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How do you get an ecologist, a conservationist, an AmeriCorps member, and a surveyor across a not-totally-frozen river in January? Maybe try the Dodge Ram? Nope. Not quite big enough. F250? Nope, it’s too fancy and new. Big tractor? Eh, it could definitely get across, but if it can, why don’t we just walk? That was the morning brain workout before we laced up our boots, crossed our fingers, and tiptoed across the one patch of ice that looked like it might hold. Remy volunteered to be the guinea pig, crossed the iced first, and safely made it to the other side of the Missisquoi.
Our crew met up in the farthest northern reaches of Vermont, just a stone’s throw from Canada, where we planned to do some of the work it takes to get a river corridor easement on the map. Armed with bags full of rebar stakes, caps, and GPS equipment, we crossed the river, ready to begin surveying the landscape for this future easement.
We discovered signs of multiple animals along the river’s edge. First were wild turkey tracks left in an icy patch. Then we found delicate bobcat tracks leading down towards the river, perhaps to take a drink. Further into the forested area, some coyote tracks had expanded with the recent thaw. And we saw many more small wildlife tracks across the river to a small island where the channel had split. The makings of beaver wetlands were already there, including tracks and cut trees along a small tributary.
These clues showed us how the site will look once protected in perpetuity. By leaving this land to evolve on its own, we are allowing more wildlife to call it home and providing value to humans in the area by giving the river room to move and spread out in flood events.
Becky Gilson, a longtime land surveyor, is one of the many people it takes to protect Vermont’s riverlands, along with a landowner, scientist, lawyer, and local partners. Becky is one of the key players behind nearly all of our conservation success stories, and she was in for an adventure with our crew that day. An expert at scrambling through boulder fields and scaling steep hillsides, we struggled to keep up as she quickly got survey points using her GPS device while we discussed the exact places we wanted the boundaries and observed signs of wildlife. In the time it took us to drive six rebar stakes into the ground, she walked the length of the river surveying points and walked back to where we had placed the stakes.
All this, and an interesting trek up the hill following buried barbed wire fencing, made for a good day in the field and just a glimpse into Becky’s work surveying land throughout the state. After a long day of tromping through snow, our team is one step closer to conserving another piece of land along Vermont’s rivers.