December 20, Richford/Berkshire — Organic vegetable and berry farmer Dean Stockman of Green Heron Farm worked with the Vermont Land Trust, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy to permanently protect over half a mile of Missisquoi River frontage.

The protected river corridor—space where the river can meander and change its course naturally, without disruption or constraint—spans 35 acres and includes 10 acres of wetlands that have additional protections. The usable land can still be farmed but the river will not be dredged, and no structures will be built along the banks.

Dean’s farm is located at the end of Magoon Road off Route 105 in Richford and Berkshire. He first conserved the farm in 2003 with the Vermont Land Trust, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. In recent years, he noticed that the riverbank along the stretch of the Missisquoi on his land was being eroded. This was worrying because his farm fields run parallel to the river and are a short distance away from the water.

“Dean heard about river corridor conservation,” said Sumana Serchan of the Vermont Land Trust, “so he reached out to us to discuss how to protect the river and water quality.” Dean had already begun planting trees along the riverbank, because maintaining a naturally vegetated strip of land on either side of the river is important for reducing flood and erosion risks, and for water quality.

“We found Dean’s farm was within the Missisquoi River watershed priority area identified by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation,” added Sumana. “What started out as a visit on a winter’s day led to many more discussions and visits. We finally ended up deciding to protect the river corridor and wetlands. As part of that, there will be a 50-foot-wide forested buffer with a mix of old and new trees.”

Funding for this river corridor conservation was provided by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and by The Nature Conservancy under a grant from Keurig Green Mountain, Inc.

Dean worked with the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to plant native vegetation in the buffer, including silver maple, red oak, speckled alder, cottonwood and elderberry. He had to adapt his land use because of the river corridor project but was committed to protecting the area: “This river corridor project is crucial for the farm’s future,” he explained, “because the forested buffer between the river and my farm makes the farm less vulnerable. The forested buffer will also add more species diversity to the land.”

Shade from trees benefits aquatic species such as trout that need cooler water. Also, organic matter from vegetation will provide nutrition to aquatic life, and animals will be able to move more easily through the forested cover between the water and the land.

In the past, embankments were often built to straighten rivers. Large storms, such as Tropical Storm Irene, showed that rivers need natural floodplains—space to accommodate the rise and fall of water levels. As a result, farmers, state and federal agencies, and conservation groups have begun addressing flood resiliency and water quality concerns through river corridor conservation.

“Investments in land protection such as protecting river corridors and establishing river buffers are improving water quality and reducing flood and erosion risks,” said Sumana. “The Missisquoi flows into Lake Champlain, so protecting this land along the river will also improve water quality in the lake.”

This is the third river corridor conservation project done in partnership with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Vermont Land Trust, and the Nature Conservancy with support from Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. To date, this partnership has protected 129 acres in critical watersheds through river corridor easements.