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

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.


Miraculous Trees- Identification Guide

Our 2017 Super Quest is now live! This year’s theme is “Miraculous Trees” where we celebrate the beautiful tree diversity present in our backyard. Many of the Quests featured this year require some basic tree identification, so we’ve put together a short guide to help you!

Tree Components

General Terms

  • Deciduous: A tree that sheds its leaves annually
  • Coniferous: A tree that bears cones


A major way we identify trees is by their leaves! Leaves carry out photosynthesis which provides food for the tree and releases oxygen into the air.

Leaf Types

  • Compound Leaf: A leaf with more than one blade (leaflet), where all blades are attached to a single leaf stem, which then attaches to the twig
  • Simple Leaf: A single leaf blade where its single stem attaches to the twig

Leaf Placement

  • Alternate: Leaves are staggered and not placed directly across from each other along a twig
  • Opposite: Two or three leaves that are directly across from each other on the same twig

Leaf Characteristics

  • Lobes: Outer Projections that shape a leaf
  • Teeth: Notches on the outer edges of a leaf
  • Sinus: The spaces between lobes of a leaf
  • Pinnate: Characteristic of some compound leaves that have more than one branch

Branches and Twigs

Grow out of the tree trunk and provide support for leaves, fruit, and flowers. Branches also branch alternate or opposite.

Seeds/ Fruit/ Flowers

These are present for reproduction purposes. Many trees have seeds or cones that are designed to spread through transport vectors, such as the wind or insects!


A layered network that provides the tree with protection and transportation networks that move water and food throughout the tree. The outer bark is what we can visibly see to help us identify specific tree species.

  • Furrow: grooves that appear on the bark of the tree


Not terribly helpful in identification, but are extremely important in obtaining water and nutrients from the soil.


Now that we have a basic overview of tree features, let’s identify some common ones around the Upper Valley! Key features of a tree depend on the species, so it’s important to recognize leaves, bark, fruit, and height.


White pineSpecies: Eastern White Pine

Coniferous/Deciduous: Coniferous

Height at maturity (ft’): 50-80′

Key Characteristics: Alternate needles that are bunched in groups of 5, needles are 2-5” long. Cones are large and 6-8” long.



eastern hemlock

Species: Eastern Hemlock

Coniferous/Deciduous: Coniferous

Height at maturity (ft’): 60-75′

Key Characteristics: Deeply furrowed bark. Short flattened needles, with tiny brown cones.



white birch

Species: White Birch

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 50-70′

Key Characteristics: Peeling white bark, alternate toothed simple leaves. New Hampshire’s state tree!




Species: Beech

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 50-70′

Key Characteristics: Leaves are simple, alternate, with parallel veins that lead to sharp incurved teeth. 3-6” long. Glossy green color in summer, copper in the fall/winter.



sugar maple

Species: Sugar Maple

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 80-115′

Key Characteristics: Bark is grey and furrowed. Leaves are opposite with 5 lobes. Vermont’s state tree!



white ash


Species: White Ash

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): Up to 80′

Key Characteristics: Straight trunk. Blackish grey bark with ridges and deep furrows. Leaves are compound, pale green with pointed leaflets, and turn to yellow in autumn.



northern red oak

Species: Northern Red Oak

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 60-75′

Key Characteristics: Leaves are simple, alternately arranged, 4-8” long with pointed lobes. Dark green color in the summer, changing to red in autumn.




Species: Apple

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 10-30′

Key Characteristics: Leaves are simple, alternate, 2-4” long with a toothed margin. Dark green leaves with white or pinkish flowers in the summer months.




american elm

Species: American Elm

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): Up to 100′

Key Characteristics: Straight trunk, with an umbrella like crown. Deeply furrowed bark. Alternate, double toothed, light green leaves. Change to yellow in autumn. Small white flowers in the spring. Flat seeds encased in a notched wing.


kentucky coffee


Species: Kentucky Coffee

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 60-75′

Key Characteristics: Bi-pinnate compound leaves that are 2-3” long. Light green color in the summer, changing to yellow in autumn. Leathery pods that are 5-10” long that are dry and hard.



black walnut

Species: Black Walnut

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 70-80′

Key Characteristics: Pinnate, alternate, compound leaves that are 12-24 inches long consisting of 15-23 2-5” leaflets with fine teeth. Dark green color. 2” clusters that are hard, black and corrugated.




