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UVM’s Natural Nine

By Kevin Foley Article published April 27, 2005

In anticipation of late spring and summer outings, however soggy the recent weather, the view spoke with Rick Paradis, a lecturer in the Environmental Program and manager of UVM’s natural areas, about the diversity and delights of the university’s lands.

From bogs to wild forests to urban parks, from Shelburne’s impressive pond to Mt. Mansfield’s summit, university-owned natural areas run the gamut. Paradis says of the collection, “If I had to hand pick sites to represent the full diversity of landscapes of habitats in Vermont, I’d come up with a list very much like our nine natural areas. But our system was not so much by design, most of these areas came to us by accident at various points.”

As manager of the system, Paradis raises funds, takes phone calls from faculty and the general public interested in using the various areas for research or recreation, helps organize trail maintenance and speaks at Act 250 hearings. The work is informed by his abiding passion for the land.

Asked about his favorite UVM natural area, Paradis demurs, saying, “It depends on the day of the week.” And then he describes a recent late-winter business trip to Mansfield’s university-owned summit, Vermont’s highest peak.

“A couple of weeks ago, the mountain was still locked in the throes of winter. Icy. But it was great to be there on a late winter, late afternoon, with the sun setting and slanting and the alpenglow glowing everywhere.”

Brief profiles of the nine areas follow, occasionally with comments from Paradis. The descriptions are adapted from fuller versions online at UVM Natural Areas.

The nifty nine
Centennial Woods: The university’s most popular preserve is this hundred acre patch of mature conifer strands, mixed hardwoods, old fields, streams and wetlands tucked into an easily accessible corner of Burlington. “I’ll often take my classes through the woods, and on a nice fall weekday it’s not unusual for us to pass five or six other class groups,” says Paradis. “You see all the ones you’d expect — biology, environmental studies, geology — and some you wouldn’t, like literature.”
Location: Parking located off East Avenue (off Main Street)

Mt. Mansfield: Consisting of over 400 acres along the ridgeline of Vermont's highest mountain, the area is located in the towns of Underhill and Stowe and harbors the largest expanse of alpine tundra in the state. This community, along with the adjacent subalpine heath krummholz and several alpine bogs, contains some of the rarest plants in Vermont. More than 45,000 visitors a year hit the summit, via toll road, gondola and trail.
Location: The toll road and gondola are located at Stowe Mountain Resort. Numerous hiking trails maintained by the Green Mountain Club also climb to the ridge from both the Stowe and Underhill sides of the mountain.

Shelburne Pond: The H. Laurence Achilles Natural Area at the pond consists of nearly 1,000 acres of uplands and wetlands along the shores of the largest undeveloped body of water remaining in the Champlain Valley. The land was gradually acquired through the efforts of the Nature Conservancy and the generosity of H. Laurence Achilles. Rocky shores and limestone cliffs form the border around the pond; neighboring wetlands are rich in wildlife and include swamp forests, sedge meadows, cattail marshes, and bogs.
Location: East of Spear Street on Irish Hill Road/Pond Road. Follow signs to state fishing access off the dirt road.

Pease Mountain: This low (800 ft.) but prominent hill in Charlotte is a twin of sorts to the better known Mt. Philo. After walking across a manicured soccer field, a rough dirt trail winds first through a rich forest of hardwoods up into a drier, sparser summit dotted with hickories separated by meadows. “It’s a chance to see the kinds of forest communities you don’t see at Centennial Woods and East Woods,” says Paradis. UVM students regularly spend stints at the Charlotte Central School as visiting naturalists teaching children about their neighboring forest.
Location: From Route 7 south, turn left at Ferry Road and turn right at the stop sign onto Hinesburg Road. The school is on the right after about three-quarters of a mile. Park next to the Quonset hut and look for the trailhead across the athletic field.

Colchester Bog: Located along the shore of Lake Champlain, this 175 acre natural area consists of open peatland, shrub and tree dominated swamps, open water areas called lags, sand dunes and upland sites. The bog began forming about 9,000 years ago, and the accumulated peat now averages three meters in depth with some areas exceeding six meters. A boardwalk and floating deck lets visitors explore the bog without getting soaked or damaging the fragile wetland moss and sedge.
Location: From Burlington, take Route 127 north for 5 miles. Bear left onto Porters Point Road near the drive-in theater. After 1.2 miles turn left on to Airport Road (towards Colchester Point). After a short drive, turn right into Colchester Airport Park. Park in the gravel lot. Walk across the ball field towards the cedar posts and the old runway. Follow the runway to a short trail into the woods and the beginning of the boardwalk. Cyclists and pedestrians can take the Burlington bikepath north to reach the bog.

Concord Woods: UVM’s least-visited natural area is also one of its most rewarding to visitors. “When I send people there, they come back really surprised,” Paradis. It’s not that the woods — 100 acres on a Northeast Kingdom hillside that haven’t been logged or managed in a century — are unusual, but they stand out in the area. “When you get in there deep enough, the forest has this sense of being a place that hasn’t been touched for a while. There’s a primeval quality,” Paradis adds. That sensation is heightened by the difficulty of getting there.
Location: Take Route 2 out of St. Johnsbury to North Concord. Take the road leading up to Miles Mountain opposite the general store, and look for the woods and a place to pull over and park safely. There are no trails in the woods.

East Woods: This 40-acre mixed hardwood-conifer forest is convenient to town and campus and offers a self-guided interpretive trail designed and built by UVM students. A small stream, Potash Brook, flows through the property.
Location: Take Spear Street south from Burlington and turn right at Swift Street. The woods are about half a mile on the right with a small pull-off parking area.

Molly Bog: This classic Northeastern kettlehole bog in Morristown offers open water tucked into an evergreen forest. The 35-acre natural area includes a spruce-fir swamp and an adjacent hardwood forest. A number of university scientists have studied the area.
Location: Because of Molly Bog’s lack of trails and ecological sensitivity, it is closed for use by the general public.

Redstone Quarry: This three-acre retired quarry nestled in a South End neighborhood provided much of the redstone that built Burlington in the 19th century. The university has owned the area since 1958, and it is primarily used for geology classes. But the quarry is a reasonably diverse ecosystem, with wildflowers, plants and a wide variety of birds and amphibians.
Location: East of Route 7 at the end of Hoover Street, with a small parking area on the right.