Blog

Connect the Dots: Shelburne Falls

Published December 3, 2020 by the Vermont Community Newspaper Group

Q: How is Shelburne Falls connected to Vergennes and Winooski?

A: When I cross the concrete bridge over the LaPlatte River in Shelburne Falls, I always remember the very first bridge built here. Built in the 1780s before covered bridges were invented, it’s described in town histories as a “rudely constructed log bridge.” But the log bridge was more than just a crossing for the locals. It was part of the first road north from Vergennes connecting a trio of waterfalls on three different rivers: Otter Creek, LaPlatte, and Winooski. When I learned the story, I had to dramatically rethink my mental map of western Vermont.

The first key to the story is the waterfalls, since water power was the main energy source at that time. The LaPlatte falls are Shelburne’s only falls of any size, making them strategic. The second key is that, not coincidentally, all three waterfalls were also the last falls on their rivers. The LaPlatte falls are about a mile from the lake, so the lake connection isn’t obvious at the bridge. But all three locations could be reached by boat from Lake Champlain, the main transportation in that era. These three falls meant both water power and access to transportation – a powerful combination at the time. 

The Shelburne Falls story begins where many Vermont village stories start:  a dam was built across the river. It was built upstream of the bridge, and a saw mill was built near it. The saw mill fashioned the surrounding old-growth forest trees into lumber for new wooden infrastructure. The eight European families in Shelburne before the mill was constructed had built log houses for shelter. But early settlers wanted sawn-lumber frame houses as soon as possible, so they considered a saw mill an absolute requirement.

The LaPlatte waterfall wasn’t done yet, though. The following year, another dam was constructed lower down, and soon a grist mill was built to grind grain. 

The families who settled here established farms, bringing with them the grain-based farming culture of southern New England. The Spear family arrived in Shelburne in 1783, four years before the grist mill was built. They cleared and planted a few acres around the log house they built. To grind their grain the first few years, they took it by boat to the nearest accessible grist mills in New York and Quebec, and then to Winooski. When the Shelburne Falls grist mill was built, their trips were significantly shortened. It’s little wonder the grist mill was usually the second industry built in early Vermont towns. 

While this was happening in Shelburne, what was happening elsewhere on the new north-south road? Vergennes’ and Winooski’s stories are remarkably parallel to Shelburne’s, although they started earlier and were interrupted by the Revolutionary War. At the Vergennes waterfall, a dam and saw mill were built about fifteen years before Shelburne’s.  Next, the grist mill was built, and it was such a critical industry that the New York and New Hampshire grantees destroyed it twice as they fought over sovereignty there. In Winooski, Ira Allen arrived by boat from Whitehall in the early 1770s to scout, and walked back south through the forest. The next year, he sailed back to Winooski, built a blockhouse for defense, then walked south marking trees for a road connecting Winooski Falls to the other two waterfalls (going along roughly what is now Spear Street to Shelburne). 

The Revolutionary War drove early settlers in northern Vermont back south to the Pittsford area until the hostilities ended in 1783. When they returned, Vergennes restarted its saw mill, and rebuilt its grist mill within a few years. In Winooski, saw mills were built at both ends of a new dam, and a grist mill was soon built. By the time the Shelburne grist mill had been built in 1787, all three places had the two critical mills running like three pairs of beads on a string. 

In the years to come, the LaPlatte waterfall remained the center of the Shelburne Falls mill village. Both mills operated into the 1920s, and continued to be the farming community’s cornerstones. The waterfalls at Vergennes and Winooski became city nuclei, both places eclipsing Shelburne Falls in size because of their rivers’ much larger water volumes.

Whenever I look at Shelburne’s waterfall, I remember how this feature created two cornerstones of the town’s early farm life. But, I also remember the bigger story. Instead of modern Shelburne organized around Rt. 7 in Burlington’s orbit, I’m back in the 1780s on the rude log bridge of the first road cut north through a densely forested area. I’m in one of three new villages all connected through waterpower, and downtown Burlington was barely a dream.

Copyright 2020, Jane Dorney

Connect the Dots: East Woods

Published November 19, 2020 by the Vermont Community Newspaper Group

Q: What are the long earthworks in the East Woods Natural Area in South Burlington connected to?

A: It takes only ten minutes for me to walk through the East Woods Natural Area to get to the long earthworks. But the walk along the trail is also a walk back in time to the late nineteenth century when this area was poised to significantly change how people traveled. 

