Construction has started to remove the last barrier to fish passage on Wing Brook in Rochester: the stream-crossing culvert at Wing Farm Road.
The Wing Farm Road culvert is located near the mouth of Wing Brook, and is one of only three stream-crossing structures on the stream. Until recently all three structures were under-sized, making them barriers to fish passage and vulnerable to flood damages.
Stream-crossing culverts are under-sized when the width of the structure is narrower than the stream is wide – over 80% of the culverts in the White River watershed fit this description. Why does this matter?
Under-sized, stream-crossing culverts make roads vulnerable to flood damages.
During a rainstorm, water backs-up behind under-sized culverts because the stream flow is wider than the culvert inlet. Water that can’t pass through the culvert forms a whirlpool upstream, eating away at – or eroding – the river and road banks as the water rises higher and higher.
In smaller rainstorms this erosion can cause the river and road banks to slump, requiring regular maintenance to prevent a complete collapse. In larger rainstorms this erosion can wash away the road completely – this happened in hundreds of locations during Tropical Storm Irene.
Under-sized culverts also block the passage of fish. Vermont’s native fish need to migrate upstream in search of cool water during the summer months and to lay their eggs during the spring or fall.
During a rainstorm the water that passes through an under-sized culvert is moving at high speed – like water passing through a garden hose when you put your thumb over part of the opening. When it exits the culvert, the fast-moving water scours the stream downstream, eroding the bed and banks.
Over time this scouring action lowers the bed of the river below the culvert, creating a large drop – or perch – from the culvert outlet to the water below. Native fish can only jump about 1-foot, so culverts that are perched more than 1 foot become a barrier to fish trying to move upstream.
“The impact under-sized culverts have on native fish can be easy to observe,” states Executive Director Mary Russ. “During the low water conditions this summer, many people reported seeing groups of fish congregating in the pools below perched culverts or near the mouths of cold-water streams.” According to Russ, “Many of these fish were stuck – they were unable to move through under-sized, stream-crossing culverts to access cold-water habitat upstream. Some of these fish survived; some did not.”
Wing Brook is a tributary to the West Branch of the White River. From its headwaters in Hancock, Wing Brook travels over 5 miles through a primarily-forested landscape on its way to its confluence with the West Branch in Rochester. Along the way its pools and riffles are home to healthy populations of native fish – like brook trout – as well as the waterbugs they depend on. As a result Wing Brook is an important spawning stream in this portion of the Upper White River watershed.
After Tropical Storm Irene the WRP and its partners identified Wing Brook as an important fish passage restoration site for several reasons:
Using Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department State Wildlife Grant funds, the WRP worked with Rochester-based engineer Kricket McCusker to design replacement projects for the three, town-owned, stream-crossing culverts on Wing Brook at Maple Hill Road, Marine Hill Road, and Wing Farm Road in Rochester.
Then, using a combination of US Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and private foundation funding, the WRP worked with partners and local contractors to replace the Maple Hill Road and Marine Hill Road culverts in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The Wing Farm Road culvert replacement will complete the project, reducing flood damages at road/stream crossings and restoring fish passage to the entire Wing Brook watershed.
The project also supports the local economy. Project funding benefits local businesses – from the design engineer to the construction contractors.
If you’re driving through Rochester this month and have a few minutes to spare, head west on Rte 73 for 1.5 miles; turn right on Maple Hill Road; then drive 0.3 miles to Wing Farm Road and turn left. Slow down after 0.1 miles to drive over the temporary bridge across Wing Brook and you’ll see heavy machinery from Harvey’s Plumbing & Excavating (Rochester, VT) working at the site.
Over the past few weeks Harvey’s operators have installed the temporary bridge to allow traffic to bypass the construction site; removed the road material down to the new stream bed elevation; removed the old metal culvert; and knocked out the concrete cradles at the culvert inlet and outlet along with 2 old, concrete bridge abutments uncovered during the road excavation work.
This week the operators will install a series of rock weirs – large rocks buried in the stream bed and banks in the shape of a channel-spanning “U.” The weirs insure fish can pass upstream by holding the bed elevation at a constant slope and directing water through the center of the new channel.
In a few weeks subcontractors from Tremblay Construction (Washington, VT) will pour concrete footings and abutments for the new bridge. And sometime near the beginning of September, a crane operator will place a 60-foot-span bridge on the new abutments to complete the project.
The WRP is working with a number of partners to implement the Wing Farm Road culvert replacement project, including the town of Rochester, US Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, High Meadows Fund, National Forest Foundation, State Wildlife Grant, and Vermont Clean Water Block Grant as well as local contractors Kricket McCusker, Harvey’s Plumbing & Excavating, and Tremblay Construction.
Working with partners to restore fish passage is one important way the WRP accomplishes its mission: bringing people together to improve the long-term health of the White River and its watershed. Since 2008 the WRP has worked with partners, funders, and 5 towns to complete 13 culvert replacement and dam removal projects, opening 125 miles of river in Hancock, Pomfret, Randolph, Rochester, and Sharon.
