April 24 – On June 22nd Friends of Northern Lake Champlain and Switchback Brewing Company are teaming up to present the Switchback Bike for the Lake around the Northern Lake – starting and ending (with a “Guys & Grill Party” featuring Switchback Beer) at Sandbar State Park! Participants can select from 25, 50, 70 mile rides or go all in and do the Century Ride that day! What a great way to kick off the summer biking season with a great ride on relatively flat course around Lake Champlain! While you are biking, you are also helping Friends of Northern Lake Champlain with our mission to Clean Lake Champlain! Click here for a Registration Form. See you on your bike!
April 6, 2013 – A beautiful morning and walk at the Missiquoi Wildlife Refuge, this 6729 acre refuge includes most of the Missisquoi River Delta where it flows into the Missisquoi Bay ! What a resource we have in our region. I decided to take the kids with me and we were by far, the youngest people on the walk. Everyone else appeared to be serious birders and when I unloaded the van with my 3 kids and a friend in tow, the comment from one of the walkers, was: “you have 4 of them?” I wasn’t sure if I should join them, would they scare all the birds away? We decided to go despite the cold wind and the mittens that did not quite fit properly and the “looks” from the serious birders.
I, probably like many people have forgotten or taken for granted this natural gem hidden out past Swanton. Once in awhile, I hear about an event at the Refuge or something Senator Leahy is doing out there, but on a regular basis, I do not make an effort to head to the Refuge for a walk or an outing. Now, however, as the new “water girl”, as I have been referring to myself, I have a renewed interest in the Refuge and anything related to the water in our region. This Delta, is for all intents and purposes, the catch basin for our watershed, and seeing it and appreciating it, is important to understanding the impact our actions upstream have on the Lake, or as Paul Stanley so eloquently stated:”What we do, or don’t do upstream has a direct impact on what happens in Lake Champlain.”
So, when I saw on their calendar that they were hosting a nature walk this morning, we loaded up and headed over. I have to say, it was spectacular in there this morning. The blue sky and sun shone through the tree branches, as the trails meander around the delta. We didn’t see many birds, and I am not sure if this was due to the noise my kids were making or the fact that it was very cold, but it didn’t really matter. The quiet places of contemplation, well maintained trail, and being around other people that love and appreciate the natural world, made our journey to the Refuge magical! It helped to have Joe thank us for coming and say how nice it was to have the children on the walk and we were welcome anytime. I’ll take him up on that!
March 22, 2013
Last week I attended the Vermont Environmental Consortium’s (VEC) 2nd Annual Water Conference. I did not know what to expect or who would be there, but I have to say that the people, presenters, information and agenda was extremely well put together and I found the content to be valuable. The discussion about the Lake and problems caused by storm water and runoff are creating a situation that continues to create an ecological imbalance. There are many causes for why our Lake and our streams are continuing to get worse, not better, but the reason that I’d like to focus on in this blog entry today is soil and the reduction of soil as we continue to build houses, roads, and buildings.
The question came at the end of the day from an unsuspecting source, a farmer from Shelburne, Vermont. He politely asked “if we all really thought that a few rain barrels would offset the rapid phases of development our state has seen in the last 50 years?”
You see every time we remove soil and and build a 6000 square foot house or put in a new road, we are messing with Mother Nature who has created the perfect solution to capturing and filtering water. As we remove more and more soil for our own purposes, there is less of it to capture, hold, and filter the water thereby creating stronger runoff, more erosion, and more sediment and nutrients ending up in our basin. The farmer spoke about an old willow tree on the banks of a river that ran through his yard and how he had always thought the tree would be there long after he was gone, but to his surprise, that beautiful willow tree is now lying down in the river because of the eroding banks along the river. Upstream houses are being built, roads constructed, cities created and soil and earth are disappearing.