I start at the Swift Street parking lot, where I’ve navigated some of South Burlington’s 100 miles of roads to park my twenty-first century car. The current road network gives city residents access to thousands of places very quickly, but it’s very different from the horse and buggy days I’m about to dip into.

As I start on the trail, I’m quickly engulfed by the tall white pines. Soon, I stop at a blow-down that’s been cut up, and count about 100 rings. The first 20 are noticeably wider than the later ones, signaling abundant sunlight as it got started. That fits with the old photographs of this area as all farmland in the early 1900s.

After ten minutes of level walking, the trail starts a sharp descent that also brings a dive deeper into the past. Just ahead are the earthworks I had heard about – two parallel mounds stretching off to the left. They are much larger than I expected: 8-10 feet high and about 30 feet wide at the base, and separated by flat-bottomed troughs about 15-20 feet wide. Local history tells me I’m looking at some nineteenth-century railroad beds, but I can’t quite interpret it all.  So, I get out my LiDAR image to help me. 

LiDAR is a new type of hi-tech aerial imagery that uses pulses of laser light to let you see “through the trees” to the ground surface below. The LiDAR image of East Woods shows the ground features in striking relief and makes them much easier to understand. Besides the roadways that frame the photo, the image focuses on a broad northerly bend of Potash Brook with its steep banks crossed twice by some sweeping, parallel linear earthworks. 

As I look back and forth between the LiDAR image and the undulating mounds and troughs around me, I begin to understand that the railroad beds ran through the troughs, not on the mounds. The mound tops are the original ground level and the troughs were cut down through that. If I follow the rail beds as they cross the trail and go to the right toward the brook, I see that they are built out over the stream bank and stop suddenly at the brook edge. Looking carefully, I can see matching embankments on the brook’s other side. Suddenly all the pieces make sense. I can erase the trees in my mind’s eye and see how it would have looked back in the 1890s.

The LiDAR image shows the two rail embankments on the brook’s farther side clearly – they spread apart just beyond the brook edge. The northerly one bends off toward Essex Junction where it was to join other regional rail lines. The southerly one goes east and then eventually curves south toward its goals of Hinesburg and Bristol. Both Hinesburg and Bristol were bypassed when the original railroad was built into Burlington around 1850, despite both towns being water-powered manufacturing centers with populations larger than Shelburne or South Burlington. When this rail line was being planned, public transportation from Hinesburg to Burlington was a daily horse-drawn stagecoach trip along what is Rte. 116 today. The stagecoach schedule says it was a 3-hour journey over the 13 miles of dirt roadway (not paved until the 1930s). The newly planned railroad trip would have taken 15-20 minutes – a dramatic improvement for manufacturers and day passengers alike. But after construction began, the financing fell through. The rail beds to Hinesburg and Bristol were never finished, nor were the tracks ever laid. The rail line to Essex Junction ran for just a few years.  The embankments and cuttings here were abandoned, and eventually the forest claimed this area.

Continuing on the trail as it hugs Potash Brook’s northerly loop, I eventually come to the west end of the same undulating mound system. Here again the cuttings are the rail beds. As they approach the brook, they are built out level to meet the rail bridge crossings to the Burlington waterfront. 

As I continue the trail circuit, I leave the nineteenth-century earthworks behind and return to the present-day and feel the refreshment that forest time can bring. Though the mounds and troughs are certainly intriguing, I realize that maybe it was a lucky thing for us that the 1890s rail lines were abandoned. If they hadn’t been, we might not be able to walk through what has become a lovely forested natural area.

Copyright 2020, Jane Dorney

Connect the Dots Column Started

I am now writing a monthly column I’m calling Connect the Dots for the Vermont Community Newspaper Group (VTCNG) that helps people connect to the local landscape of southern Chittenden County. Each month I pose a question about an everyday Vermont landscape feature, and then explain why it is where it is and how it relates to other natural and cultural features.

Two columns have been published already this fall, and will be posted soon in this blog, as well. The November column asked the question: What are the long earthworks in the East Woods Natural Area in South Burlington connected to? The December column asked the question: How is Shelburne Falls connected to Vergennes and Winooski?

Future columns will be published in one or more of the VTCNG’s weekly town papers: The Other Paper (South Burlington), Shelburne News (Shelburne), and The Citizen (Charlotte and Hinesburg), and on their website: https://www.vtcng.com/.

I’ll be posting about the publication of new columns in my Instagram (@jane.dorney) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/JaneDorneyVermontGeographer/) accounts. I will also be posting them here in this blog one week after they have been published.

