Thursday, July 10, 2014

River corridors in the heart of the Green Mountains

This week the crew went camping in the Green Mountain National Forest to work on a project in a small tributary of the Middlebury River called Sparks Brook. We were working with the National Forest service, and they provided us with a brand new, never-before-tested protocol for monitoring vegetation in river corridors. Here's the hitch: the team that developed the protocol is from the West Coast, so they wanted us to give it a test run in the dense and buggy river corridors of New England. When we send back our data and our feedback on the protocol, we'll be helping the team from the Forest Service create a protocol for evaluating and comparing the health of riparian vegetation across the United States.

LANDS arrives on the scene with GEAR

Before we do our thing, LANDS makes PLANS
Travis commandeers the LASER
The crew came to Sparks Brook with a substantial working knowledge of riparian vegetation and fluvial geomorphology from our project in Grafton, so all we had to do was figure out the protocol and get to work.  The protocol turned out to be a long, technical, and slightly disorganized document that came with pictures, diagrams, and a full-page random number table. The crew split into groups to read and make sense of it, and between all of us we came up with a plan. After that, we headed down to Sparks Brook.

The protocol had two parts: an assessment of vegetation near the river and a geomorphic survey. To help carry it out, we brought in a Fish & Wildlife technician from nearby Rochester named Sue Staats. She provided a wealth of experience working in streams, some helpful insight on potential problems in the protocol, and two extremely neat lasers. For the vegetation portion of the survey, we walked along transects to sample the vegetation cover. We used one of Sue's lasers to shoot a vertical beam into the canopy and down to the ground, and recorded the plants that the beam touched. We used the other laser for the geomorphic survey. The laser head mounted on a tripod and spun in a circle, shooting lasers in every direction and scouring the landscape in search of a receiver beacon that we held on a pole. The three-legged survey robot, ostensibly harmless and totally not sentient, was extremely helpful in measuring topography...almost too helpful.

The team sets up a transect
Sue demonstrates how to handle the all-seeing eye

The group stayed the week at Moosalamoo Campground, a cozy plot of woodland nestled into the center of the Green Mountain National Forest. We took the place by storm and occupied not one, nor two, nor even three, but four entire campsites. After long days in the river, we came back and cooked up heaping delicious feasts, including veggy-pineapple-chicken kebabs on our first night. We passed our evenings with sunset hikes to a nearby overlook; jam sessions with the guitar, D'jembe, and ukulele; and borderline-spiritual hacky-sack hacks. By Thursday we had finished our data collection and written up some feedback on the protocol, and we packed up, reluctantly gave back our lasers, and went home.


Grilling pita pizzas on the campfire

Everyone admires their handiwork while waiting for Mountain Pies to be melted and crispy

Just a couple hooligans on the side of the road, jamming under blue skies

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