GLOVER, Vt.-An earth-shattering event, set for remembrance in a small Vermont community, recalls the day 200 years ago when Long Pond burst its banks and changed the lives of local folks forever. An engineer estimated that the pond must have contained 1.988 billion gallons of water when it gave way. The event left behind incredible destruction and an entertaining story-a story that gets told and retold every June around the remnants of the old pond.
Some folks think the story of Long Pond-now popularly called Runaway Pond-has become even bigger than the event itself. That's why most everybody in the vicinity of the towns of Glover and Barton probably plan to turn out the weekend of June 6 to commemorate and talk about Runaway Pond.
And for people who live beyond the cluster of small communities south and west of Lake Memphremagog in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom-or just about anywhere-the Runaway Pond environmental lesson is worth considering: it's just plain dumb to tinker with Mother Nature too much.
The story begins during the opening days of June 1810-
The owner of a grist mill decided that the stream that turned his stones wasn't working hard enough, as the countryside was in the grip of a drought that had turned the water flow to a trickle. So why not help things along, he must have thought.
Several miles up the valley, a small pond fed his stream. And there was another, much bigger, pond above that. Trouble was, the stream from the big pond flowed south-the other way, a fact that was not likely to change on its own considering things had been like that for something like 10,000 years.
So the miller, whose name was Willson, gathered a willing crowd, hiked up the rugged valley and began digging a trench at the north end of the pond to direct what he hoped would be a workable stream down toward his mill.
All went well until the first bit of water began to flow over the lip they had chopped out of the hardpan that was holding the pond back and determining that its outflow would go south instead of north, which was of no value to Willson whatsoever.
The water disappeared down the hole they had dug to start the trench. Soon, more water began to flow over the edge and down the hole and then even more water than that, which turned the fine sand they had been digging in to a soupy sort of quicksand. That, in turn, undermined the hardpan of the pond and the whole thing gave way with a flourish.
The valley drops 600 feet from Runaway Pond to Orleans for an average of about 40 feet per mile. The water ran out of the pond in 1 hour and 15 minutes, but the mud ran out for hours. The water reached Lake Memphremagog in 4 hours and reportedly raised the level there 1 foot.
The initial surge took trees with it, building up a log jam, stopping the flood temporarily until the water pressure behind the jam backed up, causing another breakthrough. This scenario kept recurring in the flood's progress down to Barton.
The results of the flood can still be seen today in the village of Barton and elsewhere in the Barton River Valley.
Somehow, the men weren't swept away and lived to tell the tale, which is this: the pond that had no practical purpose until that time suddenly proceeded to create a significant legend for itself and run away down the swampy valley, making enough noise in the process that folks even miles off were convinced that Judgment Day had arrived. It carved out the little pond below, ripping up whole forests and generally creating chaos until eventually reaching the vicinity of Willson's grist mill.
The water proceeded in fits and starts, first turning trees to kindling and then piling them up like a dam before breaking through again and resuming the path of destruction. That gave a fellow named Chamberlain time to run ahead and warn the miller's wife to get out just in time (or so the legend grows).
From there, Long Pond ran away toward Lake Memphremagog off in the distance, which is so big it probably never even noticed the new arrival.
In its wake, the steep valley got filled with mud and busted up forest, which is where, in time, Glover Village decided to build itself, where the aforementioned commemoration is being held.
Drive Vermont Route 16 today-which runs through the area from Hardwick to Barton along the path of the former Long Pond-where you can still see some of its effects: a scooped out area where the pond used to be, its former shoreline marooned a good way up the steep hillsides that surround its former resting place; the small shallow pond below (later called Mud Pond for obvious reasons, then Tilldy's Pond, and finally Clark Pond) and a bit farther on, Glover Village itself, which probably would have been put somewhere else had it not been for Runaway Pond.
What would have happened had the Miller Willson and his rough and ready crew not tipped the scales of Mother Nature and released the deluge? Would the pond have held? Or would it have run away on its own at some later, more inopportune time? And should that be the case, where would Glover Village and all the good folks further downstream in Barton and Orleans be today? It's worth pondering.
The Runaway Bicentennial celebration begins June 4 at the historic plaque that marks the original location of the pond before it ran away. There will be opportunities to walk the path of destruction and a reenactment of Chamberlain's tumultuous run for those hardy souls who choose to participate (and who pre-register). There will be bus tours that go from the former pond to the present day Glover Village site, 5.5 miles down the road.
Gov. Jim Douglas will be on hand to help dunk an actor playing the hapless miller, Aaron Willson-an act the old miller so richly deserved.