We searched the country to find perfect places to live and raise kids. This year's winners offer more than affordable homes, great schools, and good neighbors -- they're also making smart moves to save the planet.
By Michael J. Weiss
Median income: $64,047
Median home price: $237,500
Households with children: 29%
Student/teacher ratio: 14:1
Residents who recycle: 52%
In this charming town nestled between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains, kids and grown-ups can't get enough of one another. Whole families sign up for the archery, kayaking, and gardening classes at the city rec center. They flock to Lake Champlain beaches in summer and hit the ski trails at the first big snowfall. When Susie and Ben Merrick, both 47, build an ice-skating rink in their yard every winter, it's not just for daughters Katie, 13, and Janie, 11 -- last year they invited Janie's fifth-grade class over to practice their toe loops and lutzes. "We don't have six degrees of separation here -- just one," says Susie, an English lecturer, who also appreciates the fact that South Burlington's middle and high schools rank among the top in the state on standardized test scores. Ben, a dentist, loves his 6-mile commute to work -- by bike, that is, along paths connecting neighborhoods, parks, and the town center. "I've had to dodge deer and skunk, but I've also seen spectacular sunsets," he says. "This place is a slice of heaven."
Going for the Green: In addition to setting up the state's first utility to prevent storm water runoff into Lake Champlain, the town banned development on 663 acres of "wildlife corridors" that are home to deer, turkey, and other animals.