Since Thursday morning (Oct. 28) was the start of our dam removal work to lower water levels in the Zebedee Headwaters, I decided it would be a good idea to head back out later in the day to check on how the water level had been affected over the course of the day. When I arrived back at the dam, I was amazed at the drop in the water level in just four hours.
The water had dropped about eight inches from the morning’s level, and was really just trickling over the new top of the beaver dam. I decided to lower the beaver dam another five inches, in hopes that this would keep us ahead of what the beavers might be able to rebuild overnight. At about 4:30, as I was finishing up for the afternoon, a lone beaver came by to check on our work.
He announced his displeasure with our progress, and watched me disapprovingly as I gathered my tools to leave. This beaver may not agree entirely, but our goal with this work is to improve his wetland home, even if it makes him have to work a little harder to recreate a dam across this wetland outlet by removing the manmade dam! As I walked back to my car, I wondered what Tim and I would see in the morning.
Tim and I went back to the dam and we were quite impressed with what we saw. The beavers had indeed been quite busy overnight, but their work had not appreciably raised the water level over what I had seen when I left the night before.
We decided to remove the “beaver baffle” since it was so close to the end of the season, and since it could be in the way of the upcoming excavation work to breach the earthen dam. Using hands and hand tools we then proceeded to remove more of the beaver dam to lower the water another 6-8 inches.
There is much more to do, but our diligent work is paying off, and I am quite anxious to head back out tomorrow and see where we are at with the water draw-down process!
In celebration of the Upper Valley Land Trust’s 25th anniversary this year, we have been remembering UVLT’s early days. We couldn’t fit all of the important people of UVLT’s past into this brief ten‐minute summary, but we have used sound & images of some of UVLT’s founders and early leaders – Fran Field, Dana Meadows, Vicki Smith, Freda Swan, Charlotte Faulkner, Dale Peters Bryant, and Lilla McLane‐Bradley, among others.
Breck Hill Easement Project
By Freda Swan
On a summer evening in 1986, I invited my neighbors to meet with Sarah Thorne, a land specialist with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. I wanted them to learn about conservation easements with the hope that we could protect our whole neighborhood from future development. I thought that we lived on a road that had conservation value for everyone, a gravel road with forestland, open farm land, wetlands, river banks, scenic views and even a covered bridge. In all, there are about 400 acres and over two miles of road frontage on both sides. It is used by walkers, bicyclists, horseback riders, and canoeists.
The meeting was very successful with almost everyone showing great enthusiasm. Sarah had to check on a few legal matters which turned out in our favor. There was no one available at SPNHF who was able to write the easement documents but she was willing to train Vicki Smith to do so. So we got to work.
I felt very strongly that everyone’s easement was their private affair and no one else would know what was in them unless the donor told them. I believe that this one thing was the main reason that we were successful. I set up appointments for Vicki, introduced Vicki, and then left them alone. We got an appraiser to do the work on all of the properties. I got surveys on all of the properties. I must admit that the whole process was much less strict than it is today. For example, there were two properties whose boundaries were marked with stonewalls and the abutting properties had been surveyed. They accepted surveys that I drew.
There were approximately 20 different properties included in the original project with others added later. They varied in size from about 5 acres to about 50 acres. They all abutted each other except for two holes in the middle which have since been closed with one being held by the UVLT. The lawyer of the owner of one of these “holes” felt she should subdivide a lot before doing an easement. This was accomplished and her easement supported a LCIP project. Another owner did not feel that they could afford to donate an easement so we raised the money locally to pay for a bargain purchase.
So, on an evening between Christmas and New Year’s, we all got together for a signing party. What a time we had with about 20 different documents that were signed by over 25 different people. There was great pleasure in the room that night. A great feeling of accomplishment.
I am not sure of the number of properties that have been added to the project since that night in 1986 but it must be close to a dozen. And there are more.
With the January 20, 2010 purchase of Zebedee Headwaters in Thetford, the Upper Valley Land Trust became not only the owner, but also the steward of a very special place. The importance of Zebedee was illuminated by a last-minute effort by many individuals and groups, including Thetford Elementary School students, to raise the funds that enabled the permanent protection of the property. As the property’s owner, UVLT is responsible for ensuring that the property continues to be a place for the public to visit, enjoy, and learn.
Northeastern corner of Thetford Hill Wetland in 2008. The earthen dam which will be breached according to permitted plans to restore the wetland to a more natural system.
