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Celebrating 23 Projects Completed for our Rivers in 2023

December 18, 2023
North Branch Cascades waterfall

Wondering what we’ve been up to this year? We have completed 23 projects, from stewardship to volunteer engagement and community education. Read on to learn more about these successes!

1. Nulhegan Hut and Trails Kiosk

Our first feature is in Bloomfield, at Nulhegan Hut and Trails, where you will be welcomed by this new trailhead kiosk. North Branch Nature Center donated this kiosk to us when they replaced theirs. Our Conservation Manager and Seasonal River Steward led volunteers to deconstruct the kiosk at the nature center. They then transported it to the site and rehabilitated it to be a great beacon to the trail. Now, visitors to the hut and trails will have a landmark and information to make their visit as smooth as possible. Read more about this site and book a stay at Nulhegan Hut here.

2. Barre River Access Volunteer Day

Communities needed to come together to support our rivers this year, and this volunteer day shows the power of collaboration that we have seen following the July flood. Through a partnership with the Barre City River Access Task Force, a group of 18 volunteers ages 7-77 helped reconstruct a 1/2-mile trail that leads to a spectacular waterfall on the Stevens Branch River. The flood destroyed much of the trail, redistributing rocks, gravel, sand, and debris, making the path unclear and unsafe. Volunteers hauled out a 1/2 ton of plastic, fabric, and tires from the floodplain, moved rocks to become stepping stones, and resurfaced the trail so that anglers, swimmers, and picnickers can now safely and clearly find their way to the falls. Stay tuned for an upcoming event at Rotary Park in February.

3. Verde Rock

Another Vermont River Conservancy stewardship success from 2023 is this site in Hancock Village along the White River. Once a junkyard, this riverbend was piled high with cars when it was protected 4 years ago. Though the cars are long gone, waist-deep weeds, a lack of parking, and no sign made the site less than welcoming. Our River Steward, Amanda Garland, worked hard to change that. She put in the sweat equity to create a trail and connected with neighbors who now help take care of the site. We had been calling this swimming hole by its less-than-honorable junkyard name, so Amanda reached out to the community for ideas. When she asked local high school kids to suggest new names, the answer was easy – Verde Rock – the namesake of the local quarry and the colorful outcroppings that rise up from the riverbed. Learn more about this site here.

4. Mossy Lamoille Headwaters

All parts of a watershed are important to its function as a whole, and headwaters are no exception. This year, we protected a site at the headwaters of the Lamoille. Previously owned by a logging company, but left untouched due to its natural beauty, this site is a rare old-growth forest. A place filled with pillowy mosses, spongy soils, and seeps, it’s home to unique ecological communities and it helps people downstream by storing rainwater, especially important during droughts and floods. One of our goals as Vermont River Conservancy is to protect more places like this, where even the smallest streams can make a big difference for the overall watershed. Read our blog post about this conserved land here.

5.  Nulhegan Pond Access

Another Vermont River Conservancy project accomplishment this year is this beautiful 13-acre parcel near the headwaters of the Nulhegan River, protected to support public recreational use. From the hand-carry launch, paddlers can head upstream to explore Nulhegan Pond or embark on a downstream trip through an extensive wetland complex to a take-out at Wenlock Crossing or further downstream to the confluence with the Connecticut River. In the coming year, VRC will improve parking, wayfinding signage, and accessibility.

In addition to the recreational opportunities this site provides, there are many ecological benefits to conserving this piece of land. The Nulhegan River Basin is one of the most biologically rich areas of the state and supports a wide variety of riverine and wetland communities. As a result, much of the basin is conserved as state and federal wildlife refuges through easements on working forest lands. This results in outstanding water quality and frequent wildlife sightings throughout the watershed. It is an important breeding area for migratory songbirds and is home to a variety of rare plant and animal species, including spruce grouse, one of Vermont’s threatened species. Read our blog post about this site here.

6. Became a Team of Six

These completed projects wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing staff at Vermont River Conservancy. In the past year, the amount of people working for our rivers has increased from three to six! With the expertise of the whole team, we have been able to accomplish more projects and do more work throughout the state. Our three-person team of conservation staff has been able to work together on projects and make sure Vermont River Conservancy sites are stewarded regularly. Our development and operations team, including one new AmeriCorps member, has made systems more efficient and secured project funding. With all of these people, we have also been able to host more events, especially in southeastern Vermont and online. Everyone at Vermont River Conservancy is proud of the goals we have reached this year, and looking forward to working together to do even more in 2024! Learn more about every person on our team on our staff page.

