Mad River Valley View

Valley of Artists

When spring finally arrived in the Valley, I took my road bike out of the garage and began riding variations of a route that takes me through the town of Waitsfield into Warren and up to Blueberry Lake. Each day I ride, the landscape grows more scenic, as trees begin to show their leaves, flowers bloom, and open fields grow ever greener. I am reminded that, while I have been fortunate to have cycled in locales like the French countryside and southern Ireland, there are few places more beautiful than the Mad River Valley.

Mad River Pig

While the local landscape is in itself a work of art, the Valley’s visual appeal is enhanced by the many artists who live and work here. Old County Road in Waitsfield is a calm alternative to Rt. 100, as well as an outdoor art experience. Local resident Troy Kingsbury has forged whimsical metal creatures like pigs, storks, dragonflies, and groovy dancers who lounge along the shore of his pond and populate his yard. Earlier this spring, Kingsbury’s creatures were installed in neighbor’s yards along the road, entertaining the many walkers seeking essential exercise during the Covid-19 lockdown. The ride through this gently-rolling part of town feels fun and lighthearted, and can only be improved with a post-ride stop for an ice cream or beer at the Village Grocery, Kingsbury’s other business (which also sells his art).

Just after Old County Rd. pours back onto Main Street, I pass Mad River Glass Gallery, a pretty grey barn with cranberry trim with occasional outdoor displays of blown-glass creations in a landscaped parking area. Works of art like bowls with clown fish (remember Nemo?) and vases topped with glass flowers are the norm for artists Melanie and David Leppla, whose work can be found in upscale galleries in places like Martha’s Vineyard. Or right here at their studio in Waitsfield.

Mad River Plane

Rolling along Bridge Street, I pass the sidewalk whose red bricks are etched with messages of support from local businesses and families—a pleasant upgrade after the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene. This is home to The Artisan’s Gallery, a wood-floored farmhouse whose numerous rooms are filled with paintings, birdhouses, sculpture, and jewelry made by local artists. The Sweet Spot cafe patio and its contiguous “pocket park”along the river’s edge are landscape art, providing a truly perfect place for a summer meal while admiring the covered bridge or the happy teens who jump from its roof on warm days.

I begin climbing up East Warren Road, passing barns whose doors are thrown wide open and cows grazing in the pastures or seeking shade under groves of trees. The Inn at Round Barn Farm is a continuation of this landscape art, showcasing a tranquil pond with floating lily pads surrounded by romantic gardens and old trees. In normal times, this is one of several coveted wedding venues in the Valley.

I ride by the far end of Common Road and enter “the dip”, a fast downhill followed by a short, steep climb. Coming out of the dip exposes vast, rolling fenced-in fields with several horses who may just have the best view in town. Thankful for the flattening terrain, I am able to catch my breath and admire them, as well as the upcoming acres of orderly vineyards that I dream will some day produce another art form—wine.

Farther up on the right is a ramshackle barn whose interior was once filled with sketches, ink prints, and paintings by the celebrated artist Billy Brauer. Billy’s sensuous paintings of women have been shown in galleries and museums nationwide, though I personally remember Billy for his kindness. Years before, Billy had invited my teenage daughter to his studio, where he took her on a tour of his career, pulling ink prints from drawers and rifling through stacks of sketches, telling her the details of his work. Afterwards, we had gone back to his house in Warren—a beautiful home with an English-countryside flavor he shared with his wife— where he continued his conversation with my daughter over a glass of wine. I marveled at how he spoke to her, not as an accomplished artist speaking to a teenager, but as one human being to another.

Mad River Sign

Approaching the East Warren Community Market intersection, I pass Luke Ianuzzi’s pottery studio, whose work I am familiar with through his creation of a mug collection for the Sugarbush Wall of Fame inductees last year. The custom coffee mugs Ianuzzi created for the event only brush the surface of a talent that may be more fully expressed in his giant flower vases and serving platters.

I roll past Win’s house, whose views may give the aforementioned horses a run for their money, and turn onto Plunkton Road, climbing towards the lake. I am in the general vicinity of Prickly Mountain, home to a number of talented artists and architects, including Candy Barr, a nationally-known painter recognized for her landscapes and use of color.

The mostly uphill climb to Blueberry Lake can be grueling, but the payoff never disappoints. In the early morning, I pause on the far side and take in the view: a serene lake partially blanketed with fog, occasionally visited by a lone heron or family of geese, and surrounded by mountains. Or in the late afternoon heat, I lean my bike on a plot of grass, throw down my gloves and helmet, and seek respite underwater, bike shorts and all. Blueberry Lake is a source of artistic inspiration, a recreational retreat, and a true gift to the community from local hero Lenord Robinson. It is emblematic of the beauty and kindness of this Valley and its people.

This ride I share is one of a number available to us here in the Valley. An alternate route through Warren Village would present the Pitcher Inn, whose interior is decorated with original artwork from many recognizable local and regional artists (including a Billy Brauer painting in the Brook Room), and The More Store at The Warren Store, with wearable and usable objects for sale. A ride up Lincoln Gap Road would pass by Moosewalk Studios, where Gary Eckhart and Roarke Sharlow display their work. (Sharlow’s work can also be seen in Clay Brook at Sugarbush and the Sugarbush Inn, and Eckhart is a longtime ski instructor at the mountain.)

Is there another place on earth where the visual journey on a bicycle is so eclectic and scenic? Maybe. But if so, I don’t feel the need to find it.

about the author: Candice White was on staff at Sugarbush from 2008-2018. She is a communications consultant, an occasional freelance writer, and served as editor of Sugarbush Magazine until 2020.

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