A History of the West River Railroad

The West River Trail may be Vermont’s oldest transportation path. Native Americans called the West River “Wantastiquet” or “waters of the lonely way,” and the Wantastiquet path was an important connection from the West River valley and Fort Dummer in Brattleboro over the Green Mountains to Otter Creek and Lake Champlain. In 1879, this path was developed into the West River Railroad.

The public is invited to join the Dummerston Historical Society for a program on the History of the West River Railroad via Zoom on Thursday, July 21 at 7 pm.

Following a brief business meeting, Glenn Annis, a resident of Dummerston, who is considered the foremost authority on the West River Railroad, will share his research that began close to four decades ago.

Have you viewed the big stone bridge piers beside Route 30 near the Covered Bridge? Have you wondered why they are where they are? Those towers are about all that is left of the West River Railroad, a 36 mile narrow gauge line, that began in 1878 until the railroad went out of business in 1934. Glenn will talk about the history of the railroad, how it was built, the cause of its demise, and will show photographs of the railroad and the depots along the way.

If interested in attending, join The Dummerston Historical Society by Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83959312783?pwd=bGtlcmdYU0ZmaGtpUnZETDkzOTUzQT09
Meeting ID: 839 5931 2783
Passcode: 102413
Questions:  Gail at gailsvt@gmail.com

West River Trail Birding

The West River Trail was recently featured in The Berkshire Eagle as one of five places to birdwatch in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont.

A walk along the lower section of the West River Trail, which stretches from The Marina in Brattleboro to an old quarry on Rice Farm Road in Dummerston, will provide views of rich landscapes, railroad artifacts, and plenty of breeding and migratory birds. Birds you might spy on your walk on the 3.5-mile path, built on the rail bed of the former West River Railroad, include sandpipers, egrets, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, swallows, wood thrush, starlings and bald eagles.

Article by Jennifer Huberdeau, The Berkshire Eagle Jun 22, 2022. Click through to read the full article in the Berkshire Eagle.

West River Trail Tree Report

Happy Spring from the West River Trail! It’s so exciting to see the first wildflowers emerge. Read more below about the fate of some of the trees we planted last year as part of the 350 VT Rewilding project

Tree report and tree and wildflower photos courtesy of Jesse Wagner.

It’s amazing how much the Riverstone Preserve got scoured by the winter ice! The Hepatica, Dutchmen’s Breeches, Trout Lilies are in bloom and the Bloodroot and Trillium are starting to open.  

I was unable to locate the southernmost tree (Hackberry) that we planted last year with all of the new driftwood berms, but we found the tube that had previously protected it about 100’ away. This was another Hackberry tree along the river that was also directly affected by the scouring  movement of the giant ice chunks. I was just barely able to see this tube buried under brush completely flat and bend it back to shape. The tree is still alive!  Not sure how alive yet though. The hazelnuts by the new bridge are doing great but the ones out in the middle of the wetland have been deer browsed heavily. If they bud after all, I will put larger tubes on them to protect them from future browsing. I haven’t recently checked on the trees by the log near the picnic table in Riverstone Preserve trail, the two living trees at Rice Farm Rd kiosk or the two shagbark trees at the northwest corner of Riverstone Preserve trail, but I hope they are doing well.  

School Of The Forest Podcast: The Value of Outdoor Spaces

Recently Christopher Russell, Director; School Of The Forest and Lead Instructor; Jack Mountain Bushcraft School interviewed Steve Shriner and Kathleen about the West River Trail.

Click through to hear the full podcast – The Value Of Accessible Outdoor Spaces With Kathleen White And Steve Shriner Of The Friends Of The West River Trail.

School Of The Forest offers an environment in which young people and adults can learn outdoor skills that they can use for a lifetime. Christopher discovered the West River Trail a couple of years ago when scouting locations for his course on canoe poling, and recently reached out to learn more about the Friends of the West River Trail organization.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Russell, School of the Forest.

A History Told by Nature

A new trail offers hikers a guided tour of the ecology of the West River, told through the eyes of the Abenaki people.

Thank you to The Commons for sharing this beautiful article. Text courtesy of Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons. Photo courtesy of the Atowi Project.

Originally published in The Commons issue #635 (Wednesday, October 20, 2021). This story appeared on page A1. Here is the link to the article.

Another piece of Abenaki history has been reclaimed with the creation of the Sibosen Trail. Pronounced SEE-boo-sehn, which is Abenaki for “river stone,” the trail runs along the West River in what’s known as the Riverstone Preserve, 21 acres of land owned by the Friends of the West River Trail that also includes 2,240 feet of shoreline.

The new trail takes a short loop off the main West River Trail and skirts the river’s edge.

With the installation of 21 informational signs, many of which include Abenaki language translations, the trail is now complete. That milestone was celebrated on Oct. 17 with a walk.

Dummerston forester Lynn Levine did the research for this project and composed the sign posts. Rich Holschuh, cultural researcher, provided information on the Sokoki, the band of Abenaki from the middle and upper Connecticut River Valley. Dummerston geologist John Warren also provided information.

Brattleboro Town Planner Sue Fillion said that the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board helped the Friends purchase the Riverstone Preserve parcel, and the Brattleboro Conservation Commission received a Tiny Grant from the Association of Vermont Conservation Commissions to create an interpretive trail.

Kathleen White, a member of the Friends of the West River Trail, said the inspiration for the Sibosen Trail came during a walk with Levine not long after the Friends secured the Riverstone parcel in 2013.

White said they were walking down a footpath that led to the river and the idea came to her and Levine that “this would make a great trail.”