7. Camel’s Hump Expansion

This year, Vermont River Conservancy worked with Duxbury Land Trust to add 68 acres to the beloved Camel’s Hump State Park. This expansion has increased Brook Trout and riparian habitats by over 4,000 feet. Thanks to the conservation of this additional land, bobcats, deer, bear and birds will have more protected land to call home. See more wintry photos of this site here

8. Discovered a Nulhegan River Access

In September, our team headed to Nulhegan Hut and Trails for an overnight trip to complete a stewardship project at the site. There was a river access point that had been overgrown, and our staff wasn’t even exactly sure where it was! Many sets of eyes revealed the spot, and we were able to get to work. Armed with clippers, an axe, and a weedwhacker, we were able to uncover a beautiful set of stone stairs leading down to the Nulhegan River. As a result of this team effort, there is another spot for people to enjoy the river in whatever way they choose. Next time you visit Nulhegan Hut and Trails, head straight towards the river from the parking lot and through a wooded clearing to find this secluded spot. Discover this spot next time you visit Nulhegan Hut and Trails.

9. Battenkill Wetlands

Cecelia Johnson, the daughter of farmers and immigrants, was born in Manchester Village in 1920. After the war years, she and her husband started Johnson’s Fuel Service, where they balanced hard work with retreats to Lake Champlain for recreation and reflection. They raised their family, as well as cows, horses, and dogs on Sunny Lea Farm, a wet spot along a bend in the Battenkill River. Cecilia said that Sunny Lea was the most beautiful spot on earth; she loved to watch the sun and moon rise over East Mountain. In recent years, this land has flooded again and again – including this July, when the Battenkill River overflowed and slowed. Shortly after the July floods, the family of Cecilia gathered around a kitchen table in Manchester. She was there in spirit, celebrating as we finalized a river corridor easement along her beloved Battenkill, forever protecting “the most beautiful spot on earth” and keeping communities safer during floods. See how this and other river corridor easements slowed floodwaters this summer in this blog post.

10. Marshfield Trees Freed

Our seasonal river steward was able to complete so many projects this summer. One of those projects was to go back to a previously stewarded site to make improvements. Back in 2008, tree guards were installed at the Hambleton River Corridor Easement in Marshfield, VT. The planting seemed overall to be a success, given that 96% of the guards had a tree within. Plantings such as this often fail, as young trees are sensitive to disease, predation, and harsh conditions. However, after 15 years of growth, the guards were impeding the trees, growing into the bark, and girdling the base of the trees. Extensive work was needed to remove the guards because the flooding over the summer buried them further. The metal guards were 4-5’ tall, and held down with large metal staples and grade stakes, making them extremely difficult to remove, but Amanda persevered and was able to save the trees. Now these 15-year-old trees will mature and improve the habitat available at this site. Read about this river corridor easement here.

11. North Branch Cascades Easement

One of Vermont River Conservancy’s most visited sites is North Branch Cascades, just north of Montpelier. This year, it was officially conserved through a conservation easement on the property. Known for its small waterfalls, ideal swimming holes, and accessible walking trails, it’s no wonder this site is so well-loved. The perfect site to spend an afternoon, it is now protected forever. If you haven’t heard about this site yet, take a look at the site’s page on our interactive map to plan your next adventure. 

Thank you to Ibex for joining us at the volunteer day this year and taking this image.

12. Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area

In the Champlain Valley, Vermont’s longest river gets a healthy start in one of Vermont’s few wilderness areas, cascades down the forested slopes of the Green Mountains, then runs smack dab into Route 7, runs a gauntlet of farms and towns, and is “impaired” by the time it reaches Lake Champlain – too hot, too much phosphorus, and too polluted for people and wildlife. Trust for Public Land partnered with Vermont Fish & Wildlife to purchase 355 acres of unfragmented forest, rare wildlife habitat, and quality outdoor recreational space along Otter Creek in Wallingford. This property, which extends the reach of the state’s Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area, was protected forever this year through a Vermont River Conservancy conservation easement. With these formal protections, brook trout and other wildlife will benefit from cool protected wetlands – one more step towards a healthier Lake Champlain. 