Species: Honey Locust

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 60-90′

Key Characteristics: Pinnate or bi-pinnate leaves that branch once or twice, bearing 8-14 leaflets. Produces large brown pods 6-8” long.




Species: American Basswood

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 60-80′

Key Characteristics: Deeply furrowed bark with large, alternate, toothed leaves



red maple


Species: Red Maple

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 40-60′

Key Characteristics: Features simple, green leaves 2–6″ in length with 3 or 5 lobes and sinuses that are irregularly toothed. Leaves are yellow to red in autumn.




Species: Speckled Alder

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 20-30′

Key Characteristics: Trunk is smooth and thin with reddish brown bark. Leaves are simple, alternate and green with irregular teeth.





american chestnut

Species: American Chestnut

Coniferous/Deciduous: Deciduous

Height at maturity (ft’): 60-90′

Key Characteristics: Pinnate or bi-pinnate leaves that branch once or twice, bearing 8-14 leaflets. Produces large brown pods 6-8” long.



All information on this page is provided by The National Arbor Day Foundation website and Eastern Forests by John C. Kricher.


The Next Generation of Questers in Charlestown

The best part about Valley Quest is how excited people get when they go on a Quest.

Until last week, the only Quests I had been on were with my dog. Don’t get me wrong, my dog is wonderful, but doing a Quest with kids is a totally new and great experience.

On a recent afternoon, two of my nieces and I decided to conquer the SCA Quest in Charlestown, New Hampshire.

SCA is the Student Conservation Association, which aims to connect young people to the environment and environmental stewardship through hands-on learning. The campus is beautiful and is surrounded by fields, the Connecticut River, and historical Charlestown.

The Quest itself wasn’t difficult, but being able to follow directions that are phrased as riddles correctly can certainly be a challenge. But it was a challenge we were all up for.

What was amazing was how enthusiastic my nieces were before, during, and after our Quest. My youngest niece even said, “This is better than the water park!”—and nothing says “enthusiastic” quite like that.

I had told the girls about the stamps that are located in the Valley Quest boxes that you use to stamp your Valley Quest book when you have finished the quest. I was the only one in the group with the actual Valley Quest book, and so that they would be able to keep their stamps even after the Quest, they made their own “Book of Stamps 2016.”Image-1Towards the end of the Quest, we had decidedly gotten lost. What happened was this: we got so excited to find the box that we skipped a few of the directions and got ourselves completely turned around. But because of that, we got to backtrack a little and my nieces learned a valuable lesson in working together.

We broke down every clue to try and understand exactly what each one meant. Did the “sliver of sky” mean the field? Could the archway be made from trees, people, or an actual cave?

Without giving too much about the Quest away, we eventually found our way to where the treasure was hidden—the very last clue. At this point, everyone put away the clues and decided to try and find the box themselves. But the clues are important, because we didn’t find the box until we decided to pick my phone back up and read the last clue over again (you become a beta tester on our new iPhone app by emailing Sara Cottingham).

But finding the treasure wasn’t even the super exciting part. The best part was trying to figure out how to get there in the first place. I let my nieces take charge of this Quest, leading me where they thought we should go. Their enthusiasm and determination to get there made me want to do more quests with them. Going out on a Quest with someone who is really excited to be Questing makes the experience even better than it already is.

We each signed the book located in the Valley Quest box, and both of my nieces asked if they could go on every Quest there was. It might take a while, because there are over 200 Quests throughout the Upper Valley, but I think they could do it.

Join me as I complete the Super Quest and do more quests with my favorite Questing partners. And don’t just read about my quests, take your kids, your dog, or yourself, and start Questing!

Some photos from the trail:Image-2

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Mariah Lang is a summer communications intern and Upper Valley native joining Vital Communities from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.

bill hill

Valley Questing in Historical Thetford

On a normal morning, I wake up after hitting snooze roughly three times, make two pieces of toast, brew a cup of coffee, and scroll drowsily through notifications on my iPhone. My thought process on most mornings is normally that I’m not ready to face the world at 8 am.

