« All News

Water Wins: River Corridor Easements Face Flooding

November 11, 2023
Mossy old growth forest at the headwaters of the Lamoille river

In July we protected this old forest at the headwaters of the Lamoille River – a place filled with pillowy mosses, spongy soils, and seeps. It’s home to unique ecological communities and it helps communities by storing rainwater, especially important during droughts and floods.

Over nearly three decades, Vermont River Conservancy has worked with people on nearly every river in the state to protect the places where rivers are most likely to overflow during floods.

Our “river corridor easements” are our unique agreements with landowners to let rivers freely flow across their land, and give trees and shrubs the space they need to grow along riverbanks. These are farms, wetlands, and forests where – thankfully – July floodwaters safely spilled across the land, dropped soil and debris, absorbed raging rivers’ energy, and reduced damage downstream. These conservation lands will not make headline news, and their positive impact will largely go unmeasured in the record books. Yet we are so grateful for the many landowners we’ve worked with who, by deciding to protect their land, decided to help keep the rest of us safer when the rivers rise.

The easement during the flood

North Branch Wetlands, Worcester

On July 11th, Emily Boedecker faced a raging current upstream from her home. The North Branch River, making a straight shot between state Highway 12 on one bank and a built-up berm on the other, sped towards her. When she pivoted 180* to look downstream, this same river spread out across her conserved floodplain and restored wetlands – perfectly calm in the midst of the storm. A week later, when flood tourism had gawkers coming to experience the sepia tones of a drained Wrightsville Reservoir and silt-covered farm fields, Emily’s wetland looked... like a wetland – a poster child of resilience. Once used as too-wet farmland, Vermont River Conservancy protected Emily’s land in 2010 specifically to keep communities safer during floods. This July, her wetlands stood up to the task, keeping nearly 70-acres of water out of downstream communities.

The Johnson family with conservation director Erin De Vries

Battenkill Wetlands, Manchester

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, cows, horses, and dogs on Sunny Lea farm, a wet spot along a bend in the Battenkill River. Cecelia 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 Cecelia 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 helping keep communities safer during floods.

Stickney River Corridor Easement, Rockingham

Richard, the fourth generation of the Stickney family to milk cows along the Saxtons River, just celebrated his 93rd birthday. Over these many decades, the Stickney Farm hasn’t just hosted milk cows and hay fields, they’ve also hosted generations of families cooling off at the local swimming hole. Today Richard’s grandson (6th generation farmer) hays the fields, mows a path to the river, and maintains a forest between the fields and the river. It’s this love of place that inspired the Stickney family to conserve their land with Vermont River Conservancy in 2017. When the Saxtons River overflowed its banks this summer, the Stickneys’ protected land rose to the occasion. The riverside forest took the brunt of it, safely trapping large debris among the trees and helping to slow the high-energy floodwaters. The river spread out and slowed even further in the wide open field, safely dropping out volumes of silt and sand instead of carrying them to neighbors downstream. Banks shifted and the swimming hole moved a bit – that’s what rivers do – but this local gem stands ready as ever for the next flood and the next visitor.

Stay in Touch

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