DO NOT SWIM! Vermont waters are currently unsafe. Due to significant rain and flooding in most of Vermont on July 10th, with rains continuing on July 11th, currents are very strong. Also, most rivers are filled with debris, effluent, chemicals, fertilizers, etc. and are unsafe for swimming.
« All News

A Day in the Life of a River Steward

July 3, 2024

Most days, my office is my blue pickup truck: sledgehammer, trash bags, and wooden buffer stakes in back, and sun hats, measuring tape, mud boots, and a stack of CDs up front.

In my role as Stewardship Coordinator, I get to have my hands in all sorts of activities at our protected sites. So far this year I’ve organized a Green Up Day cleanup on the Missisquoi River, helped take care of trees on the Dog River and Lewis Creek, talked with 30 young professionals about how they can make a difference for our rivers, learned how to improve habitat for wood turtles, and gained a town’s support for new conservation land.

One of my favorite things about my job is all of the different people I meet along the way. From the Battenkill to the Nulhegan, I connect with people – hard-working high schoolers, lifelong farmers, out-of-town visitors, and local volunteers – and empower young and old to steward our rivers.

“I can’t wait to come back and fish!”

In April, 30 students and staff from a nearby alternative high school spent a day on the Lamoille sharing their brains and braun to help clean-up one of our river access sites – they painted a kiosk, cleaned the privy, fixed-up the picnic table, moved a fire pit, hauled out trash left by floods, and listened as I shared glimpses into a world of conservation careers. By quitting time, these budding park rangers couldn’t wait to come back. And they will. They took careful measurements of the beaver-chewed stairs and by the time they left for the day they were mentally engineering new and improved stair designs, which they’ll build and install later this year. Thanks to their hard work, this paddlers’ campsite is ready for a summers’ worth of campfire stories.

“And there’s a hidden waterfall!”

Walk the back way from Rochester Elementary School to the town’s ballfields, and you’ll pass along the river, across land we helped protect years ago. In May, I stood on the riverbank with the landowner, and together we could see that this beloved trail is too close to the river, keeping trees and shrubs from fully rooting into the soils, and keeping the land from being fully ready to protect the riverbank and town during floods. While we “hemmed” and “hawwed” and tried to figure things out together, I learned a secret: There’s a stunning waterfall here that doesn’t have any trail access. Can we have a better riparian buffer and a trail connecting the school to the ballfields and let people enjoy the waterfall? Yes! Later this year I’ll return, and with the help of local volunteers, we’ll move the trail back from the rivers’ edge and build a new river access to the falls.

“I’ll sure see those stakes from the tractor!”

Some of my most rewarding days are also my most challenging. This spring I painted 120 buffer stakes, 5-foot long hardwood stakes used to mark the edge of the 50-foot riparian buffer zone within a parcel – literally staking claim for the rivers’ trees to grow up, hold soil, shade water, and be ready to absorb the next flood’s energy and debris.  The beauty of our work is that it makes space for farms and rivers, but when rivers move, the boundary stakes need to move, too. Starting the conversation takes compassion, balancing farmers’ livelihoods with longstanding commitments to the river. And by the end, after standing side-by-side in the field, the farmer says, “Thank you!” – grateful for our work looking out for them and the river – the sign of a true partnership.

For me, each day plays out differently than the last – different rivers, different people, different communities – but what’s constant are the relationships.

Connect. For years, Vermont River Conservancy has had someone in this seasonal role, but this time it’s different. I’ve come back. I’ve visited nearly all of our 100+ conserved sites, and now I’m reconnecting with these places and the people who look after our riversides year after year. And it’s these connections, literally meeting side-by-side at a river’s edge, that make all the difference.

Stay in Touch

Subscribe and get the latest on VRC’s initiatives and events.