The Connecticut River and its Watershed

Connecticut River tideland habitat undergoing invasive plant control (light colored areas) and native plant community restoration.

Since this year’s Super Quest explores the Upper Valley’s aquatic features in all their myriad forms, this makes for an opportune time to focus on that greatest of all our region’s waterways, the Connecticut River. We Upper Valleyans depend greatly on the river, whether we realize it or not, and spend much of our time plying up, down, and across it, perhaps in cars more than boats. But how much do you know about something so close and important to you?

The Connecticut River is massive—the longest in New England: it runs from Pittsburg, New Hampshire’s border with Chartierville, Quebec for some 407 miles to the Long Island Sound, where it pours nearly 20,000 cubic feet of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second. Where does all that water come from? Rain, snow melt, and any other water that runs downhill from the surrounding land into this main artery (including its many tributaries!) feed the rushing courses of this beautiful river as it winds along New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This wide basin, lying between the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont, all 11,000 acres of it, makes up the Connecticut River’s watershed.

The watershed supports an incredibly diverse and plentiful community of life. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals up and down the river live in it and around it. The river used to host one of North America’s southern-most salmon runs. Thousands of salmon swam up the river and its tributaries every year, some making it all the way to the Connecticut’s headwaters, to spawn and die.

On the human side, the river and its watershed give us food and energy. The river’s floodplain has created some of the most fertile agricultural land in the northeastern U.S., and its course has been one the most developed hydropower sources in the country, with nine of the fifteen dams on the river producing hydroelectricity.

This history of the human relationship with the river prompted President Clinton to designate it an American Heritage River in 1998. Indeed, the river has shaped the lives of this region’s inhabitants for a long time: the name “Connecticut” comes from a Mohican word meaning simply “the long river”. And our contemporary name for this very region recognizes that the river is in many ways the defining feature of our community and land: “Upper Valley” refers to the upper section of the river valley carved by the river itself over millennia.

Hopefully these tidbits about the river, which are just the tip of the iceberg, pique your curiosity to learn more. If you are interested in the form and character the river and its watershed take in the Upper Valley itself, look for another blog post soon about the watershed subbasins in our region.

Sources: Britannica, Connecticut River Joint Commissions, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=54712&st=connecticut+river&st1=

Thank you, Chris!!

Chris, back row, with Quest writing students at Sam's Overlook on the Unity Mountain Trail, Unity, NH

Chris, back row, with Quest writing students at Sam’s Overlook on the Unity Mountain Trail, Unity, NH

This spring we have had the great pleasure of working with Chris Jayne. A Hanover-native, Bowdoin College graduate who grew up Questing, Chris brought an aptitude, diligence, and familiarity to our place-based work that has been incredibly valuable. We’ve really lucked out!

Where to begin…he’s gone through every Quest in order to identify the top 50, has been instrumental in every step of this year’s Aquatic Adventure Super Quest (including devising the name!), assisted in a classroom Quest writing project in Unity, NH, and has updated a slew of Quests. He’s got a new Abenaki-themed Quest in the works, has done website and social media work, and has checked a whole bunch of Quest sites, too. We have so enjoyed his presence in the office, and are so grateful to have had Chris on our team these past months.

Chris joined us in February and wraps up today, but we look forward to keeping him on as a volunteer. Thank you for all your great work, Chris! Hat’s off!!

Join Valley Quest as a Summer Intern!

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Are you passionate about the Upper Valley? Do you feel motivated to share our region’s special places with the community at large? Love working with people of all ages? Vital Communities is looking for a summer Valley Quest Intern to help with program outreach, guided Quests, Quest maintenance, and website improvements. The position offers a mix of office-based and field-based work, with flexible scheduling. Candidates must have transportation. Small stipend available. Learn more in this job description, and send resume, cover letter, and writing sample to Valley Quest Program Manager, Lauren@VitalCommunities.org, for consideration.

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Super Quest 2018 Aquatic Adventure: The Quests

The 2018 Aquatic Adventure Super Quest is live! This Valley Quest challenge is a tour de force of summer fun. Register your team today for this free guided exploration of Upper Valley swimming holes, waterfalls, streams, and mill town lore. The following 10 Quests highlight various water features, teaching all the way. They are open to the public from May 1-November 1. Download and print the clues from the links here, then collect a stamp impression from each Quest’s hidden box on your stamp sheet to complete the challenge!

