The White River Partnership has received four grants to remove a dam on the Third Branch of the White River in Randolph.
The Randolph Dam is located on the east side (downstream) of the Main Street Bridge in Randolph village. The current structure, located at the approximate site of the original foundry dam, is a 5-foot-high log crib dam faced with sheet pile and a partial concrete cap along the left bank. The dam is not in use and is a complete barrier for spawning trout; removal would open up 98 miles of cold-water habitat to fish passage.
Removal would also open the Third Branch main stem to paddling, and improve flood resilience for the businesses located at the old foundry on Prince Street. Ripple Natural Resources, a local engineering firm, is designing the removal. In fall 2015 the Randolph Selectboard voted to unanimously support the project.
Funding from the Davis Community Foundation, National Fish Passage Program, Vermont Watershed Grant, and Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund will allow the White River Partnership, American Rivers/The Nature Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Greater Upper Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited (GUVTU) to remove the dam in summer 2016, restore in-stream and riverside habitat, and monitor long-term impacts to fish passage.
In addition GUVTU has received an Embrace-A-Stream grant to help fund the project, and is contributing proceeds from the 2015 and 2016 White River Open fly fishing tournament. GUVTU and WRP volunteers will plant trees along the Third Branch in spring 2017 to restore riverside habitat, and will help the US Fish & Wildlife Service monitor long-term impacts to fish passage.
Follow this link for more information: Randolph Dam removal project.
The WRP is seeking volunteers to harvest live willow stakes on Saturday, March 12 from 9-11am. The event is at Hurricane Flats Farm in South Royalton (975 South Windsor Street).
Willows are native shrubs that grow along Vermont’s rivers. Live, dormant willow stakes that are 18-20” long and ½-1” in diameter can be pounded into the face of riverbanks where they will set roots and grow quickly. WRP volunteers will plant the willow stakes harvested on Saturday along the White River in Bethel and Granville this spring.
The WRP plants willows in the face of riverbanks and other native trees along the top of riverbanks to increase benefits to both the river and also to property owners. In the short-term fast-growing willows planted on riverbanks help stabilize soils while other vegetation takes hold. Over time the willow roots intertwine with roots of native trees planted along the top of the riverbanks, creating a dense underground network that makes the riverbank more resistant to erosion. Above ground the willows and other native trees improve water quality by filtering pollutants out of water running through the vegetation; improve habitat by providing food and cover for fish and wildlife; and reduce flood damages by slowing flood waters and capturing debris.
The WRP depends on volunteers to help us plant willows and other native trees along the river each spring. Stay tuned for opportunities to help plant 5,000 stems along the White River in late-April and early-May!
Photo caption: The photos were taken 2 months apart at the WRP’s Hurricane Flats Farm streambank restoration project: in May 2013 (after planting willows) and in July 2013 (after the willows set roots and sprouted).
“We are excited that Rudi has joined our staff,” said Executive Director Mary Russ. “He not only brings a diverse technical skill set related to ecology, river science, and environmental education to this position, but also his commitment to building and maintaining strong working relationships in the White River valley.”
Rudi has extensive experience in the natural resources field. Since 2004 Rudi has worked at Redstart, Inc. in Corinth as a natural resources and Geographic Information Systems consultant, a position he will continue part-time. And for more than 20 years Rudi has been a workshop leader at the Montshire Museum’s camp-in program. Rudi is a Certified Floodplain Manager, and earned a master’s degree in conservation biology from Antioch New England.
Rudi has been involved in local agriculture and food projects for 30 years, from baking bread in Thetford Center to growing organic vegetables locally and in East Hardwick to being on the crew at Farm & Wilderness. Rudi is active in the Tunbridge community as well – he is a Lister, Planning Commission, and Town Forest Committee member for the Town of Tunbridge, plays and referees soccer and basketball, and plays in two local bands (Haywire and Turnip Truck).
Despite cold temps and blustery snow, twelve intrepid volunteers attended the White River Partnership (WRP) West Branch project tour and willow planting event in Rochester last Saturday. These WRP members, Greater Upper Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited volunteers, and local residents showed up to see the recently-completed, 1-mile-long, in-stream restoration project on the West Branch of the White River in Rochester.
In 2015 the WRP worked with the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF), Trout Unlimited, 6 private landowners, Harvey’s Excavating, and many other partners to develop and implement Phase 1 of a multi-year restoration project on the West Branch of the White River in Rochester. The restoration project goals are to restore in-stream and riparian habitat, improve river stability, and reduce the vulnerability of the surrounding properties to future flood damages.
The next step of the West Branch project involves planting willow stakes and fascines this fall along the new riverbanks. The GMNF is working with a Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) crew to implement the willow planting project component.
