University of Vermont

Getting my Hands Dirty and My Feet Wet: My Summer Working for the Winooski Conservation District

Alex Marcucci assessing a stream during her summer internship with Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District
Alex Marcucci assessing a stream during her summer internship with Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District

This summer, I worked for the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District (WNRCD) as their watershed steward intern. I had the opportunity to get involved in many different projects with various organizations in Chittenden and Washington Counties doing both field and lab work. I went into the summer with the desire to focus on ecological restoration projects, which was inspired by my experiences in the ENSC 201 course but ended up working on much more than that.

At the beginning of the summer, I was involved in various tasks such as replanting struggling local rain gardens, making rain barrels to be sold to residents of the area, and setting up the WNRCD's storm water filtration experiment in South Burlington. My work quickly progressed to a more independent project in which I used aerial imagery in ArcGIS to identify land parcels within the Huntington River and Indian Brook watersheds where riparian buffers are lacking. After selecting and mapping the worst parcels, I found the owner contact information and wrote a letter to the landowners and included an informational sheet on riparian buffers to be sent out in conjunction with the letter. The goal of the project was to establish contact with the landowners and, in the near future, restore as many buffers as possible within these watersheds, depending on interest and available funding.

The next major project I worked on was conducting habitat assessments in the Dog River watershed. These assessments involved walking 250-foot reaches of several tributaries to Dog River and assessing each for many factors, including channel alteration, sediment deposition, riparian buffer condition, and more. The ultimate goal of this project was to identify the reaches in the worst condition and begin planning restoration practices for their improvement. I spent the month of July doing a few long days a week of assessments, and although gathering data was the primary goal, it involved a lot of beautiful and interesting stream walks in different parts of Vermont that I had never been to before. Of everything I did with the WNRCD, the stream work was my favorite.

In order to get more experience in the many components of ecological restoration projects, I had a couple days of fieldwork with a monitoring specialist from Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Department. We did bird monitoring at previously planted buffer restoration sites (birds are a good indicator of wildlife habitat quality) in the Georgia area, and later tree monitoring for survivorship and health at other planted sites. Also, I prepared a planting plan for a property in Northfield that will have a riparian buffer planted this fall.

In the end, I have come away from my summer with the WNRCD feeling very grateful for the experiences I have had. All of my hard work has been very rewarding and meaningful for me and hopefully will bring about real changes and successful restoration projects for the watersheds in which I worked. I feel that the District does not owe me any thanks for the work I have done this summer, but rather I owe my employers all the thanks for these experiences, which I believe have better prepared me for my desired future career in the field of ecological restoration.

The WNRCD is a local non-profit organization, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in getting involved with some awesome environmental projects to contact Justin Kenney at Justin.Kenney@vt.nacdnet.net or visit http://www.vacd.org/winooski/index.shtml. Volunteers are always needed!