Quest Spotlight: Trees of Hanover Quest

With this amazing stretch of sunny days we’ve been having, I wanted to get outside and do more Questing! This week, I went out to do the Trees of Hanover Quest. This Quest takes you around downtown Hanover and highlights the many species of trees on Dartmouth’s campus!

This Quest is also on our Super Quest that features the Top 25 Quests in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Vital Communities. Make sure to register, so that you and your team can get out and Quest. This Hanover Quest is a great way to ease into the challenge. You’ll only need to complete 5 total Quests in order to get a patch!

Your Quest starts on College St, facing the large white buildings that line the Green. Before Eleazar Wheelock founded the school, the Dartmouth green was once a forest of pine trees!

Farther on the green, you can find a large elm tree, one of few left. Many of the elm trees on campus died from Dutch Elm Disease, brought to the United States on logs from Europe. The first signs of the sickness make the leaves wilt, and then start to affect entire branches. The disease can spread slowly in older well established trees but can kill a tree in just a few weeks if the tree is young and fast growing. If you’re interested, read more!

After admiring the trees that line the entrance to Tuck Dr., the Quest takes you back through the green and past the stone chapel. Climbing up the hill and into College Park, you’ll have a good view of the observatory. The stone tower on the hill, Bartlett tower, was built to be as tall as the Lone Pine. Moving forward from the tower, you can even see the stump of the Lone Pine! As you continue up to the statue of Robert Frost, look around for your treasure and your Quest will be complete.

Whether its a walk in the woods, or a historical tour you seek, use our search tool to find your next Quest!

Quest Spotlight: Quest for the Kestrel

This month, I wanted to spotlight a Quest on the Super Quest list!

If you haven’t signed up for the Super Quest yet, there is still time! Register your team, and then find a Quest off of our Top 25 Quests List.

The Quest for the Kestrel, a Quest in Windsor, VT,  is a gentle walk on a path with gorgeous views of mountains and meadows.

On a beautiful, sunny day last week, I decided to try out this Quest. After parking at the low shed on a pull out on Marton Road, my Quest began slightly to the right of the shed, on a path that headed into the meadows and towards the mountains. Walking down the path, and in pursuit of the Kestrel I came across many different plants and insects. To my left there were patches flowers, and in the path there were many butterflies like the one pictured below.

At first I wasn’t sure what type of butterfly this was, but after a bit of digging, I think it’s a Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly.

I had to be careful not to step on them, as this trail was covered with them! I continued down the trail until I saw the poles that formed an upside-down “V” and then looked at the base to find the Quest box! I took a minute to look around at the rolling hills, mountains and clear sky before heading back on the path.

I would highly recommend this Quest for an excellent adventure that isn’t too physically demanding while still offering gorgeous views!

New South Royalton Quest!

We are excited to announce the Royalton Historical Quest, a new Valley Quest! This Quest will take you around the green in South Royalton while teaching you about the town’s history. Starting at the White River Valley High School, you will walk past the firehouse, memorial library, the old inn, and many more historical landmarks. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Royalton charter, this Quest truly highlights many of the roles and history that Royalton has to offer.

It was a gorgeous sunny day yesterday, so I went to South Royalton to try out this Quest. Parking at the high school, I walked first to the cemetery on my left, and then headed back up the street to take a left turn onto Safford street. Along Safford I could  see the firehouse and the library. By turning right onto Alexander place, I was able to walk until I was on Railroad St, and the green was on my right.

This Quest is a gentle walk and only thirty minutes long. There are also many places to stop for a snack, or pack a lunch and relax on the green!

Thank you to Ms. Ephchook and her 2019 sophomore class at the White River Valley High School for creating this Quest as well as a beautiful map and stamp! Special thanks to John Dumville of the historical society for his help in this Quest’s creation.

If you’re in the South Royalton area, check out the Four Springs Farm Quest nearby!

Interested in volunteering with Valley Quest? We are looking for a box monitor for Four Springs Farm, as well as these other boxes.

New Brownsville VT Quest

I’m happy to announce that we have a new Quest! With the help of Mr. Butler’s 3rd & 4th grade class at the Albert Bridge School, there is a new Quest in Brownsville, VT. The Daniel Cady Quest takes you from the Albert Bridge School up to Daniel Cady’s mausoleum. Cady was a poet who dedicated many of his works to describe life in Vermont. When he died in 1934, he had already made arrangements for his casket to rest in the mausoleum at the top of the hill. Originally, the mausoleum would have looked out at the top of Ascutney, but many trees grew in and the view isn’t as clear.

“Cady tree”

The Albert Bridge students learned about the life of Daniel Cady with the help of the Brownsville Historical Society and then completed their teaching clues. We took the kids up to the mausoleum and then helped them create their movement clues. After putting the two parts together, we went back to the school to test their new Quest!

