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!

West River Trail Featured on VPR

West River Trail Winter

The reports from earlier this year are in, and all across the state, the number of people using Vermont’s hiking trails was way up.

Whether it was the Long Trail, Vermont’s State Parks, or developed trails in our towns and cities, people flocked to the outdoors during the early months of the pandemic.

Listen to the full story at VPR online.

“There’s a certain peace that I feel walking along this river. Nothing like walking near water, or being near water that soothes the soul, so to speak. It’s consoling during this time of great anxiety and isolation.” – Robert Peeples, Brattleboro resident

Please Support the West River Trail

We need your support at Friends of the West River Trail. Please consider a year-end donation.

2020 has been a year like no other. The impact of COVID-19 on all of us has been extraordinary. It has been a hard year for everyone, and we so hope that our friends are healthy, that our community remains strong, and that the Brattleboro economy recovers.

At Friends of the West River Trail we feel very good that we’ve been able to improve the lives of many during these challenging times – even if just a little. The West River Trail that we manage has seen an upsurge in usage since the outset of the pandemic. 

While there were tens of users per day last year, this year there have been hundreds of users on a nice weekend. Even during the week, the trail from near the Marina Restaurant out to Rice Farm Road in Dummerston has seen a dramatic increase in use. Data collection from the Windham Regional Commission shows trail usage up 60% to 80% this year, compared with 2019. Most of us are sticking close to home, and the Trail offers a safe way to get outdoors. Because it’s a wide trail, we can practice responsible social distancing as we visit with friends and family in a spectacular setting.

2020 has also strained our collective pocketbooks. Many restaurants are struggling to stay afloat, and our region hasn’t been able to benefit from out-of-state visitors who usually shop in our stores and support other local businesses. These impacts ripple through the economy, including charitable giving.

We need your support at Friends of the West River Trail. Please consider a year-end donation.

How we are putting your support to work:

  • We’re continuing work to remove invasive plants from the 22-acre Riverstone Preserve that we own. The area has been dominated by a variety of non-native plants, including oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, buckthorn, black swallowwort, and Japanese knotweed. But with the help of Long View Forest, Inc., we’re getting the better of it, and a recent walk on the Preserve with a local botanist showed that native plants are coming back!
  • We built and installed two benches at the I-91 bridge that provide a place to rest and look out over the river, and we’re currently building two additional picnic tables. We are also planning to install more benches along the trail.
  • We’re adding signage, including some interpretive signs focused on the area’s natural history; look for those in the coming months.
  • We’re continuing regular trail maintenance, removing down trees, and dealing with some of the challenging drainage problems.
  • Most importantly, we’re looking to the future and the possibility of purchasing additional land to expand the Riverstone Preserve, to ensure protection of the entire Lower Section trail corridor, and to help create a network of linked trails along the Connecticut River and extending into New Hampshire. To be able to take advantage of land acquisition and easement protection opportunities as they come along, we need money in the bank.

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.

For more information and to make a donation, please visit The West River Trail DONATE page. Please click through to MAKE A DONATION to support the West River Trail.

Thank you and best wishes for a healthy and safe 2021.

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

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.

Champagne Hikers on the Trail

The Champagne Hikers of Western MA/Southern VT were out on the trail in force on April 11! They hiked 7 1/2 miles from Black Mountain to the Marina, stopping for a break at the picnic table on the Riverstone Preserve. Malcolm Moore of the FWRT lower section steering committee was on the hike and overheard another hiker say “this trail is a treasure!” She’s right! Time to get back on the trail if you took a break over the winter. Come out and look for signs of spring.

Photos by Malcolm Moore.

Early Spring Trail Report (Southern Section)

The Southern Section of the West River Trail is emerging from the grip of winter’s snow and ice. Though patches of snow still hug the trail, the muddy sections are a sure sign of early spring.  Alongside the trail, hunks of ice cling to the banks of the West River, but the geese have returned to swim in the open waters. The rock cliffs are drenched with spring melt, the few remaining icicles disappearing rapidly, wildflowers to follow soon.

Connecting Communities: The West River Trail is Expanding  

wrt spring 2013 elin waagen 4Connecting Communities: The West River Trail is Expanding: Friends of the West River Trail and The Nature Conservancy Collaborate to Grow Public Access.

The Friends of the West River Trail Inc. (FWRT) recently secured 13.7 acres of woodland in South Londonderry, Vermont, achieving strategic goals related to enhancing and expanding the existing West River Trail (WRT) – an off-road path that is popular year-round with locals and visitors of all ages and abilities.

Overall, this opportunity brings the FWRT that much closer to realizing its founding vision of completing a 36-mile scenic, multi-modal trail linking the West River Valley towns of Brattleboro, Dummerston, Newfane, Townshend, Jamaica, and South Londonderry , once connected by the West River Railroad which ran from 1880 to the1930s.

For the past 25 years, FWRT has been working in partnership with state and federal organizations including Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation, US Army Corps of Engineers, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, Vermont Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy, as well as private landowners, to reclaim and reconnect remnants of the original railroad bed and adjacent lands for year-round recreational use and multiple resource values.

By acquiring this particular privately owned parcel, public access to what is known as the ‘Upper Section’ of the WRT (South Londonderry to Townshend Lake ) can be improved for an even better user-experience, says Greg Meulemans, current FWRT Board President.

“We are thrilled to finally secure this piece of property for all to use in the future. With ambitious fundraising to complete the transaction, clean up the remains of an old junkyard and redevelop this parcel, FWRT can move forward to preserve the very popular northern access point to the 16-mile section of the trail. Our plan is to enhance the access to the trail and the surrounding area by creating designated parking, building an informational kiosk and developing an expanded trail network.”

The FWRT concept of “an expanded trail network” is further supported by a concurrent neighboring land transaction by which The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acquired and permanently protected 102 acres adjacent to the Winhall Brook Natural Area, already owned by the Conservancy. The collective conservation of these parcels will help safeguard the West River itself and the freshwater species that rely on it for habitat, such as American shad, American eel, brook trout, and state-threatened freshwater mussels.

“This project is a great example of protecting a stage for biodiversity while also increasing public access to a community trail that helps connect people with nature. It’s a win-win to work with great local conservation partners like Friends of the West River,” said Jon Binhammer, Director of Land Protection for The Nature Conservancy.

To donate online to the West River Trail Upper Section (credit card or PayPal), please click on the WRT DONATE page. Or, mail your gift to West River Trail (Upper Section), P.O. Box 2086, S. Londonderry, Vermont 05155

Posted on behalf of:

Greg Meulemans, The Friends of the West River Trail, 802-366-0689
Eve Frankel, The Nature Conservancy, 802.595.5000

Friends of the West River Trail
Organized in 1992, the Friends of the West River Trail Inc. (FWRT) is a 501c3 non-profit organization working 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; and coordinate local, state and federal interests in planning, funding, construction, management and use of the trail system. Please visit: www.westrivertrail.org for trail maps, volunteer opportunities and current information.

The Nature Conservancy in Vermont is a leader in safeguarding the natural resources of the Green Mountain State. We have helped conserve over 300,000 acres of land, 1,200 miles of shoreline, and we manage and maintain 55 natural areas that are open for hiking, fishing, snowshoeing and hunting. The Vermont chapter is proud to be connecting land, water, and wildlife for over 50 years. To learn more and support our important work, please visit: www.nature.org/vermont.