The crisis of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 exposed the interconnectedness of the Mad River Valley (MRV). Not only laying bare connections be tween the river and individual livelihoods and community well-being, Irene also showed The Valley’s close social fabric as the community pulled together. Throughout its 30 years, Friends of the Mad River (FMR) has pulled together with other organizations and individuals to strengthen a cleaner, safer and more resilient Mad River Valley. That aim and vision for The Valley have been articulated most recently by FMR’s Ridge to River (R2R) initiative, with resilience learning, planning and action driven by volunteers from The Valley’s five towns.
Ridge to River evolved from a group of 20 Valley residents who participated in the 2015 Leahy Center Environmental Summit to brainstorm ways to build flood resilience here. The idea that better runoff management would be a way that the community could reduce flooding challenges catalyzed the group’s work while funding from the High Meadows Fund launched R2R in earnest.
The R2R task force includes representation from select boards and planning com-
missions of all five watershed towns, Sugarbush Resort, Mad River Valley Planning District and community members, with meetings led by FMR. The task force first hired consultants to gather information about the community’s landscape and planning vulnerabilities, hosted two interactive community forums that highlighted local successes and sought input and ideas, and then worked across the towns to lay out and advance action steps.
“In the past, we started in the river corridor and now our thinking has expanded to include everything ... which makes more sense because water starts high and goes low,” said John Hoogenboom, R2R representative from the Moretown Select Board. R2R has launched several programs and shares learning across town boundaries to build resilience.
A 2017 Stone Environmental report commissioned by R2R highlights several specific
vulnerabilities. The MRV has relatively high road densities with some 437 miles of roads. Of these, one-third are private and of those 40% have steep slopes. Many steep roads, especially those without regular maintenance, cause fast moving, erosive water to quickly fill streams and rivers.
In prioritizing the importance of maintaining MRV roads so they better slow, spread and sink runoff from increasingly harmful storms, several FMR programs emerged. Storm Smart works with private landowners to help them manage their property and driveways to reduce erosion. Road Roundtables host members from all five town road crews to meet regularly and share challenges, expertise and solutions.
“We’re not competitors, we’re all a part of taking care of this Valley. You (other crews) need something, we’ll help,” Rodney Jones, Waitsfield road foreman, remarked at one Road Roundtable. To also address fast moving runoff that can result from developed areas, the R2R taskforce worked with FMR and Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission to complete stormwater master plans in 2019 for each of the five towns, prioritizing areas listed for improved infrastructure, especially green stormwater infrastructure. Now, each town is working to advance those plans through engineering design and construction phases.
Another critical finding from the Stone Environmental report was that in the decade between 2001 and 2011, the MRV lost about 450 acres of forest cover. Because healthy forests are an important tool for resilience, watersheds with less than about 65% forest cover suffer significantly more erosion and flooding problems. Seven sub-watersheds in the MRV are below, or at this threshold and likely impacting the river. Working groups of R2R volunteers are now learning more about how they can support community education and healthy forest management for clean swim holes, climate resilience and healthy wildlife populations. Ridge to River has been learning, acting and taking innovative steps forward for over five years. Not a static group, the task force keeps energizing and creating ways of responding to build resilience within the connected,
This article was written by Mary Gow and FMR staff and was originally published in the Valley Reporter on September 17, 2020
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.