West River Trail Annual Letter: Southern Section

Greetings,

2022 has proven – once again – that outdoor recreational opportunities are very important to individuals, families, and the community – in hard times and in good. The West RiverTrail continues to serve as a place to enjoy our world, alone or with others, while being able to be safely distanced; and it is also a place of community, happiness, and joy.

Use of the trail continues to be very strong. Recent trail counts provided by the Windham Regional Commission show that there are typically 80-90 trail users per day, with peak usage topping 150 walkers, runners, riders, and other trail enthusiasts.  For Brattleboro and the region, the West River Trail is not only a place for outdoor recreation, but it is also good for our economy and our community, helping to attract people to the stores, restaurants, and cultural institutions of our area.

Friends of the West River Trail continues to work to improve and maintain the trail; to provide benches and picnic tables for rest and relaxation; 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 past support to work:

-We acquired an additional eight-acre parcel along the trail – the Town Line Parcel –which spans the Brattleboro-Dummerston town line and includes about a half-mile of the trail.

-We are using professional control services, along with the work of committed community volunteers, to continue our efforts to remove invasive plants from the 22-acre Riverstone Preserve. This includes removal of a variety of non-native plants and their residual seedlings, including: Asiatic bittersweet, multiflora rose, glossy buckthorn, black swallowwort, Japanese knotweed, and bush honeysuckle. And it’s so satisfying to see that native plants are coming back in place of these invasives!

-We installed additional benches.

-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 acquiring additional land to expand the Riverstone Preserve and ensure protection of the entire Lower Section trail corridor. We are hopeful that we will be able to increase the land area that Friends of the West River Trail can fully manage for biodiversity and recreational opportunities.

-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 to take advantage of land acquisition and easement protection opportunities as they come along, we need community support. Please consider donating today.

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 by going to the Lower Section donate button on the West River Trail donate page.

Thank you and best wishes for a healthy and safe 2023,

Lower Section Steering Committee, Friends of the West River Trail

Jason Cooper, Brattleboro
Peter Doran, 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

New Memorial Bench on the West River Trail

A new bench along the West River, just a couple of hundred yards down from The Marina on the West River Trail, is dedicated to Linda Dierks and her father, Valmore Horton Smith.

The bench on the West River, in an area Dierks loved to row, is made of stone donated by artist Dan Snow and stands on black pipe rescued from an old boiler that was pulled out of the Latchis Theatre years ago. The stone and pipe were brought together by Rich Gillis, of Mystic Metallurgy.

Read the full story, written by Bob Audette at The Brattleboro Reformer.

Thank You Trail Volunteers!

On a warm, beautiful Saturday afternoon, at the end of October, we had our last invasive workday of the season, pulling invasives on the Riverstone Preserve. 

Here’s Eric Reinz, one of our dedicated volunteers, holding a handful of asiatic bittersweet seedlings. 

Though we are finished for the year, we plan to be back at it as soon as we can, in the spring of 2023.

We are so grateful for all the volunteers who showed up to help with this effort this year. Together, we pulled a lot of bittersweet seedlings (and some glossy buckthorn), which is a necessary and hugely important part of the management strategy following professional treatments.

Thank you, thank you!

Trail Maintenance Work Day Saturday Sept 17

West River Trail

Volunteers needed and welcomed to join the Friends of the West River Trail Lower Section for a workday from 10 AM to 2 PM (you’re welcome even if you can’t stay that long).

We will meet at the Marina trailhead at 10 AM and walk in to the work site. The focus will be on clearing ditches and culverts before the leaves come down.
Wear boots, and bring water, work gloves and a rake or hoe if you have one.
Drinks and snacks will be provided. 

Please email lowersection@westrivertrail.org with questions or to let us know you’re coming. Thank you!

Cancelled: Saturday, July 30 Invasives Pulling Workday

Please note that the “last Saturday of the month” invasives work day is cancelled for this month. However, if you have worked with us in the past and can identify oriental bittersweet seedlings, and you would like to go ahead on out to the Riverstone Preserve and work, please feel free to do that. We appreciate your help! We will host another invasives work day on Saturday, August 27 from 9 AM to 11. Please put that date in your calendars. Thank you!