Native shrub willows grow along Vermont riverbanks, and may be harvested when they are dormant in early-spring or late-fall. Using willows harvested from GMNF property in Stockbridge, the VYCC crew cut the thicker willow stems into 18-inch “live stakes,” then pounded them into the riverbank every 2 feet; the buds above ground form branches while the buds below ground form dense root systems that stabilize the edge of the riverbank while other native vegetation gets established. The VYCC crew kept the thinner tops of each willow plant to build “fascines,” which are 10-foot-long, 6-inch-thick bundles buried in shallow trenches dug perpendicular to the river every 10 feet; shrub willows will grow quickly along the length of the fascine, helping hold soils in place along the riverbank.
On Saturday volunteers helped the VYCC crew plant willow fascines along 800 feet of GMNF and private property on the north side of the West Branch project site. When finished, the willow planting component will restore almost 1 acre of native riverside vegetation along 0.5 miles of the West Branch. To complement the willow planting, the WRP will work with the GMNF, local teachers and students, and community volunteers to plant a 50- to 100-foot-wide “buffer” of native trees along most of the project length next spring.
Driving west on Route 73 from Rochester toward Brandon Gap last week, you might have noticed a flurry of activity in the fields above the Forest Service CCC Camp. At any given time five excavators, two bulldozers, a skidder, a log loader, and a triaxle dump truck – all from Harvey’s Excavating – were moving and installing 60-foot trees with root wads attached, boulders, and gravel along a 1-mile stretch of the West Branch of the White River.
The large trees are being used to create “engineered log jams” that will protect the banks from erosion while creating shade, cover, and food for aquatic and terrestrial life in and along the river. To create the engineered log jam, excavator operators bury several “foundation” trees 40- to 50-feet deep in the riverbank, then weave dozens of successive trees into the buried foundation trees. The resulting structure mimics a natural log jam like those often found along the outside bends of wild, forested streams.
“The West Branch project is the first application of engineered log jams in New England,” says Mary Russ, Executive Director of the White River Partnership. The Partnership is administering the federal grant funds that are paying for the restoration project. “The Forest Service has worked with local, state, and federal partners to install these structures in other parts of the country – in West Virginia, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska – but this project will be a model demonstrating how large wood can improve both habitat and flood resilience in a New England river system.”
Some local residents have expressed concern about putting large trees into the river because of the perception that trees can block culverts and bridges, and cause damages during a flood. But the West Branch project is designed to keep trees in place, which will improve bank stability and reduce the potential for future flood damages. The power of the water rushing through the outside bend strengthens the log jam, pushing the interwoven trunks together tighter and tighter with each high water event. Eventually the trees will decompose, creating rich soil for native trees to establish. The roots of the trees growing in the duff of the decomposing log jam will reinforce the stability of the bank while providing shade, cover, and food for aquatic and terrestrial life. And eventually, when those trees die, they will fall into the river, continuing the natural cycle of wood recruitment.
Greg Russ, the Partnership Project Manager, is helping oversee on-the-ground project implementation along with Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and State of Vermont biologists, engineers, and river scientists. In addition to building log jams, Russ is working with these technical experts to restore channel dimension and profile by digging pools, building riffles, and creating bends; to stabilize disturbed riverbanks by wrapping coir and coconut fabric around exposed soils and holding the fabric in place with shrub willow stakes; and to reconnect floodplain and flood chutes by removing berms and lowering riverbanks. Next spring the Partnership will work with students and community volunteers to plant native trees along the river, restoring the riparian buffer.
On August 28 – the fourth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene – the Partnership gave a presentation about the project to local residents who attended a house party fundraiser hosted by Larry & Lesley Straus of Rochester. Asked why the project was necessary, Greg Russ explained, “After extensive gravel was removed from the West Branch to restore Route 73 post-Irene, the landowners along the 1-mile stretch of river between King Farm Road and the confluence with Corporation Brook were more vulnerable to future flood damages. The Forest Service saw an opportunity to restore habitat in the West Branch while improving flood resilience, and have spent the last four years working with the West Branch landowners, the Town of Rochester, and state and federal agencies to make their vision a reality.”
In four weeks’ time the West Branch of the White River will look very different than it did in the weeks and months following Tropical Storm Irene. What was a wide, shallow, featureless river will be a meandering stream with deep pools. In time, as riverbank vegetation is restored and water temperatures drop, trout and other native fish will return to pre-flood population levels. And, as a bonus, land along the West Branch will be more resilient to flooding and flood damages.
To see pictures and updates about the West Branch restoration project, visit the White River Partnership Facebook page. Or check out the project after the heavy machines are gone; parking is available at the publicly-accessible Forest Service CCC Camp property.