Anyone traveling along the Mad River Path’s Hosford Highway boardwalk next to Lawson’s Finest will notice that a family of beavers moved in about a year and a half ago. Previously built 3 feet above ground level, the boardwalk quickly started looking like a dock. In 2020, the beavers made it clear that they’re here to stay by constructing a lodge just a few feet from the boardwalk or at least until their local food supply is eaten up some years down the road. Their series of dams, featuring the 6- to 8-foot high dam just below the lodge, allows them to travel mostly undetected to trees more than 100 yards away from the safety of their lodge.
“As the beavers continued to do what they do best -- build dams to create ponds -- water began to flood the boardwalk decking, making it impossible to pass by without getting wet feet. While this is certainly an inconvenience for the Mad River Path and everyone who uses the boardwalk, the benefits that beavers provide to the natural world and humans are too great to ignore: new habitat for brook trout, wood ducks, turtles, frogs and many more critters, reduced flooding downstream, trapped nutrients in sediments that would otherwise harm fish in the Mad River and contribute to Lake Champlain’s algae blooms and more water sent into the ground for our drinking water, just to name a few,” explained Mad River Path executive director Ross Saxton.
After trying to keep the water down through creating dam breaches, almost every day the beavers would immediately repair, Mad River Path and the landowner Lawson’s Finest partnered with the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife to install a beaver baffle. Also called a beaver deceiver, a baffle allows water to drain via a hidden culvert through the dam where the upper end is caged and underwater so the beavers are befuddled to how the water is draining. The beaver baffle helps to keep the pond at a consistent level that in this case is ideally below the boardwalk decking. The water level is also intentionally left high enough so that the beavers can safely travel below the water to their food sources; thick ice during the winter is taken into account. It’s a balance to co-exist that’s very doable and worth the little bit of effort, Saxton said.
“Tyler Browne from VT F&W first visited the site to assess our needs and feasibility of a beaver baffle. On his second visit, Tyler brought the materials to install the baffle. Within an hour, the baffle was installed. Overnight, the beavers filled in the dam around the baffle’s culvert and finished the job. Although periods of heavy rain and spring snowmelt may raise the water level to the boardwalk decking, the beaver baffle will keep peoples' feet dry for most of the year with minimal effort,” Saxton said.
MRP thanks VT F&W for installing the beaver baffle and paying for half of the materials costs through grants and Duck Stamp sales, and Lawson’s Finest for their continued commitment to the Mad River Path and the natural world while covering the other half of the costs.