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!

 

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=