Volunteers help VYCC plant 1 acre of willows

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.