Huntington’s Sense of Place

Miles Farm Landscape

“To belong to a place and a group of people saves our lives.”  Terry Tempest Williams

This quote crossed my desk as I was working on a project for the Huntington Historical and Community Trust.  I found it echoing around my head as I corresponded and met with the board to refine the task I had contracted to do for them – create an illustrated presentation for the public on the evolution of the Huntington landscape over the last 250 years.  As I ran ideas past them for possible topics to include, I could tell that this board really cared about the place they lived and they understood their role as the collective keepers of its memories.  The same feeling continued as I interviewed local people, walked the land with some of them, did archival research, and collected photographs and maps to share.

20191024_195118

But it was the evening of the presentation that Williams’ sentiments and how they applied to Huntingtonians really hit home for me. More than 120 people filled the Town Hall that evening. The set-up crew ran out of chairs and 10 people even stood in the back prepared to lean against the wall for the duration.  The enthusiasm continued throughout the next hour as I shared photos and maps and interpretations of how their landscape had evolved.  Whether it was old barns, the stone wall patterns in the old hill farms, the 1830 map of the dam and mills in the Lower Village, the road the ice cutters’ took from the creameries to Gillett Pond, the forest fire observation table on the top of Camel’s Hump, or the CCC camp site, the audience was really with me and eager to take it all in.  (To watch the presentation, go here.)

Johnson Map for Blog
Base map from UVM Special Collections

After my presentation, people stayed for the homemade refreshments and to talk with their neighbors.  Some came to talk with me one-on-one to share personal landscape connections they had, as well.  Even though it was a week night, it was more than an hour before the hall cleared and the set-up crew could go home.  After I loaded up my equipment and sank into the car seat, I paused for moment to reflect.  At the same time as the evening was giving me a feeling of depth and grounding in people and place, it was also leaving me with a feeling of buoyant optimism for the future of this community’s life together.  Here, indeed, was a living example of Williams’ sentiment.

Hotel on Camels Hump
Hotel on the top of Camel’s Hump in 1865, from UVM Special Collections

From Dairy Farm to Girl Scout Camp

I was taking a dozen girls and their counselors on a reconnaissance mission through the woods around the Twin Hills Girl Scout Day Camp in Richmond.  We were exploring some of the remnants of the 150-year-old dairy farm that had been bought out in the 1950s to make the camp for the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.  We had bushwhacked to the edge of the camp to look at the old stone walls, followed their length, learning about how they were made and the role they had played in the farm landscape.

IMG_3585

Eventually we worked our way through the brambles to the partial remains of the farmhouse cellar hole.  There we simulated the missing two sides of the cellar with a human chain made of scouts.  I told them about the Bates family that had lived here in 1880, and that all their children had been girls.  I challenged them to imagine that they had lived in the farmhouse at that time, and asked them to what they might have seen out the farmhouse windows if they had lived here, and the girls shared their speculations.  The reconnaissance ended with a visit to a group of gnarly, old apple trees just beyond the old barnyard.  The apple trees were now surrounded by woods, but once they had stood out in the open.

We went next to the camp pavilion building and sat down around a large table to do an activity to help them connect to the Bates’ farm life in 1880.  I passed five large cloth bags around the table and invited the girls to put their hand in each one a try to guess what was in it.  Each bag had one of the crops that we knew the Bates had grown from data on their farm in the 1880 US Agricultural Census.  Some of the bags’ contents were pretty easy for the girls to guess – apples, potatoes, and dried ears of corn.  But the other two were more difficult.  Some guessed grass, and they were in the right plant family – they were oats and hay.  As I pulled out each bag’s contents, we talked about how much had been grown there – how big the fields were that had been here, or how many bushels the farm had produced.   And I asked them to imagine again what the land would have looked like from the farmhouse windows with what more they now knew.  Their speculations were much more specific and realistic this time around.

IMG_3687

Next we thought about what the farm family did with the five crops they grew.  We talked about how the apples and potatoes were grown mostly for people to eat, but the oats were for the horses that helped with the farm labor, and the corn and hay were mostly for the dairy cows the farm family had had.  I shared with the girls that we knew that the farm had had 17 dairy cows, and (after milking them by hand every day) they produced more than a 1000 pounds of butter and 3000 pounds of cheese in 1880, all made on the farm.

I next asked them to try to imagine what farm chores they would have helped with if they had been one of the girls in the Bates family.  Many guessed that they would have helped with making the butter and cheese.

