Valley Quests Open May 1—including a Guided Event to a Vernal Pool!

Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 1: It’s a big one for Valley Quests!

Not only is May 1 Opening Day for Quests—”treasure hunts” that share the natural and cultural history of 160+ special areas in the Upper Valley—but it’s also the date of our first “Guided Quest” of the season.

In Guided Quests, an expert leads a group on a particular Quest, offering special details about its wonders. For this event, Valley Quest Coordinator Sandy Gmur and Kevin Tolan, Vermont Center for Ecostudies‘ Vernal Pool Monitor Coordinator, lead an exploration of a vernal pool in the Hurricane Forest of Hartford. The pool is part of the “Sally’s Salamander Meander” Quest, and like all vernal pools is a great place to observe amphibian life this time of year. (Why are vernal pools so good for frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians? Because they dry up as the summer progresses and thus don’t support fish, which tend to gobble up the amphibian eggs.) This event involves a moderate hike and is appropriate for families and adults. Registration is required; space is limited. Register at Hartford Parks and Recreation.

What’s more, the Sally Salamander Meander is one of the 12 Quests that are part of this season’s Super Quest, on the topic of “Climate Connections.”

The Climate Connections Super Quest examines the ways climate change is affecting the Upper Valley—from plants, insects, and other animals moving here from the south due to warming temperatures; to more frequent and more powerful storms; to people migrating from other places experiencing even greater climate-induced changes. The Super Quest also looks at ways we’re preventing or adapting to climate change, including flood control through land preservation; green energy technologies; and regenerative agricultural practices. From May 1 to November 1, follow any five of those 12 Super Quests to find their hidden treasure boxes and collect the stamp impressions from their treasure box, and you’ll receive a special Super Quest patch and be entered to win a grand prize. The 12 Quests can be variously done as walks, hikes, or by canoe or kayak.

Where the Climate Connections Super Quest Can Take You

Cedar Circle Farm Quest, Thetford, VT: Focus on regenerative agriculture while touring a certified organic farm and nonprofit education center.

Chaffee Sanctuary Quest, Lyme, NH: Get to know an “alder swamp”—a common Upper Valley wetland that provides great habitat for animals and natural flood protection for humans.

Cook Quest, New London, NH: Learn about how plants and soil sequester carbon while observing the forest, streams, and wetlands of the Mt. Kearsarge/Lake Sunapee region.

Donella Meadows Quest, Hartland, VT: Hear about a pioneering system thinker, author, and climate change activist while visiting the Cobb Hill cohousing community she founded 20 years ago.

Flowing to the River Quest, Norwich, VT: Hike along this Connecticut River tributary while learning how plants along the stream help keep its water clean.

Lebanon Energy Quest, Lebanon, NH: Starting at the former Mascoma Flannel Company (now the Rivermill Complex), a look at generations of power, from water to propane to green sources.

Loon Quest, Enfield, NH: A water quest on Lake Mascoma in search of a fabulous bird who needs clean waters. Begin and end at a the new Mascoma Lakeside Park, for launching non-motorized boats!

Lower Slade Brook, Hanover, NH: Hike along the brook crossing this 36-acre conserved parcel, observing waterfalls while reflecting on the role forests play in cleaning the air.

Sally’s Salamander Meander, Hartford, VT: Discover a vernal pool and learn about its critical role for salamanders and their wet, wiggley rites of spring.

Sunapee Harbor Quest, Sunapee, NH: This gentle stroll highlights the lake’s natural and historic features and the stewardship and educational work of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association.

Sustainability Quests, Woodstock, VT: (For Elementary Students) Learn about what goes on above the mansion area at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, including tree management, a solar kiln, and gardens!! (For High Schoolers and older) Observe the sustainability program and climate-aware forest management of this park—which is named after an Upper Valley native considered to be America’s first environmentalist.

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!

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.


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,