Nestled in the Green Mountains of central Vermont lies Huntington Gorge, a narrow chasm carved out of the bedrock by the Huntington River over thousands of years. While undeniably beautiful, this natural wonder has a dark history mired in tragedy for the many visitors unaware of its hazards.
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The Huntington Gorge is Beautiful But Has Claimed Many Lives
A Deadly Allure
Over the decades, hundreds have been drawn to the stunning cliffs and surging river of Huntington Gorge. However, at least 56 people have lost their lives here since the 1950s, with dozens more suffering injuries from falls and slippery rocks.
The area’s beauty belies its many dangers – the river banks are steep and unstable, while swift currents and deep holes lurk beneath the water’s surface. Unsuspecting hikers and swimmers often fatally underestimate the risks.
History Written in Tragedy
Some of Huntington Gorge’s most horrific tales originate in the swimming holes carved out of the rock by the river. In the summer of 1958, four teenagers drowned after one got a cramp and pulled the others underwater in a panicked frenzy.
In a similar 1978 incident, three youths tragically drowned when two tried saving a third who had slipped on algae. Their bodies were discovered lodged underwater in one of the gorge’s narrow chutes.
For many years, makeshift diving boards drew thrill-seekers wanting to plunge into the gorge’s icy waters. Tragically, these contraptions led to paralysis and death for many overconfident divers. After numerous accidents, state officials dismantled the boards in 1987.
A sign at the falls indicates the tragic fates of 22 visitors since 1950. With some common sense, and some careful scouting, visitors can bypass the obvious dangers at the gorge, and enjoy the popular swimming holes and marvel at the gorge and falls. Huntington Gorge is has developed a reputation as a killer. It is estimated that over forty people have drowned in the Gorge. Deadly as it may be, it is a beautiful place and just requires a bit of caution and common sense.
The History and Location of Huntington Gorge
Huntington Gorge is located in Huntington, Vermont, a town in Chittenden County that lies along the Huntington River. The gorge itself is approximately 1.5 miles long and consists of a narrow passage with steep, rocky cliffs up to 80 feet high along the river.
Native Americans are known to have traveled through the area for thousands of years, following trails along the Huntington River. The gorge was later frequented by early Vermont settlers in the late 18th century, who were drawn by the river’s potential for water power and industry.
In the 1830s, mills and other industrial buildings were constructed along the river near the gorge. Logs were floated downstream through the gorge to feed the growing industries. This brought more people to the hazardous chasm, resulting in periodic injuries and deaths.
The Huntington Gorge came under the ownership of the Ondawa Girl Scout Camp in the 1950s. It was at this time that organized rescues began for those hurt or stranded in the gorge. The Scouts also posted the first warning signs about the dangers.
By the 1960s, the area along the gorge had become a popular local swimming hole. However, the numerous drownings and accidents through the 70s and 80s led to increased efforts to restrict access and educate visitors. Today, the gorge remains under private ownership but continues to attract hikers and swimmers willing to risk their safety.
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While warning signs are now posted, Huntington Gorge still presents ample opportunities for disaster. Steep cliffs make for deadly rockslides, while deceptively strong currents can drag swimmers into under-water caves with no escape.
Flash floods brought on by heavy rains only amplify these inherent dangers. In 2011, a young woman drowned after floodwaters suddenly rose, trapping her in an underwater hole. Authorities said her death was caused by “foolhardiness and risky behavior.”
Despite its perilous reputation, Huntington Gorge will likely continue tempting visitors with its scenic vistas and thrills. But its history stands as a sobering reminder that beauty can obscure deadly hazards. Respect for this powerful landscape and the limits of human skill may spare others from becoming part of the tragedy that is already etched indelibly into these cliffs.