The Ledges, named for its large stone outcroppings, is a small section of the undeveloped 28-mile public recreational shoreline of Harriman Reservoir near Wilmington, Vermont. Many forms of "The Creator's" most beautiful work can be found here in distant mountain views, clean water, wildlife, sunsets, and the unclothed human body. On any hot summer day as many as 300-400 people can be found quietly relaxing and socializing in various states of dress.
Although often referred to as a "nude beach," this is quite a misnomer. Many visitors exercise their preference to be without clothes in a location that allows this in the most unimposing of ways; others are clothed due to level of modesty, need for protection from the sun, weather, or personal preference. To not impose on others, users have established boundaries that are far enough from other recreationists and neighbors so that an observer would need binoculars to make an absolute recognition of nudity. In addition, signs along the trail advise the unsuspecting of what lies ahead.
Terrain consists of several large rock outcroppings, a small sandy cove, and about 2,000 feet of wooded shoreline that offer more secluded spots that are used by those who wish to get away from the crowd and the more social setting of the main area. Rough hiking trails lead in to the Ledges and connect these areas.
The social setting at the Ledges is one of nearly pure harmony. Although no law in Vermont prohibits nude recreation in the state's many discrete streams and lakes, the Ledges is often the destination of sunbathers who seek not to impose on others. These same people do not impose on each other and such items as radios and cameras are quite a rarity. The social atmosphere of the like-minded Ledges users is a friendly setting of respect for both one another and the surroundings. Those who arrive by boat often will coast in without power to maintain the silence. When space is short, obtrusive items are absent and users scramble to make room for a new arrival. Stewardship of the lake is quite apparent at the Ledges and many go well beyond the rule of "carry in-carry out" by also hauling out trash that has drifted in from other areas.
Popularity of this clothing-optional area peaked during the late 60's. Currently the Ledges is mostly a tourist destination that attracts about 5,000 unique visitors from throughout the Northeast as well as from all over the world. Estimates indicate 40,000 user days at the lake with an economic tourist value to the Deerfield Valley estimated at $1 million to $2 million. There is little that is "typical" of users; the crowd consists of singles, couples, men, women, and children who would be found in nearly any tourist setting. Polling indicates the majority of users visit fewer than five days per season, that about 50 people visit more than 50 days per year, and that very few full-time locals visit on any regular basis.
Thousands of years ago, prior to construction of the dam and reservoir, a wide plain, convergence of streams, and other factors indicate that this section of the Deerfield River would have supported an ancient community that depended on hunting, fishing, light farming and gathering. Native American people wore clothing only as a form of protection from the elements and there is little doubt that this area has been used for clothing-free bathing and recreation for millennia. Historic records and artifacts indicate that early European settlers took over the same area for the same purpose of living off the land. These pre-Victorian era people also were not clothing obsessed and textiles were a luxury. Rural Vermonters often escaped Victorian influence and the invention of the "bathing suit," a garment that, as we know it, is less than a century old, would not have been used in this area. From the construction of the reservoir in 1926 and up through the 60's there is little doubt the area's inhabitants, many without indoor plumbing, continued to use the Ledges as an ideal place to skinny dip and bathe. It is only logical to conclude that the Ledges has been popular for nude recreation for thousands of years. As an educated America becomes more European like and the trend toward nude recreation increases, the popularity of the Ledges will continue to fill available space and parking for years to come.
Although the nearest parking area access point to this section of the lake is open only from Memorial day through Columbus day, some hike in to visit the site year round. It is not uncommon for as many as 100 people to visit on a nice spring or autumn day.
Harriman Reservoir is part of the Pacific Gas and Electric National Energy Group's extensive hydroelectric power project of the Deerfield River. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license 2323 allows use of the Deerfield for this purpose. The value of hydroelectric power is in meeting peak power demand, which is a factor of season, weather, and of fluctuation in daily use. The reservoir fluctuates in level with this demand, both on a seasonal and daily basis. In June, when demand for electricity is at its lowest, the level of the reservoir is at the highest. As air conditioning use increases through the summer months and as days shorten, creating increased need for lighting, the water drops to its lowest level in early March to a point of about 40 feet below full. Snow melt and spring rains are then collected to prepare the reservoir for the next cycle. A hot summer day in August will often cause the level to drop as much as a foot, usually in late afternoon and early evening.
Directons to The Ledges (Harriman Resevoir):
Follow Route 9 to Wilmington until you get to Rt 100 South. Follow Route 100 South for approximately 1 mile and look for Boyd Hill Rd on your right. (A dirt road; Flames Stables is on the corner). Follow Boyd Hill Rd to the Wards Beach Access Rd, the entrance to the park area. (Boyd Hill Rd will turn right. Go straight into the park area).
Go as far as you can into the parking lot and park. Access to the nude area is via a well worn trail that starts at the end of the beach and follows the shore. You will eventually come to the famous rock ledges. Wearing a good pair of hiking shoes is a good idea.
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