Students dig deep to preserve Allen Brook (5/28/09)

May 28, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Along the banks of the rippling Allen Brook, Williston fifth grader Amelia Dodds stamped down on her shovel. Digging a hole along the stream, Dodds tossed piles of heavy dirt to the side. She then took a 3-year-old sapling of a silky dogwood tree and planted it in the freshly dug hole.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Fifth grade student Carlos Pino inspects a willow tree that he planted next to Allen Brook Tuesday afternoon.

“This is kind of hard,” Dodds said Tuesday afternoon as she packed down the dark brown dirt around the tree’s roots. “I thought the ground would be sandier.”

But Dodds and her classmates said the hard work was worth it. At the end of the day, she and her classmates in Tad Dippel’s Full House science class were looking to plant more than 100 trees and shrubs along Allen Brook.

All around the impaired waterway’s banks, students planted an assortment of native trees and shrubs, hoping to one day return the Allen Brook’s surroundings to their natural state.

“Our goal is to get the bank to stabilize and provide shade,” Dippel said, shovel in hand as he stood in the bright sunshine.

The tree plantings were part of a coordinated effort between Dippel’s class, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Vermont Watershed Alliance, and Williston’s Planning Department. Jessica Andreoletti, a Williston planner, said getting the students to help restore the stream would not only help the town, but also create an excellent real-world lesson.

Spread along the banks of the Allen Brook were differently colored flags. Each flag corresponded to a certain tree students would plant. Orange and red flags placed in the floodplain represented spots for boxelder and willow trees. High on the banks north of the stream, blue flags represented the locations of future red oak trees.

Andreoletti said the trees chosen for planting will stand up to environmental forces along the Allen Brook, such as beaver activity and floods.

“This area is going to flood, but all these plants can handle it,” Andreoletti said.

All the trees, paid for by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, came from a conservation nursery at the Intervale in Burlington, Andreoletti said.

Before any of Dippel’s fifth and sixth grade students started digging around, Frank Pendleton, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demonstrated the best ways of digging and planting. Pendleton told the students that planting saplings instead of seeds would make it easier for the trees to thrive.

“The grass comes in so thick that it’s so hard for the trees to come back,” Pendleton said.

Students discovered how tough the grass was, and how deep its roots ran, as they began planting trees. Student Kyle Salomon worked a particularly tough patch of ground before planting a red oak. Salomon said he’s had some experience in planting trees in previous community projects.

“I’m kind of used to it, you could say, but I haven’t done it in three or four years,” Salomon said, adding he had been learning about river ecosystems recently in Dippel’s class.

Dippel said in 10 to 15 years, the planted trees should start maturing enough to better protect the Allen Brook. The trees will add improved filtration for the stream, and provide shade to the grasses, cooling down the Allen Brook’s water temperature. It will also create new habitats for birds and small mammals, he said.

Student Loran Stearns thought she might return in 10 years to see how her hard work paid off. Along with Tashia Pashby-Rockwood, Stearns planted a tiny willow into the floodplain.

“We’ve been learning a lot about river restoration,” Stearns said.

Pendleton was pleased with the progress students made on Tuesday and appreciated their enthusiasm. He hoped to get more students back to Allen Brook to remove invasive species, including buckthorn and honeysuckle, from its banks at a later date.