IMG_3849To help them understand that experience in a more concrete way, I got out the cream I had purchased at the local store and got ready to make butter.

We didn’t have an 1880 butter churn, but we improvised by shaking glass jars with tight-fitting lids.  I half-filled four or five jars and handed them out around the table.  Each girl took a turn sharply shaking the jar, and when they got tired, they passed it on to the next girl at the table.  I cut up some apples slices and passed them around the table, too, for the girls to recharge a bit on some local fruit the Bates’ would have had.  The jars of cream rotated around the table for about 15 minutes until the butter fat started to coagulate and separate from the whey.

IMG_3850

 

 

When the butter became more solid, we were able to pour off the whey.  Then, we put all the butter solids into a bowl and mixed in some salt, and it was ready to eat.

IMG_3858

 

I broke out some rolls and crackers, and some of the scouts helped cut up the rolls to make little bread slices and put everything on serving plates.  Then, the girls lined up and took turns spreading the butter on the bread or cracker of their choice, and got down to eating.  I heard lots of satisfied hmmm sounds as the freshest butter most of them had ever had was consumed.  There was enough for seconds, and even thirds before everyone had had their fill.

We still had some butter left, and some of the scouts asked if they could take it to the other groups in camp to share it.  Everyone agreed that that was a great idea, and the remaining butter made the rounds of camp.  In the end, the jar came back empty, but many stomachs had been filled.  Meanwhile, the scouts who were left in the pavilion all pitched in to wash jars and clean the table and floor area without even being asked.

This was the last day of their week’s worth of activities on understanding the evolution of the scout camp landscape over time.  The girls had explored the geology and ecology of the site with the camp naturalist, and our day exploring the farming history was the closing chapter of the story.  In the end, I hope they had gotten a sense of how the landscape had changed through time, in many different dimensions. And I hope that the next time they eat butter, they may think of the Bates girls that were making butter in 1880 on the farm that occupied the same spot their camp is now.

Exploring an 1803 Sawmill

IMG_3654 (Medium)

Eliot Morse stood with one hand laid casually on the carriage framework of the old sawmill that his great-great-great-great-grandfather had built in Calais more than 200 years ago.  He was talking to the group of visitors at the Robinson Sawmill’s recent annual meeting about some of the stories that had been passed down to him.  He explained to us how the water-power mill had worked and told us about some of the sawyers who had run it.  His stories helped me imagine some of the other hands that had been laid on the carriage framework in the more than 150 years the mill had operated.

When I heard about the Robinson Sawmill restoration project and was invited to the annual meeting, I knew I had to go visit.  Nineteenth-century water-powered sawmills are key features of the Vermont landscape history interpretation work I do.  Virtually every Vermont town had one in the early years of European settlement.  Sawmills fashioned the lumber for the buildings that sheltered the early settlers and their animals – their homes and barns.  Most water-powered sawmills are long gone now, abandoned when fossil fuels replaced waterpower.  When I’m leading field trips, I frequently stand with people at old sawmill sites, but I usually have to wave my hands a bit while I use nineteenth-century maps and old photos to conjure up the old mill in the mind’s eye of my group.  When the Robinson Sawmill restoration is completed, I can look forward to being able to refer people to this living history teaching resource.

In the sawmill memorabilia laid out on one of the annual meeting lunch tables, I found a clipping from the local newspaper about the mill restoration group’s work in 2007 that made me chuckle.  Journalist Mel Huff described the mill thus: the mill operator “turned a wheel to raise the gate to open the pipe that carried the water that powered the blade that sawed the logs.”  The chain reaction described made me want to explore the whole building and grounds to see if I could see all the parts and steps along the way.

 

IMG_3656 (Medium)

I started at the carriage framework where the talk had been and worked my way backward through the process.  The carriage had a log on it, and you could see that the carriage could be mechanically ratcheted across the floor on steel tracks toward the circular saw blade.

IMG_3655 (Medium)

The circular saw blade, which replaced the original 1803 up-and-down saw blade in the last half of the nineteenth century, was mounted on an axle and the other end of the axle had a large metal wheel on it with a leather belt.  If I leaned over and looked down through the opening in the floor, I could see that the belt transferred energy from another wheel down there.

IMG_3671 (Medium)

When I went down to the next lower level, I could see that the energy to turn the metal wheel had been transferred from a set of toothed, intermeshing bevel gears in an attached lean-to.  Leaning over again and looking down one more level, I could see the horizontal turbine and the brook water below.  This was the contact point between the liquid natural resource and the solid mechanism I had followed thus far.  Next to the turbine, I could just glimpse the end of the squared wooden pipe that delivered the water.

