Watershed Challenge Submissions Are In!

This summer, Vital Communities launched a special Valley Quest initiative known as the Watershed Quest Challenge. Through this fun, educational contest, we challenged individuals and teams (including school classes) to write a Valley Quest about any river, stream, pond, or wetland in the Upper Valley. The Challenge ran for the Questing season, and closed on December 15. We’ve received some amazing submissions and are thrilled to add them to our official Valley Quest list this winter. These new Quests spotlight a wealth of Upper Valley treasures: a well-loved stream, a brook edged with bountiful wildlife, a state park hugging the Black River, two cascading waterfalls, two old mill towns where rivers shaped history, and so much more.

We can’t wait to share these new Quests, and the special places they feature, with all of you. More than 150 Questers, and a few watershed conservation educators, have put a lot of thought into what makes these places so special, and they are ready to share this value with their Upper Valley neighbors. We hope you check them out this coming Valley Quest season (opens May 1) and find something to treasure, too.

Lastly (drum roll please), we’ll be judging these submissions this spring and will announce a winner on May 1, 2018. The winner will get a special prize, and the top 5 Quests will be featured on the 2018 Super Quest! Stay tuned!


And the Super Quest Winner Is…

Every year, all completed Super Quests are entered into a grand prize drawing. The winner/winning team is picked at the annual Vital Communities Open House in White River Junction. At the event this past Friday, the “Hartland Hunters”—Chuck, Flo, and Aiden—were awarded the 2017 Super Quest grand prize! Chuck and Flo accepted their loot on behalf of their grandson Aiden, who Quests with them every summer when he visits from his home in Texas.

We’re so glad that this family enjoys the adventure and learning behind every Quest and hope they enjoy their winnings. This year’s basket included an array of on-theme goodies: a set of forest-friendly field guides, a couple day passes to VINS, Valley Quest t-shirts and books, and an issue of Northern Woodlands, a Vermont publication that promotes forest stewardship. Congratulations, Chuck, Flo, and Aiden!

Enter our Watershed Quest Challenge!

This summer we launched our 2017 Watershed Quest Challenge, designed to encourage YOU to get outside and explore your favorite Upper Valley pond, stream, river, or swimming hole—and write a Valley Quest! Watershed Quest submissions will have the chance to be featured in the 2018 Super Quest, and the author of the winning Quest will receive a grand prize.

For many, the idea of writing a Valley Quest can be daunting, but fear not—anybody can write a Quest! We encourage you to get outside your comfort zone and learn about the history of the special places in your backyard.

For those of you interested in the Watershed Quest Challenge but unsure where to start, we have a ton of resources online, as well as a short video series! Check out the first video below:



Many thanks to our Watershed Quest Challenge sponsors:

Vermont Conservation department logoFarm-Way Logo

Lauren at the Plainfield NH POP club on August 9.

Welcome Our New Valley Quest Coordinator!

Lauren Griswold joined Vital Communities in May to coordinate Power of Produce (POP) clubs at Upper Valley farmers’markets and farm stands. This month she is transitioning into a new position as Valley Quest and Volunteer Coordinator as well as continuing in her role as the Valley Food & Farm Program Assistant.

Lauren grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Vermont in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies. Her passion for sustainable agriculture took her out West, where she served as a garden educator in Bend, Oregon. After an enriching chapter in the high desert, Lauren is thrilled to be back in central Vermont. She is especially excited to work with Valley Quest  and sees it as a powerful tool for sharing discovery and wonder for our special places here in the Upper Valley. Lauren looks forward to meeting and working with the Valley Quest community and welcomes any and all input as she settles into her new role. In her free time, Lauren enjoys mountain biking, knitting, baking, and meals with friends and family.

Quest of the Month: Lake Morey

Last week, I brought my partner along to do the Lake Morey Quest in Fairlee, Vermont! It was a beautiful July evening, and after some food we headed to the Samuel Morey Elementary School to begin our Quest. This Quest takes you on a stroll around the town and by the Lake Morey resort. The sunset over the golf course was beautiful, although we did get a bit turned around. After some confusion about direction and road names, we discovered that this Quest needed a bit of updating. Some of the road names have changed, and a few clues needed a bit more clarification.

When it comes to Questing, I prefer to do so with at least one other person. I find that it gives insight into how certain clues may be interpreted and makes finding the box a real team-exercise.  We all will have different ways of interpreting clues, so be sure to not overthink, and stay open to all possibilities–keeping in mind that Quests do sometimes need updates! So if something really isn’t making sense, contact us!
Here are some photos of us finding the box:




Linda Frazer and Lois Kahl 2017

Volunteer Spotlight: Linda Kahl and Lois Frazer

Valley Quest is often thought of as a family-oriented program. With educational treasure hunts of varying length, difficulty, and physical intensity, the program offers Quests that engage every interest and age group.