Levine said the West River was “so important to the Abenaki,” and that tribal representatives “were excited to be a part of this.”

According to Holschuh’s research, the West River is known as Wantastekw (“at the river where something is lost”) by the Sokoki Abenaki, whose people have been living along its shores for more than 12,000 years.

The river was a main travel route between the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain (Bitawbakw) that was traversed by canoe and on foot.

On many of the signs posted along the trail, a QR code can work with cameras on hikers’ smart phones to access the voice of Holschuh, who pronounces the Abenaki translations on the signs.

The signs highlight the trees and vegetation found along the West River, and how the Abenaki made use of them. They also explain the geological history of the West River Valley.

Some of the signs include poems by Levine about the various trees. One tree on the trail is completely encircled by an Oriental Bittersweet vine, an invasive species common to Vermont’s woodlands.

Levine writes: “The bittersweet vine/Spirals around a tree/After a while you don’t know/Which is which/They look like lovers/But the vine makes the fire/That smothers the tree.”

White said the Friends have had frequent work parties along the trail to clear the invasive plants to give the native species room to grow — or, as she called it, “weeding the woods.”

American beech, white pine, red oak, black cherry, black locust, bigtooth aspen, bitternut hickory, white and black birches, musclewood, and striped maple are among the trees highlighted on the trail.

Levine, who has had a hand in constructing several hiking trails in the Brattleboro area, said her goal has always been “to connect people with the forest.” She says she is quite proud of how this trail turned out and of the many people involved to make it happen.

“This is a wonderful new community resource,” she said.

Trail News: Trail Reroute opens!

Huge thanks to the bridge prep crew – Elia Hamilton, Jesse Wagner, Malcolm Moore, Steve Shriner and Alex Wilson – for their contribution to trail improvements! All of this work takes financial and volunteer support. To help with these ongoing efforts to improve the trail, please consider a donation to the West River Trail. We welcome your support in any way you would like to give. Sign up on the website to receive email alerts about Volunteer Work Days and other events, and/or go to our Donate page to make a donation! Thank you!

The letter below is posted on behalf of Steve Shriner, West River Trail Steering Committee. Thanks to Alex Wilson for the photos of the bridge building workshop.

The WRT trail took a new turn recently with the opening of a rerouted portion of the trail in the Riverstone Preserve. This area, known locally as the “sandy area”, suffered from erosion and silt buildup from flooding. The flow of water across the trail from an upstream ravine had become more or less permanent.

The new trail parallels the old and includes a bridge over the stream made from locally sourced locust. In addition to the efforts of our volunteer steering committee, a volunteer group of employees from Nasdaq OneReport completed the final bridge assembly and helped finish the trail. Thanks to all who supported this project!

Projects like this enhance the Trail and make it more accessible and safe for all to use. To help with these ongoing efforts, please consider a donation to the West River Trail. Donate information can be found on our Donate Tab from the home page of the West River Trail website, and by clicking here. Thanks!

Office Space Available in Historic South Londonderry Depot

Looking for office space in the Southern Vermont area?

Conveniently located along VT Route 100 within renovated historic structure owned by non-profit organization.

Offering +/-350 sq ft space with private entry, open reception area and enclosed office space, as well as shared use of kitchen-ette, restroom and parking.

Lease to include utilities, snow removal, and potential for periodic access to +/-560 sq ft meeting space.

Seeking compatible, respectful tenant for immediate occupancy. For more information, please send email to gunyb@yahoo.com

New Benches on the Trail

The West River Trail is now home to two new beautiful benches.

The benches were built by Stephen Shriner using a design by Aldo Leopold. Great for taking a pause along the trail, the unique design of the benches has an upper rail as a support for taking a photo, using binoculars or simply savoring the view. They are made from the same white oak lumber that Jim used for the new picnic tables.

As always, improvements to the trail are a team effort, and made possible with the help of many hands. The benches were built and installed by Steve Shriner with land clearing and installation assistance from Alex Wilson. A RiseVT Amplify grant provided the financial support. Mark Anderson of Trevett Millworks donated the white oak lumber, Jesse Wagner made the connection for the donation of the lumber, and Jesse and Mark Westa picked up and delivered the lumber to Jim.

Photos by Alex Wilson.

New Trees Planted on the Trail

The West River Trail received 12 free trees from 350Vermont as part of a project called ReWild Vermont. 350Vermont is offering free trees to individuals and non-profits in an effort to get more trees planted to help with carbon sequestration, provide food for wildlife and humans, and all the other great things trees do for us. 

350Vermont organizes, educates, and supports people in Vermont to work together for climate justice – resisting fossil fuels, building momentum for alternatives, and transforming our communities toward justice and resilience. Click through to read more.

The 8 American Hazelnut trees, 2 Hackberry, and 2 Shagbark Hickory trees were planted on Saturday, May 8. Jesse Wagner coordinated the tree planting effort, by locating sites for planting, picking up the trees, getting tree tubes, stakes and mulch, and getting tools together. Other members of the FWRT Lower Section Steering Committee (Jason Cooper, Matt Mann, Steve Shriner and Kathleen White) came out to help dig holes, plant, and water the young trees. 

The Lower Section Steering Committee will monitor rainfall amounts and water the trees as needed. Most of the trees were planted on the Riverstone Preserve, with 3 hazelnuts planted near the new picnic table at the Rice Farm Road Trailhead. Trail users may notice the tubed and staked trees as they walk along the trail.

Many thanks to 350Vermont for providing the trees!