When we got to the mausoleum, we stumbled upon a filmmaker with Vermont novelist, Joseph Citro. Specifically, Citro works with ghost stories in New England — how fitting to find him by the mausoleum!

Looking into the mausoleum

This was quite lucky for us, as he had the key to open the mausoleum. He was able to take the lock off of the main wooden door. There were still bars that prevented us from entering, but we were able to look inside the mausoleum and see his casket. This was an amazing addition to what we thought would be a relatively straight forward Quest check. We hid the box for Questers to find and headed back down.

This new Brownsville Quest is live! Be sure to give it a try. If you’re in Brownsville, check out The Quest for the Kestrel, a Quest on the Super Quest list in the area. If you haven’t signed up for the Super Quest you can find out more information and register your team here

Interested in adopting this box and becoming a box monitor? Check out this page for more information on volunteering for this box or any other boxes without monitors!

Additional thanks go out to Alice Stewart and Rise VT for their generous support of this project!

Intern with Valley Quest!

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, community tours, Quest maintenance, and website improvements. The position offers a mix of office-based and field-based work, with flexible scheduling. Candidates must have transportation and some weekend availability. Small stipend available. Learn more in this job description, and send resume and cover letter to Valley Quest Coordinator, lauren@vitalcommunities.org, for consideration.

 

Thank you, Ben!

This summer we had the privilege of working with Ben Fletcher, pictured second from left. Ben brought an incredibly well suited array of skills to Vital Communities and was a boon to the Valley Quest program. With a degree from the University of Santa Cruz and intern experience from the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences, Ben quickly became an integral member of the Valley Quest team, applying his interest in ecology and knack for creative thinking right off the bat. He is responsible for getting all 170 Valley Quests live on our website, our new color-coded online Valley Quest map, a slew of Quest updates, brilliantly organized events like the History Tour of White River Junction and the Valley Quest Hawk Walk, as well as a couple new important partnerships for the program…just to name a few!

We are so grateful for the skills and energy that Ben brought, not only for his impact this summer, but for the lasting influence his work has had on Valley Quest—we’re delighted to build off of all the momentum he carried in with him.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ben! We wish you the absolute best going forward and hope you’ll swing in for a visit next time you’re in town!

Bird and Quest

The Vermont Center for Ecostudies lists 382 species of bird that occur in Vermont, whether year-long resident or migratory visitor. The VCE’s Vermont Atlas of Life citizen science operation has recorded sightings of 332 of these species thus far since its conception. And 219 species have been recorded across the state just since the start of this past April (2018). Programs like iNaturalist collect these sightings from volunteers in the public to compile an ever-growing, crowdsourced set of data for use by anyone– from conservationists, to mindful developers, to researchers studying specific species.

VCE

Similar in form and function to iNaturalist, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has put together its own program to collect data on species distributions. Naturally, theirs specializes in birds. It’s called eBird. eBird participants have spotted more species than the VCE acknowledges occur in Vermont, with their total up at 385. Is the discrepancy a new development? Perhaps migratory paths are shifting, destinations changing, bringing Vermont new visitors. What if shifting precipitation and temperature trends are convincing some past residents to find new homes, or even making Vermont attractive to prospective immigrants? Perhaps none of these. But if we ever begin to answer such questions, it might likely be thanks to eBird and iNaturalist, existing to harness the massive potential of crowdsourced data sets.

ebird VT stats

Vermont is ripe with birding hotspots and Valley Quest can lead you to a good many of them. Some examples, from late August through September the Gile Mountain Quest near Norwich will take you to a vista along the migratory path of the Broad-winged Hawk. These birds accumulate aerially in large groups, termed kettles, and past recordings reveal sightings of thousands of hawks a day. While near Norwich, you should also check out the Flowing to the River Quest for more raptor encounters. This Quest will take you along a tributary of the Connecticut River into Osprey and Bald Eagle territory. This Quest is also a great opportunity to learn that there is (some find this hard to believe) way more than one variety of duck. This is a rich spot to discover all sorts of waterfowl – while the Bald Eagles will do no harm, beware the swan and geese! (Especially if they have chicks nearby, these two are known to pick fights.)

Broadwings

Bring a notepad Questing with a list of the birds you might encounter, and tally each one you find. Then once you finish up your day and arrive home (or even the next day, or next weekend, it’s flexible) report your sightings on the eBird website to contribute to their catalog. eBird also exists as a free app if you’re interested in reporting in real time.

