Want to Transform your Land?
The relationship between the plants that blanket our Valley and the water that flows through it is essential to the health of our rivers and the resilience of our communities. Plants absorb the impact of storms by slowing down rainfall and snowmelt, allowing it to absorb into the groundwater, and by reducing the surface runoff which can cause damaging erosion. Plants absorb carbon, provide shade, and act as habitat for wildlife, mediating the impacts of a changing climate.
It was humans in the 19th century who cleared the forests from Vermont’s hills and valleys. It can be humans in the 21st century (and beyond!) who care enough to re-forest many of the places still not recovered.
Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” ― Wangari Maathai
Restore Riparian Areas
One way we can help is by restoring the sensitive and critical riparian buffers which run along our streams and rivers. These buffers take all the benefits of plants, multiply them, and concentrate them to create a riparian backbone of clean water, wildlife habitat, and resilient floodplains.
This fall and winter, Friends is working to find people interested in strengthening and restoring the riparian buffers along their property. Whether this is up in the mountains on the banks of Freeman Brook or along the main stem of the Mad itself, we want to work with you to make it happen.
Your property might be eligible for buffer plantings at no cost to you. Friends has a long history of bringing the resources, partners, and community members needed for these projects together - but it all starts with you!
Get in touch with us at email@example.com or visit us online to schedule a site visit. Friends staff can meet with you to provide assistance in identifying native trees and shrubs that will suit your property and determine your property's eligibility for programs to cover the cost of the trees.
Those trees, those trees, those maple trees! All my life I’ve been searching for trees such as these.... While we might not the have the softer than silk Truffula Tufts, we are truly grateful for the Friends of The Mad River and the intention of beautifying our home, and working to create Forested land and rivers that will carry on for years to come.... I have nothing but thanks to Ira and the people of our valley who share in the philosophy of sustainable ecology, fostering nature and making our home a beautiful place to live."
Storm Smart Meets the Wider Winooski
We're proud to report that the Storm Smart program is finding opportunity to grow beyond the borders of the Mad River Valley in partnership with the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District (WNCRD) and the Friends of the Winooski River (FWR) and with support of Lake Champlain Basin Program!
As we close out the last days of summer, the Storm Smart program is nearing the end of its third field season. That’s three years of working with people at over one hundred properties across the Valley to find opportunities to slow down, spread out, and sink in water where it lands. The program emerged from the hard work of Valley community members involved in the Ridge to River initiative and has continued to grow and adapt with the feedback each property assessment provides. The Storm Smart program might be run by Friends staff, but at its heart it is a partnership between Friends and the community. The lessons from one property go on to inform the opportunities found on the next. In the same way that small problems can add up, each property that takes steps to ‘spongify’ the landscape adds to the resilience of the whole Valley.
Not unlike other past projects that have found fertile "incubation" ground in the Mad River Valley, the value of the Storm Smart program has not gone unnoticed outside our community. As the Mad River flowed downstream it brought with it the stories of motivated property owners, hands on support, and a growing Storm Smart community. Statewide, people are looking for ways to build flood and climate resilience, protect and expand wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and ensure clean water for future generations. This work takes all of us and the Storm Smart program has become an important piece of that work – in no small way thanks to the people of the Mad River Valley. Since late 2019, Friends has been working behind the scenes with WNRCD and FWR, as part of a Lake Champlain Basin Program Grant, to bring the Storm Smart program to the entire Winooski watershed. The Storm Smart Partnership launched in earnest this August and has funding through the 2021 field season.
Thanks to the Mad River Valley community, but also to the grants and foundations that have helped to grow Storm Smart - especially the Robbins de-Beaumont Foundation, High Meadows Fund, Vermont Watershed Grants, and Lake Champlain Basin Program!
“We’re excited to bring this program from the Mad River Valley to the broader Winooski watershed,” said Michele Braun of Friends of the Winooski River. “This partnership builds on the work of three well-established organizations and we look forward to working with each other and our watershed neighbors to build a broad and connected Storm Smart community.”
