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Vermont's Marble Mecca: A Worthy Swimming Hole For Cliff-Jumping Pilgrims


August brings some of the hottest days of summer, so let's jump in the water. This month on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we're touring some of the best swimming holes in the country. Our first stop is Dorset, Vt. Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck takes us to the nation's oldest commercial marble quarry that's now a mecca for cliff jumping and cooling-off.

NINA KECK, BYLINE: As swimming holes go, the Dorset Quarry is spacious - about 120 yards long and 30 yards across, with plenty of smooth rock terraces to lounge on and jump off. Stone carved from this site was used to build the New York Public Library and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. But today the quarry is more famous for its cold, deep water than its vein of pearly marble.

KAT CHENAIL: It's pretty great. I've been to a lot of swimming holes, and this is one of the only ones where there's actually places to sit besides in the water.

KECK: Kat Chenail and her friend, Celia Bote, drove up from Williamstown, Mass. Like nearly everyone, they're drawn to the stone ledges. The one they stand on is about 10 feet above the water.

CHENAIL: Yeah, we're trying to get up the courage to jump off of this one, which is, like, half as high as the ones over there. But we're making our way. We might not ever make it that far.

CELIA BOTE: Or that far.

CHENAIL: But it's fun watching people.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Cannonball, cannonball.

KECK: Seth Losure of Bethlehem, Conn., and Erik Worden of Averill, N.Y. watch as a steady stream of thrill-seekers leap and somersault off the tallest ledge, some 30 feet off the water.

SETH LOSURE: I'm over here thinking, like, if they mess up once, they're done, like, they're hurt. Like, one back flop, one belly flop, and I doubt any of those people are ever going to jump again.

ERIK WORDEN: Sometimes they mess up and a huge splash - the whole quarry just goes silent. You hear, ooh. And they come up and they're always fine.

LOSURE: (Laughter) It's pretty scary to watch, but I definitely give them props when they actually do it.

WORDEN: Meanwhile, there's a bunch of people floating around on tubes and floats. The water's great. It's really pretty. It's just very fun. It's a fun environment.

KECK: On hot, sunny days like today, you'll see hundreds of people at the quarry. And while it may feel like a park, it's actually private property owned by Kirsten and Dick McDonough, who live next door.

KIRSTEN MCDONOUGH: It gets really crazy. You hear a lot of whooping and hollering, and you can hear the cheers sometimes (laughter) when people are cheering each other on to jump in.

KECK: When they bought the property in 1997, they say it was overgrown and dangerous so they cleared out trees and brush to open it up. They created a grassy picnic area and a parking lot, all at their own expense.

K. MCDONOUGH: The thing is, it's really a community resource. And it's just so beautiful, it is kind of meant to be shared. And people feel like they're kind of entitled to swim there because they've been doing it for so long.

KECK: The couple, who are both attorneys, say Vermont law has also played a crucial role in allowing them to keep the quarry open, by protecting them from liability. YouTube videos and Facebook posts have made the swimming hole even more popular in recent years, as have some prominent mentions in USA Today, The New York Times and several travel guides. This NPR story will probably boost visits even more, says Dick McDonough, so he asks that I remind people that if they come to swim in Dorset to pick up their trash. For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Vermont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina has been reporting for VPR since 1996, primarily focusing on the Rutland area. An experienced journalist, Nina covered international and national news for seven years with the Voice of America, working in Washington, D.C., and Germany. While in Germany, she also worked as a stringer for Marketplace. Nina has been honored with two national Edward R. Murrow Awards: In 2006, she won for her investigative reporting on VPR and in 2009 she won for her use of sound. She began her career at Wisconsin Public Radio.