Merlin birdID    Cornell Ornithology     INaturalist_logo

If you were able to hear birds, but couldn’t spot them, consider bringing your phone along and using an app like Song Sleuth which will automatically identify your audio recording. To dodge the pricetag you can also try the Cornell Lab’s app Merlin BirdID, which offers recordings of different songs from each species for you to listen for your match. Merlin also has a handy tool to help you uncover the identities of birds you didn’t recognize. Once you simply log the size of the bird, the context you saw it (whether flying, on a fence, in a tree, etc.) and the color, you’re presented with a list of all the possible birds you may have encountered.

Many Valley Quests also overlap with eBird’s map full of birding hotspots. This searchable map can help you see all 385 species that Vermont has to offer. If you find a hotspot location that would make for a strong Quest, let us know, we’d love to help you write one or work with community members to spotlight your site with a Quest! Happy Questing! (Below are a nighthawk, hooded merganser and belted kingfisher)

Bird collage

Subbasin Spotlight!

This year’s Aquatic Adventure Super Quest showcases the 5 subbasins that make up the Upper Connecticut River Valley, or, more fondly, the Upper Valley. A subbasin is a term used to describe a watershed within a watershed. While a watershed drains to a major river, a subbasin drains to a tributary of that major river. So in our case, the basin that drains to the Connecticut River, and stretches from Canada to the Long Island Sound, is the Connecticut River Watershed, and the Upper Valley subbasins are the mini-watersheds within it. All but one span both Vermont and New Hampshire sides of the Connecticut river, and all ultimately drain to it.

WHAT IS A WATERSHED

These subbasins are named by the rivers that anchor them. Just as all water in the Connecticut River watershed drains to the Connecticut River, all water that falls in a particular subbasin drains to its namesake river(s). Going from North to South we have the following 5 subbasins in our region:

  1. The Wells: Vermont’s Wells River both starts and ends in its own subbasin. Here you’ll also find New Hampshire’s Ammonousuc River, which flows to the Connecticut River all the way from its headwaters in the “Lakes of the Clouds” on the western slopes of Mt. Washington.
  2. The Waits: This subbasin is home to two 25-mile long rivers: The Waits and Ompompanoosuc, both in Vermont. Here you’ll also find Lake Fairlee–a natural lake, it was enlarged by damming a tributary to the Ompompanoosuc in 1939. Towns in this subbasin include Bradford, Strafford, Thetford, Orford…sense a theme? The suffix “ford” in a town name refers to the presence of shallow stream crossings, of which these towns certainly have many!
  3. The White: The White River begins near the crest of Vermont’s Green Mountains and flows 60 miles before it greets the Connecticut River in the aptly named White River Junction. The three branches of this river host an array of sparkling swimming holes and rock formations as they wind through especially hilly terrain. This subbasin connects the quaint towns of Sharon, Royalton, Bethel, Randolph, and many more. This is our only single-state subbasin, and calls Vermont its home.
  4. The Mascoma-Black-Ottauquechee: This massive subbasin is host to five large Connecticut River tributaries: The Mascoma (New Hampshire), Sugar (New Hampshire), Ottauquechee (Vermont), Black (Vermont), and Williams (Vermont) Rivers. The New Hampshire side boasts the highest concentration of lakes in the region, including the largest, Lake Sunapee, where Sugar River gets its start. Towards the southern edge of this subbasin, visit the Williams River’s inlet-strewn Herrick’s Cove for countless bird species and great paddling.
  5. The West: While the 53-mile West River (Vermont) anchors this subbasin, it flows farther South than the Upper Valley. The shorter, more northerly Saxton’s River (Vermont), however, flows through the towns of Grafton, Rockingham, and Westminster, and is dotted with waterfalls, sandy beaches, and deep pools. Steep, narrow gorges and unique outcroppings of bedrock add dimension to the hills in this subbasin.

If you haven’t yet, get your copy of the Aquatic Adventure Super Quest to start exploring the variations between these beautiful, fascinating subbasins today! You can print your own here (11×17 paper), pick up a copy at the Vital Communities office (195 North Main St, White River Junction), or find one at your local library. Then, register your team (pick a fun name!), and start discovering our region anew with our 10 featured Quests. Swimming holes, waterfalls, sun-soaked lakes, mill history, and babbling brooks will guide you through summer fun and learning—you’ve got ’til November 1! Victorious Super Quest teams all win commemorative patches and are entered to win our grand prize!

Happy Questing!

 

A Valley Side-Quest

While Questing is an absorbing hobby in its own right, it opens the door for a number of Side-Quests that you may find enrich the experience. One such Side-Quest is to collect data for any of a number of Citizen Science projects actively under way in the twin states. By participating in Citizen Science projects as you Quest, you inform active conservation research efforts that seek to better understand and protect our local natural environments.