As part of this stewardship responsibility, UVLT plans to breach the old earthen dam on the property, to restore the natural channel out of the wetland, and recreate the place for wildlife (especially the very active beavers) to interact with their environment as they would in a more natural system. Realizing that the beavers may very quickly rebuild a dam of their own in the location of this man-made one, UVLT and its community partners, including the Thetford Conservation Commission, believe that the earthen dam’s removal will help the essence of a natural wetland return to Zebedee Headwaters.
Any substantial alterations to wetlands (even those that were partially created by man-made structures, including dams) require oversight by state environmental agencies and permits with clear plans. UVLT sought, and was awarded, a Watershed Grant from Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources to assist with the costs of the dam removal and wetland restoration. Using funds from the grant, and those in its management fund for the property, UVLT hired Root Engineering of Springfield, VT to prepare plans for the dam breach and permit applications. With the plans complete and permits in place, UVLT is now at the point where the groundwork will begin.
Permits from Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
The first phase will consist primarily of drawing down the water in the pond behind the dam. UVLT staff and volunteers will begin the gradual lowering of the pond by removing beaver dam debris from the lowest outlets of the wetland, and continue (hopefully at a pace that exceeds what the beavers will rebuild each night!) draining the pond to reach a significantly lower water level before dam removal can begin. Final drawdown, to a point below the excavation level of the dam, may require some active pumping by the contractor, Northwoods Excavating of Thetford, who will perform the dam breach.
Work on lowering the water level began Thursday, October 28, with the removal of part of one of the many beaver dams that is located near the earthen one. Ongoing maintenance of the property in the presence of beavers is nothing new to neighbor Tim McCosker, who understands the routine of maintaining “beaver baffle” pipes and other tools used to keep water flowing out of the wetland past the earthen dam. With McCosker’s help, and staff visits to the property, the goal will be to continually remove debris, allowing water to drain from the pond.
UVLT Stewardship Coordinator Jason Berard, and volunteer Tim McCosker, pull sticks from the beaver dam near the wetland outflow.
Once the water level is low enough, the contractor will begin excavation work to breach the dam with a large cut, twelve feet wide at the base with low-angled channel sides. The material removed from the dam will be deposited in an upland portion of the property, blended into the topography and seeded to revegetate the area. As with all of its properties, UVLT will lookout for invasive plants that might attempt to take root in newly exposed wetland soils, and combat them without mercy.
UVLT is excited to initiate this restoration phase of the Zebedee Headwaters management plan and will keep you updated as we progress. Please check back soon for more photos of the work and results of our wetland restoration efforts!
George Reddick and Karen Lindbo conserved their farm as they expanded their herd of milking goats and installed an on-site bottling plant. Today their goat’s milk and yogurt is sold under their own label in groceries throughout the region. VHCB’s grant to purchase a conservation easement has helped in the successful expansion of their farm.
Similarly, Roy Mark described the importance of the grant he received for conserving his orchard as he transitioned from wholesaling, to selling his apples on premises. Today he grows plums, pears, peaches, apples and more, and the parking lot of his farm stand is filled with families who come to pick their own, visit the petting zoo and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Roy’s farm is such a destination that the local fire department runs a weekend concession stand there to provide lunch to visitors and raise money to supplement their budget.
It’s clear that both Oak Knoll Farm and Wellwood Orchard are significant businesses in their communities and contribute greatly to the vitality of the local and regional economy. Vermont’s investment in conservation through VHCB strengthens farm enterprises, and conserved farmland encourages long-term investment in farming.
The Upper Valley Land Trust came into being when some residents of Lebanon and Plainfield began talking with each other about changes occurring in the region. Over many months, volunteers listened and learned from statewide environmental groups, community leaders and landowners. In 1985, the group decided to launch the Upper Valley Land Trust, and they never looked back.
Today, UVLT has conserved more than 400 properties encompassing approximately 40,000 acres of land – approximately 3% of the land base in the region. Just in the past year, UVLT has conserved 13 Upper Valley properties including 238 acres of prime farmland, a Tree Farm, three miles of frontage on scenic roads, 77 acres of wetlands, two Town Forests and a sugarbush. These conservation projects have expanded wildlife corridors for large mammals and protected upland songbird habitat. Seven parcels included public trails or other provisions for public access.
The Upper Valley Land Trust and the Lebanon School District have finalized a deed conserving 41 acres of land off Mascoma Street Extension and adjacent to I-89. The property includes a wetland, upland buffer and recreational trails. The School District conserved the property as part of an agreement with the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) to mitigate the impacts of constructing the new junior high school. In addition, the City of Lebanon has agreed to improve management and install a protective berm on adjoining land it uses for winter snow storage.