I grew up in Charlotte, so I know the area that he speaks of and in my parent’s yard stands a couple of beautiful old willow trees, so I can relate to that feeling of thinking something that grand will be there forever. I now live in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband and three children and I, like many of you, are witnessing the landscape change before our very eyes. Recently the constructing began on the much contested Walmart on the outskirts of town. I drive by the site often, as it is on the way to the grocery store (3 kids – I go to the grocery store a lot). It is astonishing to me the amount of soil that is being moved, removed and dug up. The Walmart is being built on prime ag soil that is rare and irreplaceable. I did not get involved in the conversations about Walmart and do not feel strongly about them coming to my region one way or the other, but the dots started to connect for me during this dialog about the soil at the water quality conference last week.
Water needs soil and the more soil we lose, the worse our waters become. Sometimes I feel like the issues we are dealing with are insurmountable and that we will not be able to fix what we have broken. I feel like it is partly my job, as the Friends Director to learn about what is happening, reflect on it, and help others understand it by bringing awareness to it. Do I think that some rain barrels will counteract the millions of miles of roads we are building, the thousands of square feet of buildings we are building, or the hundreds of acres of soil we are dispersing and digging? No, not really, but maybe the rain barrels are a tool to help us start a conversation, to help people become aware, and to start to feel like we are part of the solution and not just the problem.
March 12th – At dusk today I left my home with my camera and the puppy to see what was happening with the water. Spring thawa was in full swing and it had been raining most of the day and I had to head out to the Rock River to get some water samples for our study that we have been conducting for the past 3 years. It was still raining when I left the house. I started up the hill from my house in St. Albans toward High Street. Right away I saw water sheeting across the road and down the other side moving debris, leaves and other items. I then headed up towards Prospect Street. Friends of Northern Lake Champlain and the City of St. Albans have grant from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to look at storm water solutions for Prospect Street. After what I saw tonight, I am really glad this is an area that has been identified by Paul Madden and Julie Moore and the City of St. Albans to fix.
The water was gushing down off Hard’Ack between the Casavant’s and Cioffi’s House and forming a stream. I wondered to myself if that stream always appears in the spring or if this was a first. Funny what you don’t notice if it is not your job to notice. It got me thinking about how water runs downhill. If you have a house or use a car and drive on the roads or even if you live in a valley. Water somehow has to flow by you or your property or the roads you drive on to get to the basin. The basin we live in is Lake Champlain and that basin is in trouble and that basin is our responsibility. We all need to be part of the solution. Again, I started thinking about how many people may not even see or notice this if it is not their job or if they do not see or visit the Lake. I am not sure I realized what kind of trouble the lake was in until we started spending time down there at our summer camp. I hear stories about how the Bay Park in St. Albans used to attract hundreds of people 50 years ago. You would be lucky to find 10 people on a beautiful summer day in July. So what’s happened and why are so few people noticing?This blog is my exploration of these questions and more. It will be an informal blog with ideas, discussions, thoughts, and what I’m working on with Friends of Northern Lake Champlain. I hope that this sparks ways that you might be able to join us in this work. I know tonight when I was driving from St. Albans through Sheldon and then into Highgate to the Rock River, I felt overwhelmed by the brown water flowing down hill.
How can we solve this – can we solve this? The change in land management on farms, increased impervious surfaces in town, and even in rural areas, has increased the amount of runoff and with that runoff come pollution and some of that pollution that drains off of our lands and winds up in the lake. This what is causing some of the most detrimental health problems in Lake Champlain! Driving around tonight is what has inspired me to start to write this blog. Maybe I can help be other people’s eyes and conscience about water and explain what I see and observe. The Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC) is a local non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the amount of run-off in our watershed. We have been working with farmers, government agencies, citizens and municipalities for the past 11 years on practices that will help to reduce run-off from the land. For more information on this project and how you can get involved in our organization and support our mission, please contact Denise Smith, Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lake Champlain reflects you, reflects us all. Our reflection looks better in clean water. Make it happen.