A History of the West River Railroad

The West River Trail may be Vermont’s oldest transportation path. Native Americans called the West River “Wantastiquet” or “waters of the lonely way,” and the Wantastiquet path was an important connection from the West River valley and Fort Dummer in Brattleboro over the Green Mountains to Otter Creek and Lake Champlain. In 1879, this path was developed into the West River Railroad.

The public is invited to join the Dummerston Historical Society for a program on the History of the West River Railroad via Zoom on Thursday, July 21 at 7 pm.

Following a brief business meeting, Glenn Annis, a resident of Dummerston, who is considered the foremost authority on the West River Railroad, will share his research that began close to four decades ago.

Have you viewed the big stone bridge piers beside Route 30 near the Covered Bridge? Have you wondered why they are where they are? Those towers are about all that is left of the West River Railroad, a 36 mile narrow gauge line, that began in 1878 until the railroad went out of business in 1934. Glenn will talk about the history of the railroad, how it was built, the cause of its demise, and will show photographs of the railroad and the depots along the way.

If interested in attending, join The Dummerston Historical Society by Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83959312783?pwd=bGtlcmdYU0ZmaGtpUnZETDkzOTUzQT09
Meeting ID: 839 5931 2783
Passcode: 102413
Questions:  Gail at gailsvt@gmail.com

West River Trail Birding

The West River Trail was recently featured in The Berkshire Eagle as one of five places to birdwatch in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont.

A walk along the lower section of the West River Trail, which stretches from The Marina in Brattleboro to an old quarry on Rice Farm Road in Dummerston, will provide views of rich landscapes, railroad artifacts, and plenty of breeding and migratory birds. Birds you might spy on your walk on the 3.5-mile path, built on the rail bed of the former West River Railroad, include sandpipers, egrets, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, swallows, wood thrush, starlings and bald eagles.

Article by Jennifer Huberdeau, The Berkshire Eagle Jun 22, 2022. Click through to read the full article in the Berkshire Eagle.

Trail Workday: Volunteers Needed

Volunteers are needed to help pull invasives on the Riverstone Preserve on Saturday morning, June 25, from 9 am to 11 am.

We’ll mostly be identifying and pulling the seedlings of Oriental Bittersweet. Dan Healey, our forester from Long View Forest, Inc. will not be able to be with us that day, but there will be others who can help identify the Bittersweet and some of the other invasive species that grow on the Riverstone Preserve (21 acres of land adjacent to the West River Trail).

You can walk or bike from the Marina Trailhead to the northern boundary of the Riverstone Preserve (it’s about 1 3/4 to 2 miles from the trailhead) or you can park at the Fox Farm Rd trailhead and walk or bike in from there (shorter walk).

We’ll gather where the Fox Farm access road meets the West River Trail at 9 am, so give yourself time to get to the meeting place (about 20 minutes to 1/2 hour, depending on how you’re getting there and how fast you go).  

Bring work/gardening gloves, water, a snack, insect repellant. We’ll be mostly pulling seedlings that are easy to remove. It’s satisfying work to learn to identify and keep the invasive species under control on this special piece of property. We’ll be doing this on the last Saturday morning of every month throughout the summer and fall.  

Mark the last Saturday morning of every month on your calendar for more opportunities to help with this task. Thank you and hope to see you there!

Please email lowersection@westrivertrail.org to let us know you’re coming and/or with any questions. Thank you!

Work Day Details:
West River Trail Work Day, Riverstone Preserve
Saturday June 25, 9 to 11 am (allow about 1/2 hour walk to get to meeting place)
Bring work/gardening gloves, water, a snack, insect repellant
Gather where the Fox Farm access road meets the West River Trail

Some Facts about Oriental Bittersweet, courtesy of Vermont Invasives.

Asiatic bittersweet is a deciduous, woody vine that climbs saplings and trees and can grow over 60 feet in length.

The alternate, elliptical to circular leaves are light green in color and 2-5 inches long.

Small, inconspicuous, axillary, greenish-white flowers bloom from May to early June. Oriental bittersweet closely resembles American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). The main difference: Celastrus scandens has flowers and fruits at the terminal ends of branches; Celastrus orbiculatus has flowers scattered along the entire stem.

The small globose fruits are green when young; ripen to yellow; then split to reveal showy, scarlet berries that persist into winter.

Image courtesy of Vermont Invasives.

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.