On May 26, The Valley’s environmentalists gathered over Zoom to give updates on their latest land conservation and stewardship efforts. This tri-town conservation commission meeting united conservation commission members from Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren, as well as many other people from local organizations dedicated to preserving The Valley’s outdoor resources.
Kate Wanner of the Warren Conservation Commission opened the meeting with a knotweed update. Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant species that grows rapidly, is nearly impossible to kill and is popping up all over The Valley. “We have five UVM interns that are going to work this summer on our knotweed project, which involves researching different methods of how to best kill knotweed,” said Wanner.
The Warren knotweed project also involves mapping knotweed locations around Warren and eliminating it. Warren is encouraging other Valley towns to step up their knotweed eradication efforts. “We welcome larger, full Valley efforts around knotweed,” said Wanner.
Liza Koitzsch of the Fayston Conservation Commission shared updates on a big land donation to the town of Fayston. “Fayston has been largely occupied with a new property that was gifted to us at the end of 2019 at the top of Boyce Hill,” said Koitzsch. The property, known as the Boyce Hill Town Forest, is a 93-acre lot with hiking trails and a large pond.
“We are working on creating a management plan for this property. We formed a steering committee, we meet a couple times a month,” said Koitzsch. The steering committee has already made progress in surveying the land. This past year, the Boyce Hill steering committee worked with a land trust to run an invasive species report and bird survey of the property. “We are learning as much as we can about the ecology of the land, the history of the land and the land use history,” said Koitzsch.
Now, the Fayston Conservation Commission has started soliciting public input on what to do with the new town forest land. “We have been holding a series of public visioning forums, part education, part listening to the public on what their hopes and dreams are for the property,” said Koitzsch.
The next public forum on the Boyce Hill Town Forest will be via Zoom on June 9 and will ask the public for their opinions on what kind of recreation should be allowed on the land. “We’re looking for all different perspectives. We want to hear from everyone, from backcountry skiers to people who want to see it grow back up into a forest,” said Koitzsch.
Besides managing the Boyce Hill Town Forest, the Fayston Conservation Commission has also added a new trail to its Chase Brook Town Forest so people can now walk their dogs in a loop. “Normally, when people walk on those trails, they come to the border of our Marble Hill Farm property which has ‘No Dogs Allowed’ signs. So, we created this dog loop trail,” said Koitzsch. “It provides dog walkers with a nice loop.”
The Fayston Conservation Commission is tackling knotweed removal as well. “We are targeting knotweed patches in the upper reaches of Fayston,” said Koitzsch, who encourages volunteers to get involved with the commission. “One of the big challenges for us is getting new members. We are short three members,” she said.
Ted Joslin of the Waitsfield Conservation Commission gave an update on the town’s Austin Parcel, a 5-acre parcel next to the Lareau swim hole in Waitsfield. “The commission has had an ongoing effort for three years to try to control invasive species and restore that land to a native flood plain forest,” said Joslin, who noted that this work has been a joint effort between the Waitsfield Conservation Commission, the Friends of the Mad River, the Intervale Conservation Nursery, Mad River Path and others. The project won a Vermont Tree Champion Award for all of the efforts that people put in on this parcel, noted Joslin. “Hopefully we will continue to get a number of volunteers so that we can continue on.”
While conservation commissions around The Valley focus on knotweed removal, other organizations are working on stewardship. Liza Walker of the Vermont Land Trust explained that the land trust is currently doing stewardship work with 45 landowners of conserved land in The Valley. “We’re scouting and tracking new conservation opportunities,” said Walker.
Currently, there is a new conservation opportunity taking shape on the Spaulding farmland in Waitsfield. “The Vermont Land Trust is under contract to buy this 66-acres of cropland,” said Walker. “We really want to facilitate the conservation transfer of that farmland and establish opportunities for restoration.”
Additionally, Walker is working with other organizations in The Valley to create a proposal for the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC), an organization that has received $20 million from the state Legislature for outdoor recreation in Vermont. “We are looking to advance the recreation economy and experience in The Valley,” said Walker.
Eric Friedman of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce informed the group about stewardMRV, a new initiative focused on eliminating litter and improving restroom facilities at various trailheads and outdoor recreation sites around The Valley. “We identified 20 sites in the community,” said Friedman. “But we are focusing a lot on Bridge Street and the Lareau swim hole.” While the chamber has received $40,000 in donations to make stewardMRV a possibility for this year, Friedman hopes to make it a sustainable, long-term project. “This is not a one-year thing,” he said.
Corrie Miller, Friends of the Mad River, explained the new Mad River Watch Program. “We have been working since October on this,” she said. The program is meant to deepen the experience of Friends of the Mad River volunteers, by allowing them to make new observations about watersheds besides simply tracking water chemistry. “We try and identify opportunities for action in a more strategic way,” she said. “We are also going to be adding high-quality data sites.”
NEW PATH SECTIONS
Ross Saxton with Mad River Path updated participants on new path sections popping up in The Valley. “We have a new path coming at Yestermorrow,” he said. The Mad River Path is also taking a more ecological approach to trail building. “It’s important to keep an eye on how what we do for recreation affects the ecological world around us,” he said.
The Mad River Path also wants to share this ecological information with path walkers. Currently, the association is considering putting up informational gazebos with illustrations on birds, beavers and birds inside. “This will give people an opportunity to learn about the natural world around them,” said Saxton.
Currently, the association is working on improving Fiddler’s Walk, a trail that goes from Irasville to the Lareau swim hole area. “As we’re building that path, we are also building a bioswell with Friends of the Mad River to capture runoff from the Irasville Common parking lot,” he said.
Finally, John Atkinson of the Mad River Riders updated the group on the Rider’s recent work. “Thousands of dollars of volunteer time have been put into the trails,” said Atkinson about the trail work done this season. “The trails are in great condition.”
Mad River Riders is at 610 members currently. “That’s almost surpassing our record year last year,” he reported. “We have a lot of support and help behind us right now. Volunteerism continues to grow.”
The Mad River Riders just finished upgrading the Featherbed Connector Trail this spring, and now is working on a major maintenance project at Blueberry Lake. “This is mainly due to the increased traffic we’ve seen and a couple persistent problem areas that we’re going to work on,” said Atkinson about the Blueberry Lake work. “We’ve also been adding weekly visits to the Evolution Trail.
During their visits, Mad River Riders members share maps, trail etiquette and membership information and try to cover the basics with people of how to respectfully use the trails.