ST. ALBANS TOWN — On a cold and miserable day, you see only the break wall.
But today, as you paddle away from Kill Kare State Park, leaving the rocky shores of land behind, something off in the distance captures your attention.
You round the corner into the channel and it’s full face in front of you. Only then do you begin to experience what Head Ranger Catherine Yoder says is the moment she fell in love.
“It’s a special joy to me when we get first-time visitors, when we get people coming here saying this is my first time and I feel like every year there are a few more and a few more,” says Yoder.
Burton Island is Vermont State Park’s only full service island campground. It’s also the most well kept secret in St. Albans — something Yoder is not shy about confirming.
“It’s 100% St. Albans' best kept secret! This is my sixth year here and I can’t tell you how many people we’ve had come specifically from St. Albans, but also from surrounding areas who said, ‘I never knew it was just sitting over here, and if you talk to people who have been coming for a very long time, they tell you that’s how they’d like to keep it as well,” she says.
One reason for the well kept secret might be simple. According to Yoder, in the age before widespread media, there wasn’t necessarily attention brought to it.
“I think there isn’t a lot of discussion ... obviously in recent years we’ve moved into more modern times, so we have a lot more broad reaching web pages and Instagram and Facebook, and all of that that puts us out there,” says Yoder.
The other could be more complex.
“It is incredibly competitive to get a spot here on Burton Island. At every other state park the reservations open up on the first of the month — 11 months in advance,” she says.
The traffic becomes so intense that Burton Island is given its own day of the month, the 15th, for reservations.
"A very common thing you hear is, 'We know we can’t get a spot. We can never get a spot. It’s impossible to get a spot,' and yet we get booked up every year,” Yoder says.
The season of sunburns, ice cream cones and late-night campfire chats unofficially starts with Memorial Day Weekend. This year, the park officially opened on May 28. But Yoder says if you didn’t get that quick reservation, don’t give up.
“Those can change a lot once the season opens. I will have people sometimes calling five or six times a day just for cancellations,” she says. “I’m glad for it. I say bother me because that’s when you get it. It’s happened to me multiple times over the years, like ‘You’re never going to believe it, two minutes ago someone just cancelled this amazing, beautiful waterfront site.’ The person who fills their spot loses their minds and you become their best friend for life.”
Yoder says, this year, the border closure will have an impact that can’t yet fully be tallied. The island has always depended on Canadian citizens. She says they can represent about 50% to 60% of the revenue over a busy weekend.
“I spoke with someone last year, and it was his first time in 20 years not being able to come and camp and I was sad, he was sad. He had made reservations a year before and was calling to cancel and, yeah, it was a little bit emotional,” says Yoder.
Despite this, she says there’s a sense of normalcy taking hold that’s been absent the last couple of years. This, she says, will make this season different at Burton Island.
“Two years ago we were opening just before Father’s Day because we were just so flooded that a major portion of our campground was underwater by Memorial Day, so there was quite the delay in that and then of course the following year was a pandemic that none of us really expected,” she said.
It’s still an exciting time for Yoder and her staff. As the wind dies down on the first day, and the good energy continues, Yoder stops to take a breath during a chaotic preseason.
“It’s all up from here," she says.