South Pond, in the Windham County town of Marlboro, is only open to town residents.
That means during the summer, South Pond is the village green, the playground and the town pool. It’s where families share potlucks and people come to unwind, exercise and re-energize.
South Pond is not the kind of place you’ll stumble upon by accident. But 87-year-old Jack North, who has spent just about every summer of his life here, said that’s what makes South Pond so special.
“You drive along a dirt road in Marlboro, and you turn off on a bumpy, single road, and through a rather magical forest,” North explained. “And it’s a rather long trip. And when you get here, this magnificent body of water is laying there, sparkling as it is, just as beautiful as ever.”
A big chunk of the land around the pond was purchased in 1919 by a wealthy family, and then in 1938, the Ames Hill - Marlboro Community Center was formed to make an offer and work to conserve South Pond.
According to meeting notes from back then, the land was purchased to “furnish facilities for the social, recreational and educational activities of its members and the youth of the area regardless of means, race, or religion.”
North said back in the day, families met just about every night during the summer — and sometimes things got pretty crazy.
“Every Wednesday was a square dance. And we’d get pretty worn out and pretty warm,” North said. “And we’d come here after the square dance in the middle of the night and skinny dip in here. Until somebody learned that they could drive the car down here and turn the lights on. And that was not a good idea.”
Today, you have to be on the Marlboro town voter checklist to get on the town beach. And so South Pond has kind of become Marlboro’s rec center — one that just happens to be a pristine, 68-acre freshwater pond, complete with loons, eagles and a sand beach.
Marlboro doesn’t have a general store. There’s no library or town park, and the town is kind of spread out along mostly remote dirt roads.
So, according to Marlboro resident Marco Panella, South Pond is where people get together.
“It’s basically, like, where people see each other in the summer, ... how we connect with people that we, you know, wouldn’t see otherwise — who are hidden in little nooks, the woods, on the road and stuff,” said Panella. “So it’s a good place to know your neighbors and see your neighbors and that sort of thing.”
Panella grew up here in Marlboro, moved away, but then came back to raise his family.
He said there’s a slow rhythmic meditation in watching your kid jump off the same dock you did, and then becoming involved with those adult things you only casually noticed growing up.
“I think what’s nice about this place is there are a lot of ways to appreciate it,” Panella said. “You can either be romping around as a kid and playing in a lake and have no idea that all this, you know, conservation stuff is an issue. ... As I’ve gotten older and appreciated those things more, and gotten involved sort of in conservation stuff myself, then it’s a place you can get involved."
Through the years, the nonprofit group that owns the land around the pond has expanded its holdings, and worked with the Vermont Land Trust to conserve the land in perpetuity.
Today about 800 acres are in conservation. Motorboats are not allowed on the pond and any development is prohibited.
And beyond all the potlucks and the beach games and the annual regatta, Ames Hill - Marlboro Community Center President Catharine Hamilton said sharing a beautiful pond with your neighbors brings the town together in ways that are hard to measure.
“I believe that we have a really cohesive community here,” Hamilton said. “Not only in part because the pond brings us together, but the pond also ... it’s good for our mental health.”
Many of us share a connection with a river, lake, stream or pond. Throughout the summer, listen to VPR to hear personal stories from Vermonters about how bodies of water around the state affect their lives, and how they've seen them change over time. Tweet @vprnet to share your favorite bodies of water in Vermont.