Culvert before replacement. Photo courtesy of FMR.

Friends of the Mad River and the Trust for Public Land have undertaken separate but complementary projects to benefit human and wildlife inhabitants in the Mad River Valley. The Friends of the Mad River project restores habitat and improves flood resilience by reducing the impact of the road network on streams. The Trust for Public Land project also helps protect wildlife habitat while supporting recreational opportunities through the preservation of headwater forestland.

This summer and fall, Friends of the Mad River and the town of Warren, in partnership with state and federal agencies, replaced an undersized culvert over a Lincoln Brook tributary on Lincoln Gap Road. The installation of the larger open-bottom structure, completed this month, opens 2.7 miles of stream habitat to trout and reduces the town’s infrastructure vulnerabilities in a flood. Undersized culvert structures degrade and fragment habitat by physically blocking the upstream movement of fish and other aquatic animals. According to Julie Butler, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who was a partner on this project, “Stream habitat fragmentation has been identified as one of the major concerns for brook trout populations in the Northeast.”

“Furthermore, when streams are funneled under roads through too-small culverts, they can easily become blocked by branches and other debris or are simply overwhelmed by high flood flows. When this happens, as it did many times during Tropical Storm Irene, roads are damaged or destroyed,” said Corrie Miller, executive director of Friends of the Mad River.

In 2015, Friends of the Mad River coordinated another culvert replacement project in Warren over Bradley Brook. Andy Cunningham, Warren Select Board chair, explained that these culvert replacement projects “help the town with essential infrastructure designed to work with our natural environment.”

Culvert after replacement. Photo courtesy of FMR.
Culvert after replacement. Photo courtesy of FMR.

The Trust for Public Land has recently reached an agreement to acquire and protect 619 acres of forestland on Lincoln Peak immediately south of Sugarbush Resort, which will become part of the Green Mountain National Forest. The area to be protected in Warren and Lincoln includes 60 acres of riparian land along more than 4 miles of headwater streams of Lincoln Brook and Bradley Brook.

“Conserving these high priority inholdings in Green Mountain National Forest not only protects old growth forest and rare plants and natural communities but will also increase flood resilience and prevent forest fragmentation, which negatively impacts water quality and aquatic habitat in the Mad River watershed,” said Kate Wanner, project manager at the Trust for Public Land.

The project also will buffer 0.4 mile of the Long Trail and permanently protect 1.3 miles of the Catamount Trail. “If this property were sold and access to the Catamount Trail were lost, it would be very difficult at best to reroute this section,” according to Matt Williams, executive director of the Catamount Trail Association. “This acquisition is key to the future of the Catamount Trail.”

“These conservation projects in the Bradley and Lincoln Brook headwaters restore and protect wildlife habitat and resilient ecosystems. And, at the same time, they have direct benefits, like flood resilience and recreation, to our Mad River Valley community,” said Miller.

“Partnerships are a great opportunity for the forest service to accomplish conservation objectives,” noted Jeremy Mears, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, who was a partner on this project. “Groups like Friends of the Mad River and the Trust for Public Land are a great resource to the communities they serve and increase our ability to get projects done on the ground protecting our natural resources.”