(The science and history of the Boltonville section of the Wells River watershed)

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Article by Alice Allen, co-owner of A-lens Farm, Newbury, VT
FARMING BESIDE A RIVER BRINGS WITH IT A CERTAIN RESPONSIBILITY. It is the river that gives the farm its wealth! To protect and share that wealth becomes a life-long learning process. On this farm, as with many other river valley farms, some of the buildings were built in flood plain. A few folks from the generation who farmed here and weathered the flood of '27 are still with us today, and they have told us about it. If a flood of that magnitude occurred today, would this barn stand? Would the heifer barn be washed away? No one knows for sure.

WHAT WE DO KNOW IS THAT IT IS WORTH PAYING ATTENTION TO THE LESSONS THAT THE RIVER TEACHES US EVERY DAY. The soils along the meadow on this farm are predominantly Merrimack, Hadley, Hartland and Winooski with varying degrees of slope as you leave the flood plain. They are moderately to well-drained which is rather important when the river does leave its banks. Within the last decade or so, the Wells River has become much more dynamic than most folks can remember from previous decades. 1989 was the first time, in the recollection of local "oldtimers" that the Wells had flooded in late July or August. This meadow went under water on the last Sunday of July, 1989. We have learned since then to use very portable fences! With a few hours of heavy rain, the Wells can rise from a mere trickle (where you can walk across barefooted and not get your feet wet) to flood stage. It's a good thing we don't have a corn crop on the meadow, or we would be in serious trouble.
WE PAY ATTENTION TO THE RIVER AND THE WILDLIFE who make their home here and move our fences to higher ground at the first sign of rising water. When we see the woodchucks leaving their burrows we move our fences! As the river rises quickly, it also goes down quickly too. The flood is apt to leave debris in the grass: sand, sticks, leaves and mud. It is amazing though, how a gentle rain can easily wash the debris from the growing grass. The buffer zone of trees and bushes along the river's edge helps to collect much of the debris traveling along with the flood waters. If we had been growing corn on the meadow, the damage and resulting loss of feed could have been severe.
IN THE WEE HOURS OF AN EARLY FALL MORNING, UNDER A GLORIOUSLY FULL MOON, there is hardly a more beautiful sight than watching a herd of cows peacefully grazing in the bright moonlight above the sparkling river as small wisps of fog begin to form and rise off the meadow. We dairy farmers are very lucky to live and work this close to Nature. We are trying to become better stewards of the river and surrounding land. We have learned to keep the cows from wandering into the river, eroding the banks and depositing their manure in the water. We have worked to restore the riparian buffers. And, we have decided not to "till" the floodplain soil but to pasture it instead.
AS LONG AS WE CONTINUOUSLY SEEK ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS OF THOUGHTFUL STEWARDSHIP, as long as we keep mindful of our responsibility to protect and respect the river, as long as we share what the river teaches us with all those who are willing to listen, then we maybe can retain the privilege of farming in these fertile river valleys.
BLUE is funded by a Vermont Watershed Grant and supported by
the White River Natural Resources Conservation District