Sunday, June 13, 2010

Week Two

Week two of the LANDS program started bright and early, with a trip to Camp Plymouth State Park for a day of training. We hit the road ~5:30 AM, and didn't return until around 7. At the park, we were educated on the history, biology, and impact of non native plants and insects on Vermont ecosystems from a variety of speakers. Absorbing such a vast amount of information was a little daunting, especially since we were so tired, but we were pleasantly surprised by a cookout for lunch.

On Tuesday morning, we departed for our first week of camping. Nimble but spacious, Gazelle was able to fit most of our supplies and ourselves comfortably, and Lydia's car held the rest.

Dan, Toral, and Kyle load supplies into Gazelle

Setting up camp was rendered much easier by the two lean-to's we found at our campsites. Most of us ended up sleeping in these, so we didn't need as many tents. After camp was setup, we hiked to Silver Lake to begin our first day of surveys at the campsites there. The process was a little chaotic at first, but each site we surveyed took half as long as the one prior, and by the end of the day we knew we'd be experts in no time.

Confusion ensues, followed by gradual understanding

On Wednesday our team split up, with Sam's group finishing up at Silver Lake, and Lydia and Zac's groups going to Moosalamoo Campground. Moosalamoo turned into an easy, encouraging survey – most of the campsites didn't have a single invasive plant, and fortunately, no invasive insects. They worst invasions did find were hard to miss – they were labeled, in a “wildlife garden” intended to teach campers the sorts of things they can plant in their backyards to attract desirable animals. Many of these intentional invasives had clearly spread into the surrounding woods. There wasn't much we could do but laugh, but the experience served as a stark example of the extent to which our mindset needs to change.

Zac and Reed take on an particularily egregious honeysuckle at Moosalamo, while Dan observes

Our goal for Thursday was Branbury State Park itself, but by now we had become so adept at our protocol that we finished before lunch. Opting to take advantage of the extra time, we packed up camp and migrated to D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) State Park.

D.A.R. was a reality check for everyone, especially after the relatively pristine ecosystems around Silver Lake and Mooselamoo. At. D.A.R. we found woods with understories completely dominated by buckthorn and honeysuckle. Natural tree regeneration was nearly absent, and the abundant diversity of a healthy understory was totally stifled. Ultimately, D.A.R. may be a lost cause, but it was a powerful reminder of why our work this summer is so important.

Unfortunately, Thursday afternoon was also the time when the rain which had been threatening all day finally arrived. It didn't last long though, and the entire crew was able to enjoy a particularly relaxing final evening.

Since we had almost entirely finished D.A.R. the day before, we were able to complete another additional park Friday afternoon before heading to Burlington. We stopped at Mt. Philo State Park, an isolated peak with spectacular views of Lake Champlain and New York state beyond. It only took a few hours though, and we got home with time to collect ourselves and reflect on the week before heading home.

View from Mt. Philo, looking west to Lake Champlain

Friday afternoon, home sweet home

This first week of camping has made clear both the rewards and the challenges the rest of the summer will hold. None of us expected we would be away from our homes and friends so long, so it will take some time to adjust to the circumstances. This is a learning process for everybody, and hopefully as time goes on many of the uncertainties and bugs will be worked out. On the other hand, as someone who has never been to Vermont before, I am extremely grateful for the chance to experience so much of this amazing state. On top of that, there is the satisfaction of ending every day knowing we are contributing to the conservation of the awe inspiring landscapes and ecosystems around us.

The LANDS crew + the FEHC crew

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