Former superintendent Michael Harris stated that the School District has used the property for public educational purposes such as environmental study, recreation, outdoor science laboratory work and field trips. In his words: “The use of the property is integral to our educational mission and provides a unique resource for environmental and scientific study for our teachers.” Wetland scientists who prepared a Functional Assessment Report for DES rated several aspects of the property highly including: Flood Control Potential, Productivity, Wildlife Habitat, and Educational Potential. The parcel also includes 28 ± acres of upland, wetland buffer and recreational trails that connect to the large “Landmark” parcel owned by Dartmouth College.
If you walk by the Upper Valley Land Trust’s Gateway parcel on Main Street in Norwich, VT, and if you are very quiet, you just might hear fear coming from the invasive plant species remaining on site……and you’ll hear moans from those that have perished!
With the hyper-help of 16 employees from Hypertherm, a Hanover, NH, based manufacturing company, about 30,000 square feet of woods were cleared of non-native, invasive plants that have taken over the area and threaten the longevity of the forest. Production crews from Hypertherm used one of their two days per year of paid time off for community service to rip, pull, tug, and yank out roots, shrubs, and trees of Glossy Buckthorn, European Honeysuckle and Japanese Barberry. The screams from the plants as their roots came out, one-by-one, were deafening but added great inspiration to an awesome crew of workers. While most everyone didn’t quite understand what Buckthorn was at the start, by day’s end, one could easily see the progress….and the challenge that remains. If you or a group you work with would like to be part of the action….and part of the solution…please let us know!
…and if you go to the site to see the work, be sure to look across the river toward the east side of Hanover and give the crew at Hypertherm a nod of thanks! Their achy backs and hands are making a difference…..and building community…one step at a time.
In honor of UVLT’s 25th anniversary this fall, we are selling a new photo book! This book brings together a lively collection of photographs of area landscapes, and words from landowners, UVLT volunteers & friends. If you’re looking ahead towards holiday gifts, this might be just the thing!
Here’s an excerpt from the inside cover: “It was a wonderful experience of creating Something out of Nothing, or learning every step of the way, and being amazed at what a small group of concerned people, pulling together, can accomplish.”
~Donella Meadows, describing the formation of the Upper Valley Land Trust in its inaugural Annual Report, fall 1987
Call (603) 643-6626 for more information or to order yours today – each copy is only $20!
The Bradford area retains a strong farming community. There are at least six active farms in town; among these is the Burgess Farm. It is a family-owned dairy farm with over 50 milking cows and another 50 head of cattle. On Friday, October 1 the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT) conserved 110 acres of the Burgess Farm with funds from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and the Bradford Conservation Commission (BCC). The newly conserved farmland, with nearly one mile of river frontage, contributes to a corridor of conserved lands along the Connecticut River in Bradford and Newbury.
The farm has been in continuous operation since 1792; Samuel Miller was the original settler. A member of the Burgess family bought the property in 1937, by trading the general store he owned in Moretown, VT for the farm plus cash. Current landowner, Duane Burgess said of the project, “I like the concept of conservation, it’s a good thing.” The farm’s 110 acres of land are a valuable agricultural asset that will continue to be available for farming for generations to come.
According to UVLT President, Jeanie McIntyre, the long-term availability of this property for agricultural uses “is like money in the bank. This is the sort of resource that our region needs.” Parcels like the Burgess Farm are essential to creating a sustainable food system and a vibrant regional economy.
Approximately 80% of the Burgess Farm’s soil is rich and fertile, designated as prime agricultural land. The Burgess family sustainably manages their farm by rotating their crops annually and keeping a wide grassy buffer along the river. Also notable is the Burgess’ herd of Guernsey milk cows. This breed is known for producing high butterfat, high-protein milk with a high concentration of beta-carotene. Guernseys are also known for their grazing abilities – they are able to convert grass to milk efficiently, requiring less feed than other breeds. Most Guernsey cows calve easily and possess pleasant dispositions.
The Upper Valley Land Trust will be responsible for monitoring the property annually to ensure that the conservation values of the land remain intact in perpetuity. This conservation project has been completed as UVLT prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The Burgess Farm conservation easement is one of more than 400 that UVLT is responsible for stewarding, this includes more than 40,000 acres region-wide. It is a part of a continuing legacy of land conservation in the region.