Vermont Business Magazine In 2021 Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) took on new and larger projects to improve wildlife habitat, keep communities safe, and to ensure people will always have access to rivers for swimming, paddling, and fishing.
Vermont boasts hundreds of rivers and streams — iconic swimming holes and fabled paddlers’ trails that draw more than a half million Vermonters and visitors each year to splash, float, and fish with families and friends. Back in 1995, central Vermont volunteers founded VRC when they saw that more and more “no trespassing” signs were cutting communities off from their beloved rivers.
Addressing this challenge head-on, VRC protects public access to popular swimming holes, fishing and boating accesses, gorges, and waterfalls, ultimately improving the lives of people who rely on Vermont rivers for recreation, hunting, and angling.
As an example of this continued commitment to public access, VRC finalized a multi-year project in Guilford, VT, where local residents Steve and Linda Lembke worked closely with VRC to rally friends and neighbors to restore public access to the Green River. A 17.7-acre riverside parcel was being used as a junkyard, piled end to end with cars, refrigerators, old stoves, and other scrap metal. VRC and the Lembkes envisioned a different future – a verdant meadow that would provide habitat for monarchs and kingfisher, and public access for families to swim, fish, and walk, and a hayfield tended by a local farmer. Thanks to donations from many dedicated community members, the financial support of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the Green River Village Preservation Trust, and the Jane B. Cook 1992 Charitable Foundation, this year VRC realized this vision. “After years of work by many people to clean up the property it is incredible to see this meadow and floodplain restored to its natural state. When you arrive here, you realize that this truly special place allows you to leave behind the busier place you just came from” says Linda Lembke.
VRC also protected new public access to the Lamoille River at the historic Poland Covered Bridge in Cambridge, VT. This site adds to the Lamoille River Paddlers’ Trail, a network of boat launch sites and campsites that VRC has protected in partnership with multiple landowners, creating opportunities to enjoy day and overnight paddling trips from the Lamoille headwaters near Hardwick, VT, to the confluence at Lake Champlain.
Today, with more than a quarter century of experience protecting Vermont rivers, VRC has expanded on this public access work to protect floodplains and river corridors, critical work to protect riparian habitat and keep downstream communities safe.
VRC is one of Vermont’s leading organizations working with farmers and other landowners to establish river corridor easements. A unique tool among land trusts, these easements allow people to continue using land for fields or forests, while establishing 50-foot riparian buffers to help keep riverbanks from eroding and agreeing to allow the riverbed to naturally move across the land as waters ebb and flow overtime.
As part of this, VRC often partners with watershed groups like White River Partnership or Friends of the Winooski to regrade and revegetate riverbanks, helping to reduce erosion and reconnect the river with its floodplain. “A robust vegetation buffer really is essential to the health of our rivers. The right trees and plants provide stabilization and filtering mechanisms that ensure clear flowing water,” Mary Russ, Executive Director of White River Partnership. This work helps communities prepare for high water, allowing rushing waters to meander and pool, slowing their course to reduce erosion and decrease the severity of catastrophic flooding in downstream communities.
In Vermont’s more populated areas, for centuries nearly every large town was built-up with its “back” to its local river. Whether the Winooski, the White, or the West – or any number of other waterways – Vermont rivers were used to generate electricity and to carry away waste. This is especially evident in Montpelier, VT, where parking lots, dumpsters, and propane tanks line the rivers.
In 2021, VRC, the Montpelier City Council, and numerous community leaders continued to work towards a different future in which Montpelier can “Face the River.” Montpelier now has a new greenspace at the confluence of the North Branch and main stem of the Winooski River. VRC is leading a community-driven vision for this vacant space, and hopes to begin construction in 2022 and 2023, adding a boat ramp, shaded gathering space, vegetation and ADA access to the river. “The final conceptual design of the Confluence River Park reflects the desire of the community, and promises a new connection between the cityscape and the riverscape, and will serve to provide residents and visitors alike with the many benefits an age-friendly vibrant park can offer.” says Kelly Stoddard Poor, Associate State Director for AARP Vermont, one of the many important groups partnering on and helping to fund this work.
VRC is similarly working in downtown Brattleboro, where VRC recently purchased a 12-acre parcel on the banks of Whetstone Brook. Used as an industrial sawmill and lumber storage site for 120-years, the parcel has been filled with imported gravel, elevating the site well above the river. VRC, working closely with the Town of Brattleboro, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will remove nearly 40,000 cubic yards of gravel fill and plant a 100’ wide riparian buffer of native trees and shrubs.
When complete, the restored floodplain will provide critical flood protection to downtown Brattleboro homes and businesses, improve water quality, and restore bird and wildlife habitat. Also, with historic interpretive signs and all abilities trails, the new park will provide recreation access for scores of families in the adjacent neighborhoods for fishing, wading, and the simple enjoyment of a peaceful walk.
Working across the state – from the farthest headwaters to developed downtowns – VRC is constantly innovating, using every tool available to protect waterways and wildlife habitat, make sure people can access their local rivers, and keep communities safe.
For more information, contact Richarda Ericson at Vermont River Conservancy: 802-229-0820 or [email protected].
About Vermont River Conservancy: VRC works statewide to protect and preserve important land along Vermont’s waters such as waterfalls, gorges, swimming holes, wetlands, river and lake shores, and islands. Information is available at www.vermontriverconservancy.org or by calling VRC at (802) 229-0820.
Guilford, VT residents Linda and Steve Lembke worked closely with VRC to rally friends and neighbors to convert a junkyard to a beautiful meadow with public access to the Green River. (Photo: Jay Ericson)