Students clean up brook

Surprising items among debris

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

When a collection of six University of Vermont seniors first visited the stretch of the Muddy Brook corridor they had been assigned to study, it was winter and snow blanketed the brook’s steep, eroded banks.

Therefore, it was a shock when the students arrived in April, after the snow had melted, and discovered the garbage that was littered across the land. The soda cans and fast food bags were no surprise, but the mufflers, sink, refrigerator, doors and automobile took them aback.

“This place is gross,” Liz Harrison, one of the group members, said last week. “I don’t know how some of that stuff got down there.”

The students returned last week to clean up as much of the garbage as they could. The group was one of five in Professor J. Ellen Marsden’s conservation biology class to study portions of the Muddy Brook this spring. Harrison’s group was responsible for the stretch extending north from U.S. Route 2 to the Winooski River.

The students’ clean-up plan was designed to improve conditions for wildlife and water quality along the Muddy Brook, which divides Williston and South Burlington.

The brook serves as a wildlife corridor, though the erosion of the banks and the presence of eight roads that cross the brook can make for less than ideal travel. Harrison said the group encountered a flock of turkeys and a deer when it visited in the winter. It saw two dead beavers this spring.

Harrison, Leo Velez, Sarah Curtiss, Andrew Eberly, Ryan Boylan and Raphael Okutoro arrived at 9 a.m. last Thursday and began hauling the trash from the nearby woods.

The students had performed an inventory of the garbage on April 17 and had utilized it, along with the aid of Public Works Director Neil Boyden, to secure a $300 grant from the Chittenden Solid Waste District for disposal of the collected refuse. A short video of the students’ inventory of the trash can be seen at

The bulk of the trash was found on the banks near U.S. Route 2 and a nearby shopping center. Curtiss said the brook’s banks are much less affected closer to the Winooski.

The students did not find the refrigerator, nor did they attempt to remove the automobile. The sharp, often muddy incline of the bank made it difficult to access some of the trash and to carry away the larger items. Some of the debris deposited in the area likely ends up being funneled down the banks into the brook, destined to be carried to the Winooski River.

A seven-mile portion of the Muddy Brook is included on the state’s list of impaired waterways because of issues with toxics, nutrients and temperature. The impairment is attributed to land development and the lack of buffers.

The students speculated about where some of the trash might have originated, but emphasized they did not know for sure. They described watching a snowplow shove large amounts of snow from a parking lot down the South Burlington bank of the brook on one of their visits, carrying untold amounts of debris.

Harrison said removing the trash would not likely affect the fate of the wildlife that frequent the Muddy Brook corridor. However, she said, the group’s work might raise awareness of the issues at the brook.

“We felt like if we got things cleaned up and looking better here, then people might get interested in what’s going on in this area and taking better care of it,” Harrison said.