The Vermont Center for Ecostudies is one local research and conservation organization actively tapping into the power of crowd-sourced Citizen Science to aid local plant and animal species. The Center has set up a dozen different organized Citizen Science projects that community members like you can contribute to. They offer a range of expertise requirements from beginner to expert.

The VCE’s most popular project is the Vermont Atlas of Life, hosted on iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a website and smartphone app with which the most casual or expert observers of the natural world can help to keep track of the plant and animal species living in our local environments. The observations are logged in a public database of different species’ population data, which researchers and conservationists can then tap into.

Capture1

iNaturalist is also a useful tool for Questers. You can take a photo of any species of plant or animal—mushroom to mammal—and members of the iNaturalist community will hop on and suggest possible identifications. Even the most obscure fungus or caterpillar will be reliably ID’d in likely a few hours, given your picture is detailed enough. The process is fun, intuitive, rewarding, and connects us to those in our communities that also find curiosity, splendor, and awe in the natural world. It also really enriches the Questing experience. Have you ever seen a new mushroom, insect, or shrub on a Quest, and wondered what it was? Snap a photo and upload it to iNaturalist to bring your discovery and learning full circle.

The Vermont Atlas of Life project has already logged more than 210,000 wildlife observations, of nearly 6,000 unique species residing in our tiny state. Citizen Scientists regularly log sightings of some of the most prolific residents like the American Robin (1,430 observations) and the Black-capped Chickadee (1,724 observations), submitting geographic data to help monitor population distribution and track trends from year to year. iNaturalist participants have also logged some of rarest and most ephemeral residents and visitors – like the Snowy Owl (250 observations, the 2017-2018 winter was a huge year for these), the Northern Two-lined Salamander (94 observations), and the Silvery Blue (88 observations).

red-trillium-1406305_1920

A note on cataloging rare species: the pet trade is a real and serious threat to many species we know and love. For example, the wonderful wood turtle (0 observations on iNaturalist, and for good reason). Once relatively common in Vermont, the wood turtle has suffered habitat loss and illegal collection to the point of obtaining the classification of “endangered.” Reporting such species to public databases could accidentally lead to their being scooped up and sold.

However, these species are still perhaps the most critical to report.  Reputable organizations like the VT Herpetology Atlas or the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife need need the help of Citizen Scientists to keep track of these endangered species to aid in their protection. So if you do encounter one of these beautiful shelled beasts, please report your sighting to an organization you can trust.

Rediscovering Questing: Aquatic Adventure Super Quest

Having lived in the region all my life, I grew up Valley Questing with my family. I recently realized, however, that I haven’t done one in almost ten years, so the Aquatic Adventure Super Quest was a perfect opportunity to stretch my legs and get back in the habit. On a beautiful Friday, I gathered up my mother and my dog and headed out to do the Union Village Quest.

Union Village Quest Gate

We set out with confidence, having been going to the Union Village Dam consistently for many years. I learned to ride a bike there, and have attended countless potlucks and birthday parties in the shaded picnic area by the stream. The sun beat down, but the bending forest allowed us to march up the hill without feeling the heat. My dog, excited to be out and about after having recovered from a hurt paw, raced up and down the hill and stared back at us to wonder why we weren’t running as fast as he was. We paused by the stream, watching a couple of butterflies and figuring out where the Quest clues were leading us next.

Here, we made a wrong turn. Assuming that our years of experience with the place would be enough, we strode up the path, only worrying slightly when there seemed to be a very long stretch between clue landmarks. Eventually, after running into a dead end, retracing our steps, and finding another, we were forced to admit that we needed to go back even farther. But there was no reason to be frustrated–the day was beautiful, the dog was happy, and we were in no hurry, so we walked back to the last spot we were sure of and resumed our search.

When we did spot the slim entrance to the trail we were looking for (thanks to my mother!), we saw the “stone find of history” indicated by the Quest clues: the foundations of an old bridge, which we had spent years walking within feet of and never once seen! We wound around the little path, shaded by trees as it ran along the edge of the river. All of a sudden, the defined path faded away, and we were confronted by the end of the Quest. Because it is part of the Aquatic Adventure, I was expecting to see the little stream that traces the edge of the recreation area of the dam, but I was entirely and pleasantly surprised by the beautiful, shady swimming hole at the base of three cascading waterfalls. We hadn’t even realized we were getting close!

Union Village Quest 4

We located and opened up the birdhouse, which held the quest box, and stamped twice–once with the unique stamp, and once with the piece of the big Super Quest stamp. As we replaced the box, called the dog in from his swim in the shady pool, and wandered back to the car, we started wondering about what other Quests we could do soon. Even a decade later, Questing was just as involving and exciting as it had ever been!

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