For some, Questing is a family affair, and the Kahl and Frazer families set the bar high.

Sisters Lois Frazer of Etna and Linda Kahl of Hartford were introduced to Valley Quest in 2001. They’ve been Questing ever since, bringing along their husbands, children, grandchildren, mother, and even their younger sister Lana.

Frazer and Kahl’s shared enthusiasm for Valley Quest is contagious. Last summer alone the sisters completed over 80 Quests. They each monitor approximately 20 Quests throughout the Upper Valley.

As lifelong Upper Valley residents, Frazer and Kahl love to learn about the history of towns throughout the region.

They grew up in Strafford, VT, where their father was the last caretaker at the copper mine.

“Back then in Strafford, you either were a farmer or you worked in the mine,” says Frazer. With multiple generations of family hailing from Strafford, Kahl notes, “we’re related to all the people in the cemetery there!”

Even with their deep local ties, Kahl and Frazer love learning new things about the Upper Valley through Questing. “We’ve been to all these tiny towns we never knew existed and learned all about the history of all of Vermont,” says Kahl.

“I like learning about a new town, and Questing gets me to go investigate a new place,” says Frazer. Kahl added, “We’ve learned about so many places that we’d never gone before.”

Kahl and Frazer spread the word about Valley Quest at every opportunity. “We’ve taken our kids, and they’ve taken their kids,” says Kahl. “I’ve given both neighbors books, and they’ve gone on Quests.”

“Everywhere I go, I tell people about Valley Quest,” says Frazer. “It doesn’t cost anything but the gas, and there are not many things in this world that don’t cost anything.”

In addition to checking on their collective 40 Quests and volunteering to update clues for other Quests, the sisters complete about 20 other Quests each year. There are still a few Quests that they have not yet been on, but that number gets smaller every year.

Their next Questing challenge? “I haven’t tried to write one myself yet, but I’m excited to take the Quest writing workshop with Steve Glazer,” says Kahl, who has ideas brewing for a new Quest in Strafford.

Kahl and Frazer’s Favorite Quests:

  • Mountain Maple Quest in Norwich
  • Town House Quest in Strafford
  • Flat Rock Quest in Orford. “It’s just such a lovely place,” says Frazer.
  • Porter Cemetery Quest and Beale Cemetery Quest in Lyme. “I could sit [at the Porter Cemetery] all day overlooking the Connecticut” Says Frazer, “and we discovered the most amazing field of ladyslippers at Beal. We never would have gone there otherwise.”
  • Four Corners Quest in Croydon, NH. “It’s so quiet and so beautiful to get there,” says Kahl.
  • The Woodstock Quests. “Because it’s fun to tromp around Woodstock. There are so many of them, and they all have stories to tell.”

Ticks and Questing-Be Prepared!

With the warmth and the beginning of Quest season this past month, I’ve dealt will my fair share of ticks. Questing can be fickle. Many of the Valley Quests are along trails, or lead through tall grassy fields–places my mortal enemy resides, waiting to cling to clothes and crawl onto skin.

Ticks make me squirm. But I can’t let that keep me from enjoying the special places Valley Quest’s lead me to.

Since the ticks have come out, I’ve developed–or rather looked up–some tactics on keeping those blood-suckers at bay.

  • Wear light-colored clothing
    • Ticks are often blackish brown or grey and can be more easily spotted on outerwear while out in the woods.
    • Tuck your pants into your socks–although this isn’t fashionable, it will protect you from having ticks crawl up your leg–ticks have a tendency to crawl lightly without being noticed.
  • Use a lint roller after Questing in the woods, and grassy terrains.
    • This will again help with ticks that have yet to crawl under your clothes. Be sure to use a few sheets to pick up what you can before doing a full-on tick check.
  • Wear tick repellant
    • DEET, though smelly, is a relatively effective tick repellent. However, ticks can still bite you if you’re wearing DEET alone.
    • Permethrin, a clothing treatment, can actually kill ticks on contact, but is a more severe measure to take, as you must soak your clothes in the stuff and it only lasts a few washes.

The above tips are only preventative measures. It is also very important to complete thorough tick checks right after a Quest or other outdoor activities!

Herricks Cove

Hey Questers,

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Herricks Cove Wildlife IMG_0460Festival in Rockingham Vermont. If you’ve never been, it’s a wonderful event featuring local groups such as the Nature Museum, VINS, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, and more. There was something for everyone–a shooting range presented by 4-H, face-painting, t-shirt making, and many local (as well as exotic) animals!