IMG_3670 (Medium)

To really see more, I realized I needed to get outside the mill building, so I left the mill and got out onto the road below it to get a better view.  From there, I could trace the whole water feeding mechanism back.  The wooden pipe came out of a metal pipe, and the metal pipe came straight out of the gate on the dam.

IMG_3665 (Medium)

Up at the top of the dam, the gate could be opened and closed by a wheel that turned.  I had finally reached the starting point where the whole chain reaction began.

IMG_3660 (Medium)

I walked up and stood at the top of the dam for a few moments looking at the ponded water, and I couldn’t help but contrast its stillness with the potential energy I now could feel it had.  I could picture that when the quiet water was let out, and with the help of gravity, all the metal and leather parts below would spin with their synchronized movements, and a newly sawn log and sawdust would come out at the end of it all.  As I looked up the hillside across the pond, I saw a beautiful old nineteenth-century wooden barn.  After my explorations around the mill, now I could not only understand in detail the sequence of steps that connected the sawmill to the built landscape we love surrounding it, but also truly understand which came first and that one required the other.

 

 

Vermont Master Naturalists Explore Vermont Family Forest’s Wells Farm

This first appeared as a guest blog I did for the Vermont Family Forests website on April 27, 2019.  Here is the original posting:  Vermont Family Forests Blog

 

Geographer Jane Dorney discusses the Wells Farm Middle Barn architecture and associated land use with participants in the Bristol-area Vermont Master Naturalist training program in April. Photo by David Brynn.

Vermont Master Naturalists from the Bristol Five Towns area visited the Wells Farm recently as part of an all-day field trip.  The day’s goal was to explore the human use of the local landscape over the last 250 years, and how that was tied to the natural landscape.  As a classic Vermont hill farm with its old barns, open fields, stone walls, and forest growing back in on the old fields, the Wells Farm had a lot of stories to tell.

The group was led by geographer Jane Dorney, who started the tour with the barns.  By looking at how the barns were used – the bays for hay, the stables for cows and work horses, the overhead storage area for wheat and oat sheaves, and the central threshing floor – the group could infer how the farm’s landscape in the nineteenth century was used.  The fields of wheat and oats, the pastures, and the woodlot that supplied the timber for the barn itself were easier to imagine after spending time understanding the barns themselves.   The group could also see how the barns had been reconfigured to evolve through the changes in agriculture over the 200 years that had elapsed since the farm family had first settled here.

The group next looked at the field patterns of the farm, both from what could be seen from the barnyard, and from a LiDAR image of the site.  Stone walls could be seen around the edges of the meadows that surround the barns now, and the LiDAR showed more in the woods up above the barnyard.  The source of the stones was from advancing glaciers leaving till at their base, but the stone’s placement into lines of walls showed the past use of a plow in that field.  Open fields areas had a new “crop” of frost-heaved stones each spring that needed to be picked out to avoid damaging the plows used to prepare the soil to plant farm seeds.  The stone walls helped the group ground the inferences they had made about the wheat and oat fields that had been here with the actual landscape spread out in front of them.  The walls in the woods uphill were also part of story of more recent forest regeneration as the hill farms were abandoned later in the twentieth century.

In the end, the stories the group were able to read from the Wells Farm gave participants a concrete example of how one farm had evolved through time.  By seeing that similar stories were repeated many times over across the Vermont landscape, they came away with a deeper understanding of the place we inhabit and love.

 

Sliding from 1877 to 2018 in Burlington

Burlington Birdseye View Slider Map
1877 Map: Birdeye View of Burlington and Winooski, VT., drawn by E. Meilbek and published by J.J. Stoner of Madison, WI.  2018 Map: William Morris.

In a roomful of map lovers at the Shelburne Museum, cartographer Bill Morris demonstrated his recent creation that literally let us slide from Burlington in 1877 to Burlington today.  He had created this interactive map for the Museum’s recent exhibit on historic birdseye views of Vermont towns.  Although the end product was simple to use, the two original base maps needed some serious work to make them align, and Bill had the rapt attention of his audience as he described the process.

