On December 28, 2022

Why we should care about Killington’s new river management permit

Dear Editor,

Founded in 2007 Appalachian Trail Adventures, the company has enjoyed steady growth each year since—with a focus on providing fun adventures and premier customer service. Escapades range from guided hikes on the Appalachian Trail, to kayaking on rivers, to exploring a cave, to taking a sightseeing tour and much more.

Given the scope of my business, I know the Ottauquechee River even better than the state and town and have enjoyed kayaking its waters daily (from spring to fall) over the past 10 years. Besides having lived and worked in Killington since 1986, I kayaked the river daily from spring to fall I thus fully understand the hydraulics involved and relationship beavers share with the river as well as dam placement. In addition to my recreational and business-driven river activities, I also spearhead a yearly river clean-up project and have spent years lobbying for a “kayak trail system” in Killington.

Submitted
This illustration demonstrates how beaver baffles work in a river. A wire cage is used to keep beavers from plugging pipes. The baffle keeps water levels low to prevent storm damage while the beaver is unaware that the water is leaking out of the dam.

More significant and disturbing, why are state agencies permitting the town of Killington to dictate this river management permit? Given my familiarity with the beaver issue at hand, I see several complications involved with this permit that hinder the potential for a long-term resolution: for example, not allowing beaver baffle installation and removing dams that don’t impact water levels. Nowhere in Vermont is eradicating an entire town’s beaver population permitted, especially along a river considered the last “living” section of the “dead” Ottauquechee River as a wildlife refuge. With over 114 different bird sightings, the River Road class 2 wetland is in fact one of Vermont’s top birding locations.  Likewise, the river also supports healthy beaver, muskrat, brookie, minnow, turtle, bull frog, dragonfly and crayfish populations, and wildlife sightings include coyote, deer, porcupine, moose and bear. It’s thus obvious the state and town don’t know the Ottauquechee River that well because if they did, this permit would never be allowed for this unique section.

The town is currently facing the same challenges involving the local beaver population as many other municipalities and should thus demonstrate the precise location of culvert overtopping, flooded roads and property “damage.” Even hiking trails and forest roads have been abandoned—such as at Lefferts Pond in Chittenden—allowing beavers to thrive. In retrospect, what was the town even thinking: building infrastructure in a wetland and flood zone without expecting minor inconveniences?

So, why are the town of Killington and state of Vermont determined to make the only “living” portion of Ottauquechee River a “dead” river? The river section along Route 4 to the Quechee Dam is “dead,” meaning no fish or wildlife abound there due to poor management. The permitted river section in Killington (from the intersection of Routes 4 and 100 to River Road) is the only portion that is “alive” with wildlife and trout. Why would the state allow this destruction?

It’s therefore obvious the town and state have implemented this river management plan in the complete absence of knowledge about the river itself. These five dams are not the issue, yet they just assume they are. For example, the dam the town wants to remove west of the recreation field. Does the state and town understand the river itself is the issue, not the dams by the tree line? It’s therefore obvious an in-field river inspection has never been performed, the likes of which would have pointed this out. In fact, it’s not one dam as the permit states but two, in separate river channels. The permit doesn’t address crossing the river with heavy equipment used to access the second dam.

The river channels must be re-established, but this still won’t lower water levels along this section. The river is only 1-2 feet deep before the river channels end and give way to subsequent river channels 2 to 8 feet deep. The dam the permit tags for removal holds the water level at close to regular high water marks just one foot above stream level. After heavy rains, the water table does increase for a couple days but returns to regular levels quickly thereafter.

Another issue worth noting is that without beaver baffle(s) on the big dam by Valley Park Road Bridge, there is no way to control the water level or maintain a steady flow of water. A beaver baffle will also solve the yearly blue green algae bloom, allowing water to flow when levels are too low to flow over the dam. Unfortunately, the permit doesn’t reference any type of plan to address these algae blooms. The beaver baffles also help with the aquifer, a feature the town and residents desperately need given the forthcoming new village and pump locations. These pumps will lower the aquafer, thus lowering the river level including residents well water.

Elsewhere, what plans are in place to address when new beavers move in? Or, perhaps, does the state plan on eradicating the entire beaver population from the town of Killington, especially since they permit trapping in the town year-round? This policy works against the VT Fish & Game department’s mission: “The conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont. Other challenges include providing quality fish and wildlife-based recreation…”

Ultimately, this eradication will spark outrage all over Vermont and conceivably even out of state. Town trapping proposals are nothing but a short-term solution, as history dictates this trapping doesn’t work and the beaver population will persist no matter what.

It’s important to remember that the design of our roads creates flooding, which is why new roads are built to account for flood waters; for example, with respect to the beaver dam by Valley Park Road and the bridge right below it, that bridge and road bank work together to create a dam. Thus, River Road basin and the Valley Park property both flood. New road construction doesn’t allow for debris to be dumped up to the river bank bridge, narrowing the river channel. Instead, the longer bridge allows the river channel to flow free (restricted at the flood stage). If the town of Killington is seriously worried about flooding and mitigating damage to roads and property, the only solution is a combination of beaver baffles with new bridges. Pictured below is just one example of a new bridge designed with flooding in mind as well as an outdated bridge.

There is no reason the town, state, land owners, fisherman, wildlife watchers and kayakers can’t come to a compromise in this regard, and after 50 years spent trapping and removing beaver dams, one would believe the town of Killington would realize this is not the way to solve the issue at hand.

Edit: John Keough, Bridgewater, Founder & guide Appalachian Trail Adventures, Inc.

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