However, last week one of the notifications waiting on my phone was a reminder to begin the Super Quest. Super Quest, which is part of Valley Quest and Vital Communities, is an amazing opportunity to complete several local treasure hunts and earn points toward prizes in the process! This year’s Super Quest takes you on a self-guided journey through the Upper Valley, encouraging you to bring friends, take a hike, make public transit a part of your Quest, and even come up with your own Quest.

Even during the early morning hours, Questing still sounded like fun to me. I decided to start my Super Quest experience with Bill Hill in Thetford, Vermont. Bill Hill counts as a historical quest (2 points) because it allows visitors a sneak peak into life on a rural sheep farm in 1800s Vermont.

I imagined what the farm may have once looked like as I walked along the trail, and the old stone walls helped build the image of something quite grand. The rolling hills felt like something from a movie, and I couldn’t help but think about what Thetford must have been like in the past and wonder if it had always been this beautiful.

When I reached the top of Bill Hill, there was a stone bench, and a plaque commemorating essayist Noel Perrin’s favorite view. It was easy to see why that was a favorite view. The top of Bill Hill shows off one of the greatest little corners of Vermont, and I’m so happy that Valley Quest led me to that location.

Making my way through Upper Valley history one Quest at a time sounds like a perfect way to spend my summer. But an even better way to spend my summer will be to also incorporate learning about the local history of the civil war, architecture, or the natural world into these beautiful days. I can do all of this and more by completing the 2016 Super Quest.

The Super Quest is the perfect opportunity to stop scrolling through drowsy notifications on your phone and start getting excited about the world around you! I can’t wait to see what other exciting things happen to me while I continue my Super Quest journey.

Mariah Lang is an Upper Valley native joining Vital Communities as a summer communications intern from Roanoke College in Virginia.

Super Quest patch

Ready to Super Quest?

If you’re an avid Super Quester, you might notice that this year’s Super Quest is a little different.

In past years, our Super Quests have been oriented around a central theme such as Civil War Quests, General Stores, etc.

This year the Super Quest is all about getting more people involved with Valley Quest. Rather than focusing on a particular theme, the 2016 Super Quest gives Questers a variety of options to get out and explore what interests them while accruing points. Questers can pick and choose from 15 available categories. These items range in difficulty from simple tasks, such as registering your Super Quest team or Questing with a friend, to more difficult tasks like writing your own Quest or hiking a mountain on a Quest.

Super Quest Patches will be awarded to all individuals and team members who earn at least 10 points. All participants who earn at least 25 points will be entered into a grand prize drawing. We will also have a special treat for the team that collects the most points by November 1!

By offering an assortment of options to explore and earn points, we hope to make the 2016 Super Quest accessible to a broader audience and to encourage new people to give Questing a try. The Super Quest has plenty to offer beginners and advanced Questers alike, so get Questing!

Super Quest 2016

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • How do I start? Go to our website and fill out the short online form to register. You can also print out a copy of the Super Quest here. We recommend that you keep track of the Quests you’ve completed and track your points on the Super Quest sheet, so you’ll want to keep it handy.
  • Do I have to have a team? No. This year’s Super Quest is not as team-focused as in years past. You’re still welcome to have a team—in fact, the more the merrier!—but it’s not a requirement this year. If you are signing up as an individual, just choose your own team name and enter “1” for the number of team members.
  • Can I double-dip and get points in multiple categories for the same Quest? Yes. For instance, if you go on a Quest in your town (2 points) that you’ve never been on before (2 points), you get a total of 4 points for that one Quest. If you took public transit to get there (5 points) and found the Quest in the Best of Valley Quest book (2 points), you would get an additional 7 points for that same Quest.
  • How do I submit my points? You have three options for submitting your points:
    1. Go to VitalCommunities.org/SuperQuest and submit your points electronically.
    2. E-mail our Valley Quest Coordinator and let her know your total point count AND which Quests you completed.
    3. Fill your point totals in the circles on Super Quest form and mail it to Vital Communities, 195 N. Main Street, White River Junction, VT 05001.
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Valley Quest: Discover What’s Hidden in Plain Sight

Yesterday afternoon, as the sun set quietly over the western hills of the Upper Valley and the peak temperature of 60 degrees dropped to a cool 52, I grabbed my dog and headed out the door to begin my first Valley Quest.