Bill showed us how he used an open-source digital tool called Map Warper to upload a historic map, and geo-rectify or digitally align it with our modern coordinate system.  Then, he made a present-day map using Mapbox in roughly the style of the old birdseye view map with buildings in 3-D.  By laying one map on the other with a slider, he created an image that allows anyone to easily move back and forth across the 140 year divide to see the changes block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood.  In one effortless swipe, Perkins Pier goes from being a commercial wood warehousing area in 1877, to a park and wastewater treatment plant now.  The remains of the ravine through the center of the city can be seen in the old map, but are gone in the present one.  The old multi-story grist mill at the Winooski Falls dominates the scene in 1877, but is entirely gone in the present.

It’s likely that not everyone at the presentation would be able to duplicate the technical process Bill used.  But I don’t think there was a person there that did not go home, type in the link to the map, and get drawn into moving the slider back and forth and back and forth and back and forth as they navigated around the city.  I know I did.  Now it’s your turn: https://birdseye.one.

Old Wooden Barn Posts

IMG_3335 (2)When I saw the contrast between the two wooden barn posts standing right next to each other, I knew I had found what I was looking for.  I was doing reconnaissance for an upcoming Vermont Master Naturalist field day, and I needed to find some easy-to-understand nineteenth-century farm features that would capture the essence of the landscape in the two halves of that century.  The beautiful old barn I was in had been built in several sections over the long farming history on the site, and, after canvassing the inside, I realized it would be perfect for the field trip I was planning.

The tall wooden post on the left was about ten inches wide and as many inches deep. It was etched with broadaxe marks distributed along its length as far as I could see.  Hand-hewn is the word used to describe the marks, and, pausing a moment to look at them, it was not hard to imagine the person wielding the broadaxe.  Even though the post had been standing here holding up this barn for something like 200 years, each broadaxe mark still showed which direction it had bitten from.

The post on the right was roughly the same size as the hand-hewn one.  Its surface, though, was not hand-hewn.  It was dark in the barn, and I had to get in close to really see the surface.  But even though it was about 150 years since it had been shaped, the arcing marks of the large circular saw that cut it were still clear to see.

When the hand-hewn post was made, the landscape here was mostly wooded.  The earliest settlers were making small clearings on their large lots, but they were spread out all across the town.  There was a saw mill at the waterfall two miles away from this barn at the time it was being built, and the smaller barn siding pieces that were milled were probably cut there.  But the posts (and beams) in the barn had not been taken to the mill.  Hand hewing barn posts was typical of that time period, and these posts fit that pattern.

When the circular sawn post was made, the landscape here was mostly open.  Farmers had cleared the landscape over the intervening decades for sheep and then dairy farming, although there would still have been wood lots in town that supplied the tree for the post.  The saw mill down the road would have had a circular saw blade by the second half of the nineteenth century, and it was likely the post was milled there.

It would be easy for someone visiting this barn to walk right by these two posts standing a few inches apart.  But if they had stopped and looked more closely, they would see that they are also separated by fifty years, and they came from two very different landscapes.

 

Great New Mapping Tool

 

 

habitatsensitivityheatmap

 

Three Field Naturalists from UVM were making a public presentation in a local school cafeteria about their research on the wildlife and other natural features in the new Richmond town forest.  As they neared the end, they showed a map they’d made that summed up their work, and it immediately grabbed me.  The map used a new technique I hadn’t seen, and as someone who makes and uses a lot of maps, I knew it was something special.  It combined a series of different maps into one they called a habitat heat sensitivity map.  I wasn’t able to speak with the FNs after the meeting, but I now had this new mapping technique on my radar, and knew I had to keep an eye out for more examples.

How lucky I was to see the Field Naturalists’ work again a few weeks later at the Forest Ecosytem Monitoring Cooperative Conference in December.  The FNs, Grace Glynn, Eric Hagen, and Meredith Naughton, had made a poster of their research results for the afternoon poster session, and I had ample time to look it over.  They described their task as “to provide the tools needed to build trails with wildlife in mind” in the new Richmond town forest (Andrews Community Forest).  They made six maps of features such as stream buffers, cliffy areas, wetland features, and state significant natural communities.  Then, they combined them all into one map using sensitivity scores and heat index colors to show the amount of overall habitat sensitivity (with red being the most sensitive and blue the least).  Now, when planning the new trail system, this one map can guide the trail builders toward areas of low sensitivity for a suite of natural features and away from areas of high sensitivity.  Combining lots of data into an easy to read and interpret single image is not only elegant, it’s also practical, too.  What a great tool!

To see the whole poster called “Recreation and Wildlife: Finding a Balance in the Andrews Community Forest in Richmond, VT,” use this link.