Fishing for aquatic knowledge of the Allen Brook (8/13/09)

Crews work to return waterway to natural state

Aug. 13, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Waders on, buckets ready and nets in hand, four young crewmembers from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps stepped into the Allen Brook on Monday morning. Their job was to help state and town workers determine the number of fish inhabiting the impaired stream that runs through Williston.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Department of Conservation workers Jim Deschler (left) and Rich Langdon wear generator packs, which provide the electricity that temporarily stuns fish for survey purposes.

Equipped with generators mounted on their backs, Rich Langdon and Jim Deschler from Vermont’s Department of Conservation placed long electric rods into the stream. They administered quick doses of electricity through the water, temporarily stunning any nearby fish in the Allen Brook. As fish floated to the surface, the VYCC crewmembers scooped the creatures into buckets.

“We’re going to miss some, so don’t be too concerned about it,” Langdon told the workers, who waded behind him collecting immobile fish.

“Mine’s still alive,” crewmember Hannah Gill cried out as she plucked a tiny minnow, flopping back into consciousness, from the Allen Brook.

“They should all be still alive,” Langdon replied.

After slowly walking the stream and collecting specimens of various fish, Langdon and his young researchers counted, then released their catch.

The work was part of an ongoing Allen Brook restoration project. Williston’s Environmental Planner Jessica Andreoletti, who has organized much of the Allen Brook restoration project, said the goal is to return the stream to the way it was before farmers began transforming the land 300 years ago.

Other projects along the brook have included tree plantings and riverbank restoration. In the spring, Williston Central School students in Tad Dippel’s science class helped the town by planting trees along the stream behind the Williston Fire Station — the same stretch of river where Monday’s fish count took place.

Further plantings and restoration work will continue for the next week and a half while VYCC crew members are in town. Members of the crew were looking forward to working in Williston after finishing two weeks restoring trails at the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, crew leader Brent Sawyer said. Planting trees and restoring rivers will be a different and varied challenge, he said.

“We’re excited about switching it up,” Sawyer said. “This a real productive group.”

During Monday’s fish count, Langdon, Deschler and the VYCC crew counted nine species of minnows, suckers and dace. Most of the fish collected came in at fewer than 6 inches in length. Andreoletti said she’d like to see a few larger fish species in the Allen Brook, and hopes that through further restoration work, they might return.

“The goal is to restore the river to what it used to be, but there’s no documentation that it was ever a trout stream,” Andreoletti said.

Before Vermont farmers began transforming the land for agriculture in the 1700s, the Allen Brook was a quiet and meandering stream banked by large willows and maple trees. As farms dominated Williston, farmers removed the trees for fields and straightened the Allen Brook’s path. The changes led to less shade for aquatic species, faster flowing water during rainstorms and, consequently, huge amounts of erosion, Andreoletti said.

Along a section of the Allen Brook adjacent to the Southridge neighborhood, stream restoration has already begun. Town crews removed large amounts of dirt, transforming a steep riverbank into a sloping one. Andreoletti said the work kept an untold amount of sediment out of the stream and will also allow the brook to create a more meandering course.

Later this week, VYCC crews will begin planting willow and red maple trees along the bank, which Andreoletti said are long-term “Band-Aids” for the Allen Brook. In the short term, the VYCC will install revetments along the banks to curb further erosion.

The fixes will go a long way toward creating natural shade for the Allen Brook, which will in turn cool the water. Thirty or 40 years from now, some of the planted trees will die off and fall into the stream, creating pools for wildlife.

As the Allen Brook returns to its natural state, larger fish may return and a more diverse habitat may take hold. Projects like Monday’s fish count will help town and state conservation workers understand the future of the Allen Brook, said Andreoletti.

“The whole river is the responsibility of Williston,” Andreoletti told the VYCC crewmembers Monday. “The work we’re going to do is going to make a huge difference.”