People have come to the Storm Smart program for different reasons, to solve drainage and erosion issues, to protect and conserve our natural resources, and to learn about the journey water takes through their property. More often than not, people come to the program because they want to be good neighbors. They know that the actions they take on their own property can have an impact downhill and downstream. By taking care of our own Mad River watershed, we are also providing benefits to the broader Winooski basin, and beyond that to the Champlain watershed, whose boundaries extend north across international boundaries, and yet again beyond that, past the cities of Montreal and Quebec into the estuaries of the Saint Lawrence and the North Atlantic beyond. And those are just the benefits accrued through the water. When we support the diversity of native plant and wildlife in our watershed, we build connectivity into the landscape that supports our neighbors whether they fly, crawl, swim, or take root beyond the ridgetop borders of our Valley.
The Storm Smart program will continue to work in the Valley as part of Friends commitment to clean water, healthy land, and vibrant communities. If you want schedule an assessment of your property reach out to Friends at Stormsmart@friendsofthemadriver.org, visit www.friendsofthemadriver.org/storm-smart or call (802) 496-9127.
The 4th Article in Friends' 30th Anniversary Series
By Mary Gow
August 27 marks the ninth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. The Mad River is known as a “flashy” river -- the combination of steep terrain, thin soils and intense storms can cause the river to rise incredibly quickly, even if it’s only raining in one part of The Valley. The Mad River watershed, has a long history of damaging floods. The most recent -- June 1998 and 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene -- are among the top five highest levels of flooding recorded at the USGS gage in Moretown. During Irene, the USGS gage in Moretown rose from 66 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 23,600 cfs in under six hours -- a discharge even higher than the estimated highest during the historic 1927 flood. In The Valley more than 1,200 acres of farm and pastureland were damaged, about 200 homeowners reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for aid, and local roads sustained expensive damage.
After the 1998 flood, Friends of the Mad River (FMR) produced a guide to Unmapped Flood Hazard Areas. Not only can the river and streams inundate and cause damage to infrastructure in the flood plain, they can take a totally new and unexpected path or dramatically erode riverbanks during floods due to the high velocity water.
Damage to the Mad River Valley from flooding is related to topography but also to the way people have historically manipulated the river channel – by straightening, damming and confining it with bridges, roads, villages and homes. River science has become the foundation for understanding where the river might move as it adjusts to equilibrium and anticipating how to avoid damage to infrastructure in its path. FMR worked with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to produce fluvial geomorphological assessments that show how the river moves across the land, where it can access flood plains to disperse energy, and how wide the river corridor needs to be to allow the river to meander and adjust naturally. In the last two decades, Valley towns have developed flood overlay zoning districts in response to the information from these assessments and from revised FEMA flood plain and risk mapping.
Acknowledging Irene’s damages in August 2011 and implications for the future, FMR and its partners in the Mad River Valley Conservation Partnership, including Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) and Vermont Land Trust, as well as ANR and town historical societies, hosted a symposium called “It’s a Mad River” in November 2011. Together, they shared the context and history of flooding, costs of Irene and stories of resilience. In a show of solidarity, the community volunteered about 15,000 hours to help neighbors clean up property and the river.
In 2013, working closely with FMR and MRVPD, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, with federal funding, laid out four specific recommendations for long-term resilience in The Valley: conserve river corridors, protect vulnerable development, plan for future development out of harm’s way and implement stormwater runoff management across the watershed to slow, spread and sink rain and snowmelt.
Better Management of Runoff
In 2015 FMR and MRVPD invited 20 community volunteers to participate at the 2015 Leahy Center Environmental Summit, where the group focused on strengthening The Valley’s resilience to future floods by better managing runoff.
A taskforce formed that later called itself “Ridge to River” and was comprised of
two representatives of the five watershed towns and led by FMR, with grants for its still-on-going work. “Better managing runoff is a way we can actually take our vulnerabilities into our own hands,” Corrie Miller, executive director of FMR, said. “With less water moving more slowly across the landscape before it enters
streams, our community will experience less flood damage.” The taskforce’s multiyear study and plan collected landscape, planning and community
data that highlighted needed protections of soils and forests, mitigations of
impervious surfaces and improved maintenance of transportation arteries like trails, roads and driveways.
FMR developed the Storm Smart program in 2017 to help landowners address some of the challenges identified by the Ridge to River taskforce. Through the Storm Smart program, property owners can get a free site assessment and suite of recommendations to enhance their home, driveway and yard’s ability to absorb storms. By making adjustments, each homeowner or property manager can lessen flood damage to downstream neighbors.
This story was originally published August 20th, 2020 in the Valley Reporter.