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!

Volunteers needed to Pull Oriental Bittersweet

West River Trail, Autumn 2016

Volunteers are needed to pull Oriental Bittersweet on the Riverstone Preserve, Sunday, October 24 from 9:30 to noon. Hope you can join us!

This might be our last outing to work on removing invasive plants before the frost. It’s fun, meditative, educational, and so important for controlling these plants that can take over and weaken the trees. Our local botanist friend, Mike Duffy, will be there to help identify invasives and other interesting plants.

Special bonus! You will have an opportunity to view the interesting new interpretive trail on the Riverstone Preserve–the Sibosen Trail (Abenaki for River Stone).

Wear weather appropriate clothing. Bring work gloves, water, and a snack. We’ll meet at 9:30 at the junction of the Fox Farm Rd access trail and the West River Trail. (Just past the northern boundary of the Riverstone Preserve). For more information or to let us know you’re coming, please contact us at lowersection@westrivertrail.org. Thank you and hope to see you there!

Office Space Available in Historic South Londonderry Depot

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West River Trail Workday

Learn plant ID and pull invasives while you’re doing it!

Join local botanist Mike Duffy and volunteers on Sunday, August 29 and/or Sunday, September 26 from 9:30 to 12:30 to help manage invasive species on the Riverstone Preserve.

We will meet where the Fox Farm Access trail meets the West River Trail, then go together onto the Riverstone Preserve to continue where we left off on our last work day on August 1st.
 
It’s nice, quiet work with time for conversation and identifying invasives as well as other plant species. We will be working mostly on pulling Oriental Bittersweet seedlings, which come up easily.

Please be in touch with any questions or to let us know you’re coming at lowersection@westrivertrail.org.

Thanks and hope to see you there!

Trail Work Day August 1st

Come learn to identify plants (especially invasive plants) and help remove them from the Riverstone Preserve at the same time! 

The Friends of the West River Trail are hosting a volunteer work day on Sunday, August 1 from 9:30 am to 1 pm.  

Dan Healey of LongView Forest (whose crew has been working on invasive mitigation on the RP for the last 3 summers) will be there to help us with identification and pulling methods. Mike Duffy, who is a botanist and has been creating an inventory of all the plants on the WRT will also be there.

Bring work gloves, water to drink, a snack, and a plastic trash bag. We will meet where the Fox Farm Rd access road meets the West River Trail, near the northern border of the Riverstone Preserve. For questions and to let us know you are coming, email lowersection@westrivertrail.org

Thanks and we hope to see you there!

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! 

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!