13. Tanguay Farm

Great news! Two meandering miles of the upper Connecticut River in Brunswick, VT, and more than 180 acres of floodplain are protected forever through a collaboration of Vermont River Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Today, the river is a winding ribbon along a patchwork of cornfields, hayfields, and wetlands. That patchwork of land floods regularly, a natural process that deposits sediments and slows down floodwaters, protecting water quality and reducing flood impacts for rural Brunswick and communities downstream. Realizing that farming in the floodplain had become unsustainable, the Tanguay family decided to protect the natural beauty and benefits of their land by finding a buyer who would conserve it. The Nature Conservancy now owns the site and will steward and restore it in partnership with Vermont River Conservancy through an easement co-held with Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The band of tall silver maples that arch over the water from the banks will grow, year by year, into a wider floodplain forest; brooks and wetlands throughout the protected area will gradually be restored. As the forests and wetlands of Tanguay Farm return to their natural grandeur, this important landmark in Brunswick will enhance flood resilience, water quality, wildlife habitat, and connectivity across the Vermont-New Hampshire line.

14. Huntington Gorge Improvements with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps

Huntington Gorge is one of the most popular, and dangerous, swimming holes in Vermont. Following the July floods, there was damage to stairs down to the site, as well as concerns about erosion. Thanks to help from Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, the site was stewarded through trail building, installation of water bars, and installation of safety signage. With all of their improvements over three days in August, this site that Vermont River Conservancy holds an easement on is safer and less susceptible to erosion. Read our blog post about their service to learn more about river safety.

15. Face the River High School Class

A community project we sponsor is a high school class taught in Montpelier with help from North Branch Nature Center. Program Director Sean Beckett wrote the following reflection on the course and its impact on the students who participated.

After July’s floods brought water to the literal doorstep of Montpelier High School, a science class about living with rivers became especially poignant. This semester-long course, made possible by Vermont River Conservancy and taught by Montpelier High School’s Allison Waring and North Branch Nature Center’s Sean Beckett, brought students up and down the Winooski River and its tributaries to explore the geological, biological, and cultural foundations of the watershed.

Students conducted stream geomorphic assessments of the Dog River to learn how sediment erodes and deposits after high waters. They set trail cameras along wildlife corridors to watch mammals utilize our riparian corridors. They visited a fish hatchery and heard from fisheries biologists about how state wildlife management affects local conservation. They met community members who shared their personal experiences with local rivers, and they examined case studies from across the country showcasing examples of healthy coexistence between rivers and residents.

The students began the semester with their own stories of evacuated homes and flooded jobs. They end the semester as trained river ambassadors, demonstrating their new understandings with proposals for community projects designed to improve Montpelier’s long-term relationship with the Winooski River.

16. Southern Vermont Events

Southern Vermont communities got out and enjoyed their rivers this year through our first year of the Face the River South initiative. June brought weekly riverside bird walks with visits to Putney, Townshend, Bellows Falls, and Brattleboro. In July, longtime river scientist and Vermont River Conservancy board member Mike Kline took us out on the Rock River to learn how rivers move and change, and how we can plan for flood resilience. That same month, Judy Dow, founder of the Indigenous organization Gedakina, led an exploration of the floodplain of the Whetstone Brook in Brattleboro, and Vermont River Conservancy hosted a tour of our major floodplain restoration project on Birge Street on that very same brook. Later that summer, southern Vermont neighbors got together to learn and share ideas in a weeklong creative workshop exploring river ecology, flood resilience, and the many ways that our communities can turn to face the river. We shared a mindful morning with local author Peter Gould on the banks of the Whetstone. And this fall, we got our boots wet as we learned about aquatic macroinvertebrates — stream bugs!– and river and wetland wildlife with local ecologists Lia Chasar and Patti Smith. What activities would you like to see in the year ahead? Thank you to AARP Vermont for supporting many of these all-ages events! See photos and learn more about all of the events we hosted on the Southern Vermont page

17. North Branch Cascades Volunteer Day

North Branch Cascades is a great site for people to explore during all seasons. There are many options to enjoy the North Branch at this site, such as walking, swimming, and birding. With all of these opportunities and the beauty of the site, there is a lot of stewardship to be done each year. In June, a group of volunteers gathered at the site to help complete several projects. A set of stone stairs was constructed, trash and other debris were packed out, and drainage was improved in the parking lot. Having so many people there to lend a hand helped us to improve the site for people to enjoy for the rest of the year. 

Thank you to Ibex for taking this great photo of our group hard at work!

