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! 

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.

Support the West River Trail

West River Trail Marina TrailheadAs 2018 draws to a close, we invite you to include the Friends of the West River Trail in your year-end giving.

At a recent meeting of the Lower Section Steering Committee, we paused to take stock of all that has been accomplished this year and acknowledge how good we are feeling about the trail.  The trail is in great shape, largely because of generous donations received from all of you.

With these funds, we were able to hire Jason Evans Excavation, this fall, to do  major repairs to the large, deep washouts on the trail access from Fox Farm Road.  He also fixed some smaller washouts along the trail under the power lines and added gravel to widen and improve the trail surface there.

Other accomplishments in 2018:

  • Two productive volunteer trail work days in the spring and the fall.
  • Recent receipt of a permit from the Town of Dummerston to reconstruct the kiosk at the Rice Farm Road trail head. The kiosk will be set in place next spring.
  • With funds from a USDA grant, we hired Long View Forest to treat the invasives on the Riverstone Preserve this fall.  90% of the buckthorn, barberry, multi-flora rose, oriental bittersweet and japanese knotweed was eradicated. The black swallow wort will be treated next spring/summer and we will receive more USDA funds to do follow up treatment in 2020.
  • Jeff Nugent, of the Windham Regional Commission, updated the trail map, which will be found at the trail heads and around the community soon.  (Printing generously donated by C&S Wholesale Grocers).

Your year-end gift will help us to continue our work on:

  • Repair and maintenance of the trail surface and drainage culverts
  • Control of invasive species in the Riverstone Preserve
  • Protection of rare and endangered species along the trail
  • Extension of the trail to the downtown Brattleboro railroad station, and south from there to the old railroad bridge that connects to a large network of New Hampshire trails
  • Potential acquisition of additional land adjacent to the trail
  • Creating and printing a map of the Riverstone Preserve Trails
  • Promotion of trail usage through distribution of maps as well as through our website and Facebook page
  • Amenities, such as benches along the trail, a picnic table near the I-91 bridge, and a shelter on the Riverstone Preserve

If you have not visited the trail recently, please do!  The trail is seeing more and more usage, year-round, by hikers, runners, cyclists, skiers and snowshoers.

If you love the West River Trail and want to see it continue to be protected, improved and even extended, please support the Friends of the West River Trail with a generous donation. Click here to make a secure online donation. If you prefer to donate by check, please feel free to contact us at:
West River Trail, Lower Section, 138 Elliot St, Suite 3, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301.

Thank you! 

With all best wishes,

FRIENDS OF THE WEST RIVER TRAIL

Lower Section steering committee:

  • Lester Humphreys (chair)
  • Jason Cooper
  • Niko Malkovich
  • Matt Mann
  • Malcolm Moore
  • Kathleen White
  • Alex Wilson

Fundraising committee:

  • Orly Munzing
  • Brett Morrison
  • Marcia Steckler
  • Tom Yahn

Successful Trail Work Day, October 20, on the Lower Section of the West River Trail!

west-river-trail-nov-2018 - 1Charlie, Jennifer, Sue, Jason and Malcolm, our enthusiastic trail crew for the day, got a lot accomplished. They planted a post for the chain at the Rice Farm Road Trailhead and cleared the area for the new kiosk (for which we recently received approval from the Dummerston DRB!) Grass was trimmed and overgrown brush was pruned back a mile along the trail from each end. Drainage ditches and culverts were raked out, leaving the trail in good shape! A big thank you to our volunteers!

Freedom & Unity: The Vermont Movie

Vermont Movie PosterSave the dates! The Friends of the West River Trail, Weston Historical Society & The Londonderry Arts and Historical Society present:
Freedom & Unity: The Vermont Movie, the first-ever documentary series about Vermont. All six chapters will be shown at the South Londonderry Railroad Depot; the first two episodes this Fall and the remaining chapters in 2019.
Part 1: “A Very New Idea”
Thursday, Nov. 15
Explores the roots from which the future state of Vermont grew, from Samuel Champlain to the Civil War.
Part 2: “Under the Surface”
Thursday, Nov. 29
Yes, quarrying, but also about social movements that have belied Vermont’s bucolic image.
South Londonderry Railroad Depot Route 100
7:00-8:30 PM
Admission free; donations appreciated. For more information on the movie visit the Vermont Movie website.

Grand Teton National Park: A Geographic Portrait

Grand TetonOn November 8, Jeff Nugent, a former volunteer with the U.S. National Park Service and presently a specialist with the Windham Regional Commission, will present “Grand Teton National Park: A Geographic Portrait” accompanied by beautiful images of this iconic locale.
Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 PM
South Londonderry RR Depot
Free Admission, donations appreciated

WRT Volunteer Trail Work Day

cropped-milton-avery-in-vermontWe are having a Trail Work Day on Saturday, October 20 from 10 AM to 2 PM. We will meet at the Rice Farm Road Trail head. We’ll be doing some trimming along the trail, weed whacking under the power lines, clearing drainage ditches of leaves and debris, planting a post, putting up some new signs, etc. Wear boots, bring water, snack, work gloves. We will have tools, but you are welcome to bring your own, such as a shovel, clippers, pruner, rake. Lunch will be provided. It will be fun! We look forward to seeing you and are so grateful for your help. For more information or to let us know you’re coming, contact us at: lowersection@westrivertrail.org. Thank you!

From Dream to Reality

viewsPosted on behalf of Alex Wilson.

In this in-depth article, Friends of the West River Trail Steering Committee member and Dummerston resident Alex Wilson describes efforts going back to 1997 to formalize the West River Trail on the lower section of the West River Railroad bed. The article is from Views of Dummerston, Spring 2018.  Click on pages 1, 12 and 13 to the read the article on the Views website. The full 3-page article can be viewed as a single document by clicking on this PDF – views-of-dummerston-from-dreams-to-reality-spring-2018

39 Steps at the South Londonderry Depot

The_39_Steps_1935_British_posterOn Tuesday, May 15, at 7 pm, the Friends of the West River Trail will present “The 39 Steps” a Hitchcock classic at the South Londonderry Depot.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and light refreshments will be served.
South Londonderry Depot, 34 River St., South Londonderry, VT.