• Volunteers look out for health of rivers
    By Amy Ash Nixon
     | May 09,2014
    Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo

    Benjamin Richards, 14, of Williamstown, a student at EarthWalk Vermont in Plainfield, joins other volunteers planting trees near the Martin Bridge in Marshfield on Thursday.

    MARSHFIELD — Buckets filled with young trees were placed on both sides of the Martin Bridge on Thursday, where dozens of tiny red flags pushed into the ground told volunteers where the plantings should find their new homes in the ready spring earth.

    For the past week, volunteers organized through the Friends of the Winooski River have been helping the group with work along the riverbanks, to improve everything from erosion control to shading the water, which helps oxygenate it for the health of the species that depend on it.

    Ann Smith, executive director of Friends of the Winooski River, was out along the riverbanks working alongside volunteers and taking breaks when new groups showed up to lend more hardworking hands.

    Students helping with the planting of dogwoods, willows and other trees along the river’s edge Thursday came from Green Mountain Valley School, the Central Vermont High School Initiative, Websterville Baptist School and Twinfield, said Smith. Several environmental stewardship groups are partners in the effort as well.

    “This is old farmland,” Smith said of the town-owned conservation area, and the Marshfield Conservation Commission works with the volunteers to help maintain and improve the buffer area along the river.

    When Websterville science teacher Virginia Collins and four students arrived Thursday to volunteer, instead of explaining to the students the importance of riverbank riparian buffer restoration, Smith had the four teens explain it to her.

    The students, Shannon Hannon, of North Randolph, Ashley Sanders, of Barre, Delainey Vorce, of Barre, and Jacob Bartlett, of Brookfield, all ticked off the reasons it is important to restore the buffer, which include filtering of stormwater runoff. Smith was impressed with their quick, accurate responses and talked about how improving the buffer through the addition of woody plants with strong root systems would also help with flood resiliency, slowing waters down and reducing flooding in the immediate area.

    Don Coffey, from the nonprofit Trout Unlimited group, was busy filling two buckets at a time with water from the river to nourish the newly planted trees. He said the organization works to help improve the health of rivers in the Washington County area to help with spawning and the health of the fish.

    He said Thursday’s turnout and enthusiasm were good to see. “For one thing, many hands make light work,” he said with a smile.

    Some of the students pitching in Thursday were from the EarthWalk program’s Teen Land Project and were there with their lead mentor, Erik Gillard.

    Clustered around a young maple being planted were three students from the Teen Land Project — Cricket Liebermann, of East Montpelier, Brendon Lareau, of Barre, and Lucas Boyden, of Duxbury. They all helped hold the tree’s roots in place as earth was patted down around it to stabilize it.

    “I’m having fun,” Lucas said when asked about the volunteer project.

    Thursday was the last of four days that volunteers have assisted with riverbank work this spring.

    Some 1,800 native trees have been planted along the banks of the Dog and Winooski rivers in Berlin, Cabot and Marshfield, including alder and elderberry.

    “We really appreciate the help of our volunteers,” Smith said. “It’s a great way to get people outside, get their hands dirty, and learn about local ecology and stream protection.”

    According to the group, many local riparian areas were damaged by the high waters of Tropical Storm Irene and by annual spring flooding, and all rivers protected in this effort run into Lake Champlain, so efforts here help there as well.

    Over the past eight years the group has planted 14,000 trees and shrubs on 35 acres in the Winooski watershed, including at sites in Cabot, Marshfield and Plainfield, and on the Stevens Branch in Barre, the North Branch in Worcester, and the Dog River in Northfield and Berlin.

    To learn more about the efforts, visit www.winooskiriver.org.

    amy.nixon @timesargus.com

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