18. Flowing Forward Webinar Series

Flooding in Montpelier Vermont on July 11th 2023

Vermont River Conservancy hosted our first online event this year! Our VHCB AmeriCorps member led this event that provided attendees with actions to take from the personal to the state level. With help from Vermont River Conservancy staff, and several partner organizations, participants left with knowledge of how they can join us in protecting our rivers. We are looking forward to more opportunities to engage with communities in 2024 and provide Vermonters with knowledge of our rivers and the work we are doing to protect them. See all of the recordings and resources provided here.

19. Ladd’s Mill Stone Staircase Repair

Stone steps fixed following flood damage.

Every summer, our conservation team takes stock of the work to be done at our sites. From tree plantings, to privy maitnenance, and even some trail and stair repair. This year, the list seemed to keep getting longer with the flooding across the state. One site that needed some repairs was the Ladd’s Mill river access in Worcester. This site has a special purpose- giving paddlers an opportunity to continue their journey past the Ladd’s Mill dam. Without this staircase, paddling trips would have to be a little shorter along the North Branch of the Winooski. Following July flooding, this staircase was damaged so that it was unusable. Our conservation team got out there and made sure that the stairs were repaired to be ready for future adventures! Learn more about this site here.

20. VHCC Day at the Capitol

Remy Crettol, Hayley Kolding, and Erin De Vries outside the State House and excited to attend VHCC Legislative Day.

In February of this year, our conservation team joined together with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition at the state house to celebrate Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s 35th anniversary, as well as advocate for full funding of Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) in the fiscal year. Our conservation director, Erin De Vries, testified in front of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions. She spoke about how much of a role VHCB plays in our work to protect rivers, and how important it is to collaborate as organizations that address housing and conservation, two important issues in Vermont. Read more about the coalition and this day at the capitol in the blog post about the event. 

21. Sanborn Covered Bridge

Vermont River Conservancy worked with Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Town of Lyndon to permanently conserve a 2-acre property. The new Sanborn Bridge Riverfront Park provides access to a historic Paddleford truss bridge which is one of less than two dozen of its kind in existence. The property also provides easy access to the Passumpsic River because Northern Forest Canoe Trail installed a beautiful set of 16 stone steps this summer where visitors can launch a boat or take a swim. The site also features an eye-catching eagle sculpture made of chrome and scrap metal with an impressive 25-foot wingspan! See this site and other covered bridges in this blog post

22. Green River Meadows

Where there was once a river-polluting junkyard, Vermont River Conservancy worked with neighbors to transform Green River Meadows into a community gem. Now this beautifully restored meadow provides habitat and reduces communities’ flood danger. And this just in: as of this month, ownership has officially transferred to the Green River Village Preservation Trust, who have been whole-hearted advocates for the site since day one. As the easement holders, Vermont River Conservancy will continue to be stewards of this land. We are overjoyed to continue our partnership with this community group that shares our love of the Green River and its floodplain! Plan your trip to this site on our interactive site map.

23. Whetstone Park

This spring, 250 Birge Street, or Whetstone Park, in Brattleboro, will be a welcoming open space for the community to gather along the Whetstone Brook, with ADA-accessible walking paths and beautiful native plants filling the banks and floodplain. What was there before? A former lumber yard, this floodplain parcel was artificially filled with sand and gravel to keep logs and equipment high and dry. This prevented the brook from accessing its natural floodplain, instead forcing it — and all the powers of its waters — into a narrow, straight channel that blasted into downtown Brattleboro like a firehose during high-flow events. After Tropical Storm Irene, the Vermont Economic Resiliency Initiative determined that reconnecting the Whetstone to its floodplain at 250 Birge Street was the number one priority for flood mitigation to protect downtown Brattleboro residents (VERI 2012). Vermont River Conservancy bought the land and, with the Town of Brattleboro, took on the challenge. This summer, the dynamic duo began a transformative floodplain restoration at the site, removing approximately 2,000 linear feet of berm, excavating the sand and gravel fill to create two floodplain terraces at the two-year flood and 10-year flood levels, planting a 100-foot-wide vegetated buffer, restoring an alluvial fan and wetland complex upslope of the river, and protecting the area in perpetuity through a river corridor easement. Designed to provide a flood elevation reduction of 1.0 to 2.0 feet, this project will wrap up with a celebratory spring planting in 2024! Learn more about this project on this page.

Confluence of the Main Branch and East Branch of the Nulhegan River

Stay tuned for our upcoming projects in the new year! Support our mission to protect and restore rivers for people and wildlife by donating today. We thank you for your support of our rivers.

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