Edited by Eva Pepe
Rock Point is a unique, multipurpose “urban wild” area situated on the northern shore of Burlington on Lake Champlain. This popular peninsula has distinctive geological and social histories, both of which provide useful context as to how and why it evolved to function as it does today.
Rock Point was uniquely shaped by two major geologic events. The first occurred when the Green Mountains were formed. Evidence of this can be seen at the lakefront with the Champlain Thrust Fault. A thrust fault is a phenomenon where older rock is pushed up onto younger rock (an inversion of the typical layering) at a low angle to the Earth’s surface. The Champlain Thrust Fault is a formation of bedrock where calcium rich Dunham Dolostone, approximately 500 million years old, is layered over Iberville Shale, a stone that is 40 million years younger than the dolostone. This inversion of layers occurred when the land buckled as the Green Mountains were formed. The exposed cliff faces, accessible to view from many of the shores on Rock Point, offer a glimpse into Vermont’s complex geologic past and help inform our understanding of the biotic communities that exist atop it. While the actual fault extends about 200 miles, the visibility of the layers at Rock Point is part of what makes this site so special.
The second formative geologic event was the glacial retreat at the end of the Pleistocene Ice age about 15,000 years ago. As the glaciers retreated and glacial meltwaters filled the valley, powerful rivers carried sediments to giant deltas, one of which spans much of the now-Burlington area. This post-ice age sediment deposition is what gave rise to the coarse soils and sandy loams seen at Rock Point today.
The ecology of Rock Point is characterized by several wetland areas and three distinct forest communities, the two most common being Mesic Maple-Ash Hickory-Oak Forest and White Pine Transition Hardwood Forest.White Pine can be found in great abundance at Rock Point due to a history of logging that occurred in the mid-1800s. The return of this early successional species signifies that the ecosystem is recovering from clearcutting. A Limestone Bluff Cedar-Pine Forest can be found along the lakeshore of Rock Point. White Cedar dominates the limestone rich bedrock.
In areas where the soil is poorly drained, a variety of wetlands can be found. The Red Maple Swamp in the south end of Rock Point is home to Red Maple and Black and Green Ash. Adjacent to the swamp is a Cattail Marsh, vegetated with the unique Champlain Beach Grass. Various wet fields, seeps, and vernal pools can be found in Arms Forest.
Humans have a long history of connection to the landscape at Rock Point, relating to it in a variety of ways over the years. Rock Point is considered to be a site of “high prehistoric sensitivity” as its lakefront access likely provided the Abenaki people with multiple uses of the land. While the exact ways that it was utilized is not well documented or agreed upon by archeologists, evidence of Abenaki activity includes the presence of chert projectile points (or “arrowheads”), according to the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.
In the mid-1800’s white settlers began to occupy the land by clear cutting and moving soil and boulders for construction. The property was first owned by Bishop Hopkins, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont and his family, who used stone quarried onsite to build structures. In 1854, Hopkins transferred much of the land to the Vermont Episcopal Institute, which established a theological seminary (a boy’s school), and a Bishop’s home at Rock Point. The boy’s school became a military academy during the Civil War, and more land was cleared for drills to be practiced. The school later became a center for religious activities before burning down in 1979. Gardening and agriculture have long been present at the site, with the Hopkins family setting up an apple orchard and using the land for subsistence farming for 50 years.
Today, Rock Point maintains its significance as a place for religious activities, gardening and agriculture, education, and recreation. The popular Island Line Bike Path intersects Rock Point, while two more miles of foot trails weave throughout the site. The following organizations all share and interact with the land at Rock Point, each participating in current projects:
Burlington Parks and Recreation:
- Rock Point Community Garden, one of 14 community gardens in Burlington, can be found near the Diocese office
- Working with the Episcopal Church, BPRW strives to include parts of Rock Point and the Arms Forest into the Burlington Wildways project, which connects wild places in Burlington to protect them and the wildlife that uses them. The trail steward program helps with these conservation efforts.
- A community garden sponsored by the Rock Point International Community, the Homeward Bound Collective is a permaculture garden that grows food for the Chittenden Emergency Food Bank.
- The collective hosts community dinners. To get involved, contact Annalise Carington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rock Point School:
- A boarding high school at this site, the Rock Point School offers a non-traditional education opportunity that emphasizes the cultural, recreational, and spiritual aspects of learning alongside academic learning.
- RPS has recently taken measures to account for the racist actions and writings of the original Bishop Hopkins.
- RPS works with Rooted Heart Rising Medicinal Garden to plant pollinator-friendly plants for the Rock Point Solar Meadow Pollinator Project.
Rooted Heart Rising Medicinal Garden:
- RHRMG is a pollinator sanctuary, herb garden and educational space used by RPS and Spoonful Herbals, a non-profit educational center.
- Spoonful Herbals is working to create a nursery and demonstration pollinator garden at RHRMG• To find out more, contact Kara Schott Buchanan (email@example.com). Apprenticeships are offered for those interested in herbal products and natural wellness.
- Climbing at Rock Point and Lone Rock is allowed if sponsored by CRAG-VT, a non profit climbing organization focused on advocacy, stewardship, and education.
- Run by students at the University of Vermont, the Slade Co-op runs a garden that partners with the Burlington chapter of Food Not Bombs.
- The Rock Point International Community carries out various retreats, seminars, and practices at the site.
- The Episcopal Church is a partner on projects such as the Burlington Wildways Project, and the Rock Point Solar Meadow Pollinator Project, which aims to create a pollinator habitat in the existing solar field,
- To learn more about the Rock Point Gardens and the Rock Point International Community contact The Rev. Jackie Arbuckle (JackieinVT@gmail.com).
Crow’s Path Education Center:
- An independent educational center, Crow’s Path partners with various education organizations in the Burlington area to offer programs that reconnect children with nature.