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!

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!

West River Trail Spring Workday

Pictured are Malcolm Moore and Jim Webster, clearing a fallen tree on the Riverstone Preserve trail.  Photo by Alex Wilson.

Recent maintenance work on the West River Trail tackled clogged drainage ditches and fallen trees. Trail workers cleared drainage areas and chainsawed downed logs. A huge thanks to trail volunteers for their hard work! 

Happy spring, and enjoy the trail!

West River Trail Volunteer Work Day

West River Trail Boulder Work - 3Save the Date! West River Trail Volunteer Work Day.
Saturday, October 20 (with rain date Sunday, Oct 21).
Time: probably 9 AM to 1 PM.
We will put in a post, put trail markers along the trail, clear ditches, do some mowing. Stay tuned for more info as the date gets closer. Hope you can join us!

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

Rice Farm Road Trailhead Access

West River Trail Rice Farm Road TrailheadThere will be a court hearing on the subject in the Newfane Court House 9 am on August 21st, 2017.

As many of you have seen, a plastic fence has been put up at the Rice Farm Road trailhead. About three years ago, Mr. Melvin Mayo purchased the lot and buildings above the trailhead on the West River Trail. As confirmed by the courts, he purchased only 2 acres down to the former West River Railroad. However Mr. Mayo is claiming ownership down to the river, based on the Dummerston tax map, which is incorrect.

People have been using this beautiful trail along the West River since at least the 1930s when the railroad tracks were taken up. So, the fence and the attempt to block the public from using the trail negatively affects many people in our community. There will be a court hearing on the subject in the Newfane Court House 9 am on August 21st, 2017. Please feel free to come to the public hearing and to add your stories about the trail in the comments section below.

Posted on behalf of Lester Humphreys, Friends of the West River Trail.

*11/12/2017 Court Rules in Favor of West River Trail http://www.reformer.com/stories/court-rules-in-favor-of-west-river-trail-group,524346

The West River Trail & Trail Talk

West River Trail, mountain laurelHappy summer! The West River Trail is open during bridge construction! Please take care at the Brattleboro Marina Trailhead construction intersections. During upcoming bridge demolition, construction personnel will be stationed to provide warning to pedestrians when work is occurring overhead.

Trail users should exercise extreme caution at intersections between construction access and the trail path. As an additional safety precaution, please keep pets on a leash, especially in the construction zone.

The next trail talk will be held August 5, 2017. Interested participants should meet the PCL+FIGG Team at the West River Trail trailhead at 8 am and the talk will begin at 8:15 am. For more Information, please contact Bonnie Clark, Public Relations Officer, at bclark@pcl.com.