A Valley Quest is as enchanting as it sounds. It’s a treasure hunt for people (and dogs) of all ages, and a perfect excuse to explore the amazing places that surround us.

On the Vital Communities website I found a Quest in my hometown of Lyme. The Grant Brook Trail is an easy hike that took me around 30 minutes to complete. Like all Valley Quests, this one comes with a set of directions that lead to a treasure box hidden at the end.

After following the map, reading each clue carefully, and, admittedly, taking out my compass, I found the treasure box and signed my name in the guest book inside. Although that may have been my goal, it was what I discovered along the way that made the true impression on my day.

While I was walking to the trail head I passed a group of Lyme Elementary students playing baseball, enjoying the nice day as much as I was.

Once I got to the mossy old stonewall that was the start of the Quest, I let my dog hop over it first, obviously eager for me to reach the other side so we could continue our walk.

As we walked, I let all of the sounds piece together to form one incredible picture of the natural world. Grant Brook babbling beside the trail, birds chirping and singing, leaves crunching beneath my feet, and even the occasional gust of wind reminded me that I’m just a little part of such a large and incredible world, and what an amazing thing it is that we are able to explore it.

The Grant Brook Trail may be short in distance, but it was the perfect way to get outside and get more connected to the region that surrounds me every day.

I went to Lyme Elementary, and even though Grant Brook Trail was always nearby, it never occurred to me to explore it. That’s the great thing about Valley Quest: It helps you discover the beauty and wonder hidden in plain sight right here in the Upper Valley.

Did you know there are more than 200 Quests literally all over the 69-town Upper Valley region? Find yours today!

Mariah Lang is a summer communications intern joining Vital Communities from Roanoke College in Virginia.

Sharon Elementary Gardens

Quest with Me: Sharon Elementary School

Just before school started this fall, I visited Sharon Elementary School. I was excited to visit this stop on the Super Quest because I’ve also been working with a 4th grade teacher in Sharon whose class is writing the very first Quest in Sharon, Vermont this year. They are working on it right now–stay tuned later this fall so you can be one of the very first Questers in downtown Sharon.

While I was there, we visited the school’s gardens. Each grade level has it’s own garden plot where students can learn and get their hands dirty.


The gardens were well-tended, even before school was in session! I’ve never seen such a beautiful elementary school garden.


The school also has a production garden for vegetables that are served in the school cafeteria. Now THAT is eating local! (Interested in growing vegetables for your school? Want to incorporate harvest lessons into your classroom? Check out the Upper Valley Farm to School Network!)

Are you registered for the Super Quest? Don’t forget that you can win a prize just for registering your team! We are looking forward to checking off some more autumn stops on the Quest with some apples, pumpkins, and a corn maze–you have until November 1 to complete your Quest.


Quest with Me: Hurricane Flats Farm

This week, my daughter and I continued on our Super Quest and visited Hurricane Flats Farm in South Royalton, Vermont. What a picturesque Vermont family farm! The farm was hit hard by Irene in 2011, but you would never know it now. Geo and his family were hard at work in the gorgeous fields when we stopped by on Monday.

This stop on the Super Quest would have been a very challenging one if Emma hadn’t been working nearby to point me in the right direction. We followed the road from the farm stand down into the field, and turned right after the corn patch. We paused here to take a picture of another pastoral view



The sign you are looking for on your Quest is hidden along the banks of the river, among some tall grass. I’ve covered up the answer with this happy cartoon bear!

Visit Hurricane Flats Farm to see what’s hiding behind the bear!

After we found the puzzle solution, we enjoyed a leisurely walk back up to the farm stand. We couldn’t leave without some Ruby Red popcorn. I’ve been told by good sources that it is the best popcorn on the planet. I’m looking forward to taste testing it myself!


Make sure to register your team for the Super Quest if you haven’t already registered. Once you’ve completed your quest and emailed your puzzle solution to me, you’ll be entered to win the grand prize! Next week, we will be questing at the Lebanon Farmer’s Market. Hope to see you there!

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