June 11, Starksboro — Dairy farmers Eric and Jane Clifford worked with the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to protect 1.7 miles of Lewis Creek frontage on their farm.

The protections create a 33-acre “river corridor area”—land where the river can meander and change its course naturally, without disruption or constraint. While most of the land can still be farmed, the river cannot be dredged, and no structures can be built along the banks. In addition, land within 50 feet of the river must be kept naturally vegetated with trees and shrubs.

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—to reduce flood and erosion risks, and to protect water quality. As a result, farmers, government agencies, and conservation groups have been addressing ways to better prepare for floods and to promote clean water through river corridor conservation.

Over 30 miles long, Lewis Creek runs through public and private forests as well as agricultural land in Addison and Chittenden counties, and ultimately flows into Lake Champlain in Hawkins Bay. The state has identified Lewis Creek as a priority stream for clean water protection. This conserved river corridor on the Cliffords’ farm is an important step toward this effort.

“Back in 2001, when I started working with [the state] as a recent college grad, we…walked the entire creek from stem to stern,” recalled Shannon Pytlik, a river scientist with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. “The stream section where the Clifford Farm is located stood out in my mind as a place in the watershed where, due to the soils and geology, the creek was especially susceptible to instability and water quality issues. …Much progress has been made over the years, due to the cooperation of the Cliffords, and now a river corridor easement and a 50-foot riparian buffer will forever protect the river and its banks.”

Jane and Eric operate a medium-sized dairy farm with modern infrastructure. They have 235 cows and about 200 young stock. Eric is the eighth generation to run the farm.

“The Cliffords are very conservation-minded farmers,” said Al Karnatz of the Vermont Land Trust. “They’ve been working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. For example, they recently installed a new manure handling system, they cover crop all their corn land to reduce erosion, and now they’ve gone a step further by ensuring the integrity of the river. We are grateful to have the opportunity to protect this farm and Lewis Creek, thanks to the Cliffords.”

Funding for the river corridor easement was provided by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service also provided funding for a conservation easement on surrounding land. All told, 190 acres were protected.