The White River Partnership (WRP) has conserved 9 acres of active floodplain along 1,780 feet of the White River in Gaysville in partnership with the Vermont River Conservancy, Vermont River Management Program, High Meadows Fund, and a private landowner.
Gaysville is a small village located in the town of Stockbridge. Consisting of a cluster of homes along Route 107 and River Road, the Belcher Public Library, the Gaysville Post Office, and a steel truss bridge across the White River, you might not notice this hamlet if you drive between Bethel and Stockbridge on your way to Killington or the Green Mountain National Forest.
But Gaysville hasn’t always been easy to miss.
According to the Town of Stockbridge website, “In 1786 Elias Keyes established a grist mill and later a saw mill at “The Narrows”, later known as Gaysville, so named for its founders Daniel and Jeremiah Gay. Gaysville flourished as a manufacturing center, powered by the waters of the White River. A button shop, sawmills, grist mills, schools, churches, several general stores, a woolen mill, snowshoe shop, and many homes were at one time located at Gaysville.”
However Vermont’s most devastating flood event – the 1927 flood – changed Gaysville profoundly.
“The waters ripped through the valleys of Stockbridge, taking with them bridges, dams, sawmills, homes, factories, businesses, and the railroad. The book Floodtide of 1927 reports some thirty buildings gone, with many more rendered useless in Gaysville alone…. Due to the devastation of the 1927 flood, and a changing economy, …the hamlet of Gaysville [was] never rebuilt to [its] former glory.”
Flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 also had major impacts in the town of Stockbridge. The town’s Hazard Mitigation Plan states that Tropical Storm Irene “destroy[ed] numerous properties and wip[ed] out large swathes of roadway and other infrastructure, most notable Route 107 leading to Bethel.”
In Gaysville a privately-owned campground, which occupied 20 acres of low-lying land along the south bank of the White River, sustained heavy damages. As a result the town worked with FEMA, the state, and other partners to “buyout” the property, by purchasing it from the private landowners; removing the damaged buildings and infrastructure; and restoring the land as open space.
Located immediately downstream from the campground, the privately-owned WRP project site was also flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. But unlike the campground, the 9-acre parcel was undeveloped.
According to WRP Executive Director Mary Russ, “Irene flood waters came and went without damaging any structures, highlighting the need to keep the property undeveloped to accommodate future flooding.”
So the WRP reached out to the landowner. “When the landowner expressed an interest in protecting the undeveloped property and making the land available for public access, we raised funds to work with the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) to implement a river corridor easement project,” says Russ.
The river corridor easement prohibits future development; allows the river to flood and move around; and protects the mature riparian forest along 1,780 feet of the river in perpetuity while allowing certain land uses – like recreational access – to continue within the 9-acre project area.
The landowner received a one-time payment as compensation for conserving the land. The Vermont Ecosystem Restoration Program and High Meadows Fund provided funding for the project.
The easement project complements the buyout project upstream; both projects prohibit development in this active floodplain, which will minimize future flood damages in Gaysville.
But the conservation projects also enhance another community benefit.
According to Russ, “Gaysville has been a recreation destination for many years: during certain water levels, paddlers come to canoe or kayak a technical section of river just upstream of the bridge; and swimmers and fishermen know that the waters are cold and clean and filled with fish.”
Now 29 acres downstream of the bridge are publicly-accessible and the former Gaysville Campground site is part of the White River Water Trail, an emerging network of 40+ designated public access sites along the river. And a group of Stockbridge community members has formed a committee to design and implement site improvements at the campground property to ensure safe, 4-season access to residents and visitors alike.
Working with partners to conserve active floodplains along the White River is one important way the WRP accomplishes its mission: bringing people together to improve the long-term health of the White River and its watershed. Since 2008 the WRP has worked with the state, VRC, Vermont Land Trust, funders, and 15 landowners to complete 10 floodplain conservation projects, conserving 157.5 acres on river-front properties in Braintree, Granville, Hancock, Randolph, Rochester, Royalton, and Stockbridge.
Vermont’s White River is special. Unlike many rivers around the country, the White River is cold and clean; its waters are free-flowing; it’s easy to access; and people who live in its valley value the river. In fact it was a group of local people who came together 22 years ago to talk about how to keep the White River healthy – a discussion that led to the creation of the Royalton-based organization the White River Partnership (Partnership).
Since 1996 the Partnership has worked with thousands of interested individuals, businesses, schools, towns, and other groups to complete hundreds of on-the-ground projects that keep the White River cold, clean, and accessible. For example we plant thousands of trees along the river each year to keep the river cold and clean; we monitor water quality at a swimming hole in every town to let communities know whether it’s safe to swim; we protect special places along the river to improve recreational access; and we engage community members in all of these activities – hundreds of volunteers help plant trees, grab water samples, build and maintain river access trails, and more.
Together we’re making a difference, but there’s still more work to do! Here are 3 opportunities to help the Partnership keep the White River clean and accessible in 2018:
Do you have a favorite swimming hole on the river? Have you ever wondered how clean the water is? We do and we have, so Partnership staff and trained volunteers monitor water quality at 23 swimming holes every other Wednesday during the summer months. Vermont has a water quality standard for recreational use, so our volunteers grab a water sample that we analyze to determine if the water at each site is clean enough for swimming. We share those monitoring results on our website and Facebook page every Thursday afternoon following a monitoring date. Contact us to receive the results directly via email.