At the festival, Valley Quest Coordinator Sara Cottingham and I led a guided Quest at Herricks Cove, one of the premier birding sites in the Upper Valley. This Quest highlights over seven bird species, many of which we saw on the Quest. In addition to birds, we had the pleasure of watching a beaver swim in the early hours of the day, viewed beautiful Trillium flowers, and discovered an insane amount of fiddle heads.


If you missed this year’s festival, be sure to take the detour to Herricks Cove off of Route 5 next time you are in Rockingham, Vermont. You won’t be disappointed.

Carrie Borowy 2017 - clipped

Intern Spotlight: Carrie Borowy

Every summer Valley Quest recruits an intern to help us monitor our 170+ Quests. Carrie Borowy joined us in March as our spring and summer Valley Quest intern for 2017.

Carrie dove into the Valley Quest program headfirst in March. She helped write the new Farm-Way Quest as well as an upcoming Quest made with the 5th graders at the Union Street School in Springfield, VT. She helped get the 2017 Super Quest and other Valley Quest promotional materials distributed for the start of the season. Now that summer is on its way, you’ll most likely find her out checking and updating Quests throughout the Upper Valley!

So far, her favorite Quests are the Hemlock Paradise Pool Quest in Thetford and the Flat Rock Quest in Orford. “It’s a toss-up,” says Carrie. “Both lead to beautiful swimming holes! I had no idea they were in the area until I completed those Quests.” She’s looking forward to taking a canoe out on the Loon Quest and Connecticut River Quest this summer!

Carrie recently earned her BSc in Biology from the University of British Columbia. Her four years out West kindled her passion for the natural sciences at both the ecological and cellular level. A Hanover native, Carrie loves the beautiful views and unique sense of community the Upper Valley has to offer. Her favorite pastimes include finding new swimming holes, learning how to play the guitar, trying new foods, and sketching floor plans of small homes.

The Miraculous American Chestnut

The Miraculous American Chestnut

This year’s Super Quest was designed in honor of the beloved
Miraculous Trees Quest, written by Ted Levin and Steve Glazer in 2000.
The Quest ended at a mature American chestnut tree, the last known
tree in the region. The tree finally succumbed to the chestnut blight in
2016, causing us to close this Quest.

Historical photo of American chestnut tree, W. Virginia, 1924, courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C

Historical photo of American chestnut tree. W. Virginia. 1924. The Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.



It’s hard to believe, but the American chestnut was once the most common tree found among Eastern forests.[1] These “miraculous” trees were a staple among timber with its straight grains, light weight, and workability.[2] Sadly, American chestnuts are now an extremely rare site. Just over 100 years ago, the Chestnut blight was accidentally imported into the US from China and has since devastated the American chestnut population.[3]  When one encounters an American chestnut today, it’s a truly special experience.




What is the Chestnut blight?


Chestnut Bligh Canker by William Powell. The American Chestnut Foundation.

The American chestnut blight is a “wound pathogen”—a tree disease that enters through openings on tree bark. Specifically, the blight targets the vascular cambium (the layer of tissue directly beneath the bark) and shuts down movement of water and nutrients within the tree.[4]

While the chestnut blight does not necessarily kill the tree, it does stop growth from the areas above the infection site.[5] No new tissues can grow, so the nutrient flow in the tree is stunted as old tissue is sloughed off. In many cases the tree will die, but there have been cases where trees are able to survive with blight infection.




Conservation Efforts

The American Chestnut Foundation (ACF) is on the forefront of saving this species by hybridizing the remaining American chestnut’s with the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut.[6] The hybrids are 15/16 American chestnut, and 1/16 Chinese chestnut. The hope is that these trees will have American chestnut characteristics with the added bonus of blight resistance.[7]

Another effort around combating the chestnut blight is the use of hypo-virulence. Hypo-virulence, meaning “reduced ability to infect,” introduces a viral strain that attacks and weakens the blight.[8] By introducing this strain to individual trees, some American chestnuts have recovered. However, the blight is able to spread faster than the virus, so a large scale plan for how this would work is still in the making.

[1] “History of the American Chestnut.” The American Chestnut Foundation

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “How Chestnut Blight Devastated the American Chestnut.” The American Chestnut Foundation.

[5] Gina Childs. “Chestnut’s Last Stand.” Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tom Horton “Revival of the American Chestnut.” American Forests.

[8] “Control of Chestnut Blight (Department of Ecosystem Science and Management).” Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

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