can get to work on one. (We didn’t see any commuters in Burlington, but then it was a Saturday.) The Burlington bike path appears to be designed for recreational purposes, although I don’t doubt commuters appreciate that it connects northern and southern residential areas to downtown. If you lived and worked in the right places, you could patch together a sweet commute.
Our trip on the Burlington bike path was purely recreational. We parked our car at North Beach Park and rented kayaks for a couple of hours before unloading the bikes and heading north on the trail. For some yards, we jockeyed for space with walkers heading to a beer festival. Happily, things cleared out in less than a mile.
Generally speaking, the Burlington bike path is nicely maintained. Thankfully, it’s also pretty straight–Bike paths with curves may seem scenic to their designers, but they’re wildly annoying to cyclists. The path skirts Lake Champlain and its course is mostly easy to find. The surface is a mixture of sand and gravel, along with some paved stretches. One of the path’s notable features is a long–and expensive–boardwalk through the New North End neighborhood. It keeps cyclists high above the marshlands between the lake and the Winooski River, and bridges the river’s mouth. We pedaled along at a good clip on this stretch because the trail was wide and flat, and there were few cyclists and walkers.
Our friend, who didn’t accompany us on this trip, told us to be sure to ride out onto the northern causeway of the Burlington bike path. Before flooding in 2011, cyclists could ride the causeway out into the lake–all the way to South Hero Island. Unfortunately, we lost the trail’s scent when we were dumped into a poorly marked neighborhood on the other side of Delta Park. We later learned we were only a couple of blocks from the trail, although we might as well have been miles away because of the lack of signage. This seems to be the curse of bike paths everywhere.
So we turned around and headed back to Burlington, adjusting our purpose to find the Lake Champlain Chocolates factory store. This would be our only opportunity to ride in the city proper–not on a path or trail, but on a road with vehicular traffic. A parking lot guard directed us south onto Pine Street. We made good time on the pavement, but the bike lane came and went without any apparent logic. Sometimes the pavement sported sharrows, but often not. It was comforting to see other bicyclists on the same street, dealing with the same schizophrenic approach to city planning. The drivers gave us plenty of clearance, though, and our safety never felt threatened.
I’d recommend the Burlington bike path to recreational cyclists and also hard-core riders in the mood for a more relaxed trip. The scenery is grand and, oh yeah, there’s a maple creemee stand right on the path downtown.
Check out the other posts in my 2012 cycling vacation series:
- Niagara Falls (Bike New York)
- Erie Canal (Bike New York)
- Covered Bridges in Vermont (Bike Vermont)
- Champlain Islands (Bike Vermont)
- Montreal (Bike Quebec)
- Great Allegheny Passage (Pennsylvania Bike Trails)