Summer is a great time to go to the river for fishing, swimming, tubing, and more! Join us on Sunday, June 10 at 2pm to paddle the White River between Stockbridge and Bethel. We’ll meet at the former Gaysville Campground in Stockbridge (Bridge St) and end at Peavine Park in Bethel (375 Peavine Blvd). Bring your own boat, paddles, and life jackets, and plan to sign a waiver form. The Partnership will provide a shuttle and light snacks. RSVP today: info[at]whiteriverpartnership.org or 802-762-7722.
This event is part of our 2018 Second Sunday Event series. Learn more about events in July, August, and September here!
The White River Water Trail is an emerging network of 40+ recreational access sites along the White River and its tributaries. The Partnership is seeking volunteers to help us keep these sites clean and accessible this summer. Water Trail stewardship volunteers will monitor a specific river access site in June, July, and August; gather data on trash and site improvement needs; collect trash as needed; and report data via an electronic survey. Visit our Water Trail map to learn which sites near you need a steward. Contact us to learn more or to sign-up as a volunteer.
The WRP is coordinating our second annual Second Sunday Events series in 2018. Starting on Sunday, May 13 and running through Sunday, September 9 individuals and groups have 5 opportunities to get involved in the WRP’s work to keep the White River clean and accessible!
All events start at 2pm; are held rain or shine; and are free-of-charge, unless otherwise noted. For more details – or to RSVP – please contact us at info[at]whiteriverpartnership.org.
Help us plant 140 trees in this location to improve water quality, habitat, and flood resilience. Volunteers should meet at the Kingsbury Covered Bridge off Route 14 in Randolph. Dress to get dirty in long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toed shoes; the WRP will provide gloves, shovels, and light snacks.
*Co-sponsored by Vermont Fish & Wildlife.
Join us for a paddle trip between 2 White River Water Trail access sites along the middle White River. We’ll start at the former Gaysville Campground site in Stockbridge (Bridge Street) and end at Peavine Park in Bethel. This stretch of the White River was heavily impacted by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, so we’ll point out flood recovery and river restoration projects along the way.
Bring your own boat, paddles, and life jackets. Participants will be asked to sign a waiver form. The WRP will provide a shuttle before and after the event along with light snacks.
*Co-sponsored by the Connecticut River Conservancy.
Help us clear access trails to the Third Branch of the White River in Bethel with hand tools. Volunteers should meet at Peavine Park in Bethel. Dress to get dirty in long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toed shoes; the WRP will provide gloves, tools, and light snacks.
*Co-sponsored by the Bethel Conservation Commission.
The WRP is working with local engineering firm Ripple Natural Resources and 2 private landowners to design the removal of the Upper Eaton & Lower Eaton Dams on the First Branch of the White River in Royalton. These dams were originally built in the late-1700s to power local industry, including a grist mill, saw mill, fulling mill, furniture factory, power plant, and more. No longer in use, the dams block the passage of fish to 30 miles of upstream habitat; block the downstream passage of sediment and debris; and contribute to elevated water temperatures along the lower First Branch.
Join us for a free project tour – meet at the small gravel parking lot at the northeast corner of the Mill Road bridge across the First Branch in Royalton. Dress to walk along the river.
Join us for a river cleanup at multiple sites along the lower White River as part of Vermont’s River Cleanup Month and the Source to Sea events, including White River Water Trail access sites in Royalton and Sharon and several spots along the river where tires need to be removed.
Volunteers should meet at the parking lot just downstream of the South Royalton Bridge (103 Chelsea Street). Dress to get dirty in long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toed shoes; the WRP will provide gloves, trash bags, and light snacks.
*Co-sponsored by Vermont Law School.
Visit our Volunteer FAQs page for more information about WRP volunteer events. Or contact us at info[at]whiteriverpartnership.org with questions!
You’ve probably heard a lot about the water quality issues in Lake Champlain recently. And you may know something about the state’s efforts to raise funding to address these issues. But did you know that the White River watershed is impacted by these efforts as well?
Vermont has been busy improving waterways throughout the state by passing laws that protect these important resources and providing funding to address water quality issues. And for the past few years, the state has ramped up those efforts in response to concerns about phosphorus issues in Lake Champlain – from establishing the Vermont Clean Water Initiative to developing the Clean Water Fund. The newly introduced S.260 bill seeks to continue this legacy.
S.260 would work to restore impaired waters throughout the State and protect healthy waters from degrading through the use of funding gathered through a Water Quality Fund. On the surface, this bill sounds like it will continue the state’s legacy of protecting existing watersheds. So, how did it come about and why is it important to the White River watershed?
Many watershed groups throughout the state have testified in favor of S.260. If passed, this bill would allow for thousands of projects to be funded across the state. With increased support from the Water Quality Fund, hundreds of on-the-ground projects could be completed within the White River watershed. This is an important bill to keep an eye on, particularly for watershed groups like the White River Partnership.
For more information about S.260, follow this link.