  1. The Floodplain Quest, Haverhill, New Hampshire
  2. The Strafford Watershed Quest, Strafford, Vermont
  3. Union Village Quest, Thetford, Vermont
  4. Flat Rock Quest, Orford, New Hampshire
  5. Barnard Academy Forest Quest, Barnard, Vermont
  6. The Energy Quest at Boston Lot, West Lebanon, New Hampshire
  7. The Quest Where the River and Mill Combine, Lebanon, New Hampshire
  8. Beaver Brook Quest, Brownsville, Vermont
  9. Muckross Quest, Springfield, Vermont
  10. Sunapee Harbor Quest, Sunapee, New Hampshire

Happy Questing!

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Protecting our Waterways

We in the Upper Valley owe a lot to our wondrous waterways. Our rivers, brooks, ponds, lakes, wetlands, and marshes provide us with inspiration, adventure, and solace, not to mention drinking water and electricity! They host entire ecosystems, teeming with life of all sorts. Conservation agencies in our region work hard to keep our waters healthy. We learned a bit about these amazing groups in the process of creating the 2018 Aquatic Adventure Super Quest, and want to share what we learned with you. All of these groups welcome volunteers, and many even organize big volunteer events like river clean-ups and waterway monitoring workshops. If you want to put your weight behind one of the many Upper Valley watershed conservation efforts, find the group closest to you from the ones highlighted here:

The Connecticut River Conservancy “is the voice for the Connecticut River, from source to sea.” It works in all four states through which the river runs (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) on various aspects of the river’s health, from planting trees on the riverbanks and removing defunct dams for fish habitat to diverting sewage streams, cleaning up trash, and testing water quality.

Zooming in on the twin states, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions have been meeting since 1989 to bring the best ideas and efforts from each state’s Connecticut River advisory commission to the table. These groups work towards benefiting the river and the people who depend on it. While the Joint Commissions have no power to regulate, they leverage other resources to keep the public involved in governmental decisions that affect the river, create corridor plans, provide grants, and advocate for the river in many other ways.

Photo from the White River Partnership

Photo from the White River Partnership

On the western side of the river, the Vermont state government’s Department of Environmental Conservation regulates water supply and quality, manages and protects watersheds, river corridors, and floodplains, conducts research and monitoring, handles wastewater and drinking water, directs recreation, and conducts dozens of other operations that touch on water bodies in the Upper Valley. They generously funded Valley Quest’s 2017 Watershed Challenge project with a Watershed Grant. Volunteering with them would be a great way to say thanks.

To the east, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services casts a similarly wide net in its work on the state’s waterways. They lend water quality monitoring equipment, lead educational programs, manage and protect rivers, and partner with local organizations to manage watersheds, among many other things.

Photo from the White River Partnership

Photo from the White River Partnership

Several groups in the Upper Valley focus on a particular watershed, river, or lake. The White River Partnership, for example, leads grassroots efforts from its Royalton, VT headquarters to promote “the long-term health of the White River and its watershed.” Lately, they’ve been monitoring water quality, hosting river cleanups, planting trees to improve flood resilience, expanding recreational access to the river, and keeping an eye on both native crayfish and fish populations and nonnative invasive species to restore and maintain wildlife habitat.

Another local group focused on a specific river and watershed is the Black River Action Team, which proclaims, “What began as a one-time cleanup of the Black River in southeastern Vermont has evolved into a full-blown grassroots watershed organization. Welcome to the wonderful, wet world of the Black River Action Team!”

If you live near the Mascoma River, the Mascoma Watershed Conservation Council is your go-to group. Its work has historically focused on funding research studies and bringing land around the Mascoma River under conservation.

The Lake Sunapee Protective Association is a group with longevity—they’ve been around since 1898! The LSPA monitors water quality through sampling and laboratory analysis, conducts scientific research, publishes newsletters, checks the spread of invasive species, and leads educational programs.

The Connecticut River and its Upper Valley tributaries give us places to fish, boat, and swim, generate our electricity, irrigate our crops, enrich our soil, and give us fresh water to drink. To maintain, conserve, and improve these benefits, consider joining one of the many local, vibrant watershed conservation efforts, and contact one of these agencies today!

Photo from the White River Partnership

Photo from the White River Partnership

 

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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!

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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:

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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:

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