by Dick Smith
Families with kids will have lots of fun on the Shires Byway. The Byway starts in Pownal, VT and passes through the towns of Bennington, Shaftsbury, Arlington, Sunderland and Manchester. Where to find specific information is indicated at the end of this article.
Driving north from the Massachusetts border, notice the 15-acre solar power installation which can be viewed from the road. Continuing north on the Byway, The Apple Barn is an attraction which offers “pick-your-own” berries, apple tastings, hay rides, cider doughnuts, and souvenirs.
In Bennington, there is an elevator ride up to the top of the tallest man-made structure in Vermont, the Bennington Battle Monument, with spectacular 360-degree views of the area. The Covered Bridge Museum and the Bennington Museum are worthwhile stops which offer VT artifacts, art works and cultural displays. You can also drive through 3 real covered bridges in Bennington. Lake Paran has swimming, fishing and boating access. Special events in Bennington include: the Hometown Fun and Fireworks (July 4), the Pro-AM Bike Race (July 5 & 6), Midnight Madness (July 17), A Midsummer Night Prowl (July 19), Battle Day Festivities and Parade (August 15 & 17), and the Garlic and Herb Festival (August 30 & 31).
The next town on the Shires Byway is Shaftsbury where you can take a trail ride at Kimberly Stables and then stop Lake Shaftsbury State park. The park offers canoe/kayak rentals and swimming and is a great spot for a family picnic.
The town of Arlington has a recreation park open to the public and has a kid-friendly par 3 informal golf course. You may wish to take route 313 west for about 4 miles and swim under a covered bridge in the local swimming hole. Another big past-time in the area is renting a large inner tube and tubing down our river, the Battenkill. The Village Peddler in East Arlington offers chocolate treats and other local Vermont items. The Sugar Shack is located a couple of miles north of the center of Arlington on the Byway. It offers a display and film about the famous artist, Norman Rockwell who lived in Arlington. There is a state-of-the-art maple syrup operation on premises. Samples of Vermont cheeses, jams, crackers & cider donuts are offered while you are browsing. Just a short distance to the north is the iconic round Cheese House where you will find loads of Vermont souvenirs, products, and of course a wide variety of cheese!
Further north on the Byway in Sunderland is the entrance to the Equinox Skyline Drive. At the end of the 5 mile drive to the top of Mount Equinox (highest mountain in the Taconic Range) is a new welcome building offering spectacular views.
Next stop is Manchester with its variety of attractions for kids. Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, is a magnificent 412-acre estate with an operating agricultural center. The center includes a goat-cheese making operation and of course goats. Hildene also has a fully preserved Pullman sleeper car, a mansion with Lincoln family memorabilia, stunning gardens and gorgeous views. Robert Todd Lincoln, the builder of the estate, was Abraham Lincoln’s only son that lived to maturity.
In Manchester Village there are several hiking trails at the Equinox Preserveration Trust with all levels of difficulty and length. The fun and bustling Northshire Bookstore is located in the center of town. Manchester Hot Glass has glass blowing demonstrations and offers an opportunity to make your own creations. The Dana Thompson Memorial Park has a first-rate skateboard park, playground, a swimming pool, leash free dog park etc. The Orvis flagship store has an indoor trout pond. As the Town of Manchester image of the juggler shows, there are Streets Festivals usually in July and August. Try the fun and casual Tuesday night concerts on the Town Green.
Throughout the entire length of the Shires Byway, you can rent a bike and enjoy the many biking routes. There is fishing, tubing, and kayaking on the beautiful Batten Kill river which runs through Manchester, Sunderland and Arlington. Of course there is Vermont ice cream, scenic views and some unusual animal watching everywhere.
Does something strike your fancy? You can obtain maps, directions, rental information, etc., about the above activities at several locations along the Shires Byway. (The Bennington State Welcome Center at the intersection of the Shires Byway and route 279; the Bennington Chamber of Commerce on route 7, www.bennington.com 802-447-2456 or The Manchester Chamber of Commerce at 39 Bonnet St. www.visitmanchestervt.com 802-362-6313. The various chambers can also let you know about many other events.
Richard (Dick) Smith is a bestselling author on Vermont history and gives tours for Backroad Discovery Tours.