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.

Support Your Local Nature Trail

Please consider a year-end donation to Friends of the West River Trail. Click here to make a donation.

December 2021

Greetings, 

Two years in with the COVID pandemic, it has felt really good to be part of an organization that’s providing a safe recreational venue in the Brattleboro area. As we saw in 2020, West River Trail usage has remained high throughout 2021—and it’s understandable why: most of the trail is wide enough for trail users to enjoy time connecting with one another yet be safely distanced. This has been good for residents of Brattleboro and surrounding towns, and it has been good for our economy, with the area increasingly recognized for the recreational resources it offers.

But at Friends of the West River Trail we’re not resting on our laurels. We are working actively to improve the trail, to provide rest areas along the trail, to protect the land along the trail, and to improve the ecosystem health on the Riverstone Preserve. 

To do this work, we need your help. Please consider a year-end donation to Friends of the West River Trail – Lower Section to support this work.

Here’s how we’ve been putting your support to work:

  • Through periodic work parties, we’re continuing our work to remove invasive plants from the 22-acre Riverstone Preserve. Following professional services to remove a variety of non-native plants, including oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, buckthorn, black swallowwort, and knotweed, we have been out there controlling the residual seedings of these plants that appear. And it’s so satisfying to see that native plants are coming back!
  • We built and installed three more benches along the trail in 2021 and two additional picnic tables. These amenities are making it easier for the trail to be enjoyed by all.  
  • We now have interpretive signs along a side trail in the Riverstone Preserve, called the Sibosen Trail (Abenaki for river stone). These signs focus on the area’s natural history and Abenaki heritage.
  • We installed a low bridge across a sandy outwash area that has always been hard to maintain. This will help bicyclists from getting bogged down in sand and flowing water during periods of heavy runoff, while also providing a view of a beautiful ravine.
  • We’re continuing regular trail maintenance, removing fallen trees, and dealing with some of the challenging drainage problems.
  • We are in discussions with a number of landowners along the trail about the possibility of purchasing additional land to expand the Riverstone Preserve and ensure protection of the entire Lower Section trail corridor. We can’t share details now, but we are hopeful that we will be able to increase the land area that Friends of the West River Trail actually owns and can fully manage for biodiversity and recreational opportunities. 
  • And we are working with other organizations in the region to create a network of linked trails along the Connecticut River and extending into New Hampshire. 

To be able to continue this important work on the trail and take advantage of land acquisition and easement protection opportunities as they come along, we need money in the bank. Please consider supporting our work.

Friends of the West River Trail is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that is 100% volunteer run. Those of us on the Lower Section Steering Committee are your neighbors in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Newfane, and Marlboro—working to provide critically important recreational opportunities for our community.

Please consider supporting these efforts through a year-end gift. You can donate online at https://westrivertrail.org/donate/

Thank you and best wishes for a healthy and safe 2022.

Lower Section Steering Committee, Friends of the West River Trail
Jason Cooper, Brattleboro 
Elia Hamilton, Newfane
Lester Humphreys, Brattleboro 
Matt Mann, Brattleboro
Malcolm Moore, Marlboro
Steve Shriner, Brattleboro
Jesse Wagner, Dummerston
Mark Westa, Brattleboro
Kathleen White, Brattleboro
Alex Wilson, Dummerston

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.

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! 

New! West River Trail Picnic Tables

The West River Trail is delighted to announce the addition of two new picnic tables along the trail.

One is located on the deck of the I-91 bridge and the other is at the Rice Farm Rd Trailhead, down a little trail towards the river. 

Thanks to RiseVT for funding the construction of the picnic tables with a RiseVT Amplify grant. RiseVT’s mission is to support outdoor physical activity and healthy lifestyles for families throughout the state. 

The West River Trail relies solely on the generosity and help of volunteers and donations to make improvements and we have a team of folks to thank for making the picnic tables happen. Thanks to Jim Webster (pictured above) for building the tables, to Mark Anderson of Trevett Millworks for donating the white oak lumber, to Jesse Wagner for making the connection for the donation of the lumber, to Jesse and Mark Westa for picking up and delivering the lumber to Jim, and to Jason Cooper (pictured above) for help with delivery and installation. 

Check out the beautiful new picnic tables the next time you are out on the trail. Happy Spring!

Bridge Benches

If you’ve been out on the trail lately, you may have noticed some beautiful new handcrafted benches at the I-91 Bridge to Nature viewing platform.

The benches were made by Steve Shriner and Tom Bodett at the HatchSpace. The seat planks are laminated wood, made by Bensonwood (left over from another project), and donated by the HatchSpace. Tom made the bases for each bench and Steve put them together. Steve and Jason Cooper transported them to the trail and installed them on Sunday, March 22. Huge thanks to the HatchSpace, Bensonwood, Tom, Steve, and Jason. The benches are beautiful! Thanks to Alex Wilson for the photos.

We invite all trail users to take a moment to rest and enjoy the scenery from the new benches! 

Other improvements along the West River Trail include a bike rack and additional signage.

Please follow safe social distancing recommendations. Enjoy the trail!

West River Trail Featured in The Manchester Journal

Photo courtesy of Kris Radder, Brattleboro Reformer via the Manchester Journal.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
– Rachel Carson

For those seeking “social distancing” the way that Henry David Thoreau described it — a silent communion with the woods — Southern Vermont offers many places for a walk, a ramble or a hike.

The West River Trail was featured in a recent Manchester Journal article by Greg Sukiennik, about places to find quiet, natural beauty in Southern Vermont. Read the Full article in the Manchester Journal. Photo courtesy of Kris Radder, Brattleboro Reformer via the Manchester Journal.

The West River Trail: The former railbed of the misbegotten West River Railroad is currently split into two trail sections, with future plans to connect them into a single 36-mile trail. The lower section stretches from The Marina in Brattleboro to the old quarry on Rice Farm Rd in Dummerston. The upper section stretches from the former South Londonderry train depot to Townshend Dam, with several parking lots along the way, and is home to the annual West River Trail Run, scheduled for June.

Enjoy the trail! Be safe, be well, and embrace nature and the outdoors.

Volunteer Wanted!

West River Trail, Rice Farm Road Access

The Friends of the West River Trail (FWRT) Lower Section Steering Committee has a rewarding volunteer opening for someone who can help organize and file the papers documenting the work of making the West River Trail accessible to all.

Do you have a special interest or skill in organizing files/papers? Do you love nature trails? Would you like to help organize and document the work of a local non-profit? Do you have a little extra time in your schedule to help support the West River Trail?

Please email us at lowersection@westrivertrail.org if you are that special someone. We look forward to hearing from you!

Or maybe you know of someone else who may be interested? If so, please share this announcement with them. Thank you!

About the FWRT:
Organized in 1992, the Friends of the West River Trail (FWRT) is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to the establishment of a 36-mile scenic trail through the West River Valley – eventually linking Brattleboro, Dummerston, Newfane, Townshend, Jamaica and South Londonderry.

The FWRT’s mission is to:
Develop and maintain a publicly accessible system of paths along the West River corridor for educational, recreational and alternative transportation purposes.
Promote public awareness and enjoyment of the recreational path system and of the history, geology and biota of the West River valley.
Coordinate local, state and federal interests in planning, funding, construction, management and use of the trail system.