Summertime on the Burlington/Colchester Causeway - Bridging Science & Recreation

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No matter why you care about Lake Champlain, we want you to know more about it! Each summer, Lake Champlain Sea Grant partners with Local Motion on the Burlington/Colchester Causeway to educate and engage with visitors about Lake Champlain. 

Meet up with Lake Champlain Sea Grant staff 11-3pm each Friday and Saturday from Memorial Day through late August at the bike ferry crossing. Use this map to find your way there by bike: Once there, you can learn about the lake's natural and cultural history, geology, and ecology, its challenges, and recreational and stewardship opportunities.

Little Lake Lessons 

Little Lake Lesson One - It's All About Poop Attention Swimming Area Closed sign

Did You Know?

  • All warm-blooded animals – including us – have bacteria in their guts to help digest their food.

Why Do We Care?

  • Beach managers look for these bacteria in lake water to see if there is poop in the water.
  • Most of these bacteria are not harmful to us.
  • Instead, they serve as indicators that disease-causing organisms that also live in our guts might be present.

What You Can Do

  • Avoid swimming within 24 hours of a rainstorm since that is when poop is most likely in the water.
  • Know how to recognize if a beach is closed.



Little lake Lesson Two - Formation of Lake Champlain Map of Champlain Sea 10,000 years ago

Did You Know?

  • Standing here (on the Causeway) 20,000 years ago during the last ice age, you would be under an ice sheet over one mile thick, and all of the region's highest mountains would be under the ice.

Why Do We Care? 

  • The forces exhibited on the land during the last ice age created the Champlain Valley we know today. 
  • The melting and retreating glaciers carved out the valley and created Lake Vermont, and later the Champlain Sea, two different bodies of water that predate Lake Champlain. 

What You Can Do

  • Understanding the history of the lake and the geologic forces still at play is critical to lake management. 





Little lake Lesson Three - Microplastics in Our Waterways

Did You Know? Microplastics of all shapes and sizes

  • Washing an average-sized load of laundry can release over 700,000 microfibers into our waterways.
  • Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, but those that are less than five millimeters in length (or about the size of a sesame seed) are called “microplastics.”

Why Do We Care?

  • These tiny particles easily pass through wastewater treatment systems and end up in surface waters, posing a potential threat to aquatic life.

What You Can Do

  • Wash your synthetic clothes less often and make sure it is in a ¾ or full load.



Little lake Lesson Four - Know Your Native Land Map of northeastern United States showing land areas inhabited by Indigenous Peoples

Did You Know?

  • The earliest archeological evidence of Indigenous people living in the vicinity of Lake Champlain was 11,000 years ago.
  • Abenaki people call Lake Champlain “Pitawbagw,” meaning “the waters between.”

Why Do We Care?

  • While Indigenous people were the first humans to inhabit this region, European explorers are often recognized for discovering “new” lands and waters.
  • Indigenous people are still members of our communities today and continue to share traditional ecological knowledge and to carry-on ancestral traditions.

What You Can Do

  • Know the Indigenous groups from the land you are on – whether at home or traveling.
  • Learn a Lake Champlain creation story and how water, “nebi,” plays a role in the lives of members of some of Vermont’s Abenaki tribes at



Little lake Lesson Five - Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtles

Did You Know? Spiny Softshell Turtle floating in water

  • The eastern spiny softshell turtle species lives nowhere else on earth except in the northeastern part of Lake Champlain and in the Lamoille River!

Why Do We Care?

  • This species’ nesting and basking habitat is being reduced by shoreline development.
  • Sometimes boats hit these turtles or anglers catch them, impacting their nesting success.
  • As a result of these and other factors, this turtle population is threatened in both Vermont and Quebec.

What You Can Do

  • Know how to recognize these turtles by their pointed snouts and flattened, leathery bodies.
  • If you see these turtles, stay at least 300 feet (100 meters) away and keep pets away from them.
  • Allow aquatic vegetation to grow near shore and maintain a natural shoreline to aid their nesting, foraging, and basking success.
  • Consider making a contribution to promote conservation programs for these turtles.



How much mercury is found in different types of fish in a diagram

Little lake Lesson Six - Mercury in Fish

Did You Know?

  • Fish in Lake Champlain may have mercury in them that can be harmful to your health if eaten too often.

Why Do We Care?

  • Mercury enters the air through burning of fossil fuels such as wood, oil and coal, or other wastes.
  • Once in the air, mercury can travel thousands of miles and ultimately settles on the land and in surface water bodies.
  • Once mercury is in the water, it is transformed to a type of mercury (methylmercury) that accumulates in aquatic organisms including fish.
  • Bigger fish and fish with certain types of diets accumulate more mercury than others.
  • When people eat too many fish that are high in mercury, they can suffer brain and nervous system damage, resulting in issues with learning, coordination, vision, and speech.
  • Mercury poisoning is especially of concern for children and pregnant women.

What You Can Do







Common Tern Little lake Lesson Seven - Birds on Lake Champlain: The Common Tern

Did You Know?

  • More than 300 bird species breed, overwinter, or pass through the Lake Champlain basin as they migrate!
  • The common tern population is a conservation success story in the basin! It recovered from 50 pairs in 1988 to about 250 pairs recently.
  • However, the common tern remains endangered in Vermont and threatened in New York.  
  • Each summer, common tern nest on small islands in Lake Champlain about 15 miles from the Causeway bike ferry, traveling 5,500 miles from their wintering spot in Argentina and Chile!

Why Do We Care?

  • Populations of many bird species are in decline, mostly due to habitat destruction and declining water quality, particularly from persistent toxic pollutants.
  • Birds are important to food web ecology and nutrient cycling.
  • They help maintain diversity of other organisms, control pests, and act as pollinators and seed dispersers depending on their diet.

What You Can Do Common Tern in flight

  • Learn how to identify common tern by their white body, black hood, and bright orange feet and bill and/or by their dances and dives in the air.
  • Stay clear of buoys that mark nesting sites nearby the islands.
  • Leash your dog in the vicinity of the Delta Park at the mouth of the Winooski River between mid-July and late September—the time period when these birds are active in that area.
  • Visit and to learn more.




Sea lamprey mouth Did You Know?

  • Sea lamprey are jawless fish that appeared on Earth before dinosaurs!
  • Their appearance has not changed much since then.
  • Sea lamprey suck the blood of other fish using their suction disk mouth filled with sharp teeth.

Why Do We Care?

  • Sea lamprey are a nuisance species in Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes.
  • They are parasites of recreational fish such as salmon and trout.
  • A control program maintains sea lamprey numbers in Lake Champlain at an acceptable level.
  • Without this control, the populations of fish that people like to catch would be reduced.

Sea lamprey What You Can Do

  • Know that three other lamprey species live in the Lake Champlain basin. They are not harmful.
  • Recognize that sea lamprey are not a nuisance species everywhere.




Map of Lake Champlain basin watersheds Did You Know?

  • More than 14,700 miles (23,657 km) of streams and rivers empty into Lake Champlain.
  • Lake Champlain drains northward into the Richelieu River in Quebec.
  • The area of land that drains to Lake Champlain (called its basin or watershed) is 19 times as big as the lake itself.

Why Do We Care?

  • Lake Champlain serves as a home to more than 90 species of fish and as a drinking water source for nearly 150,000 people.
  • What happens on the land in the Lake Champlain basin impacts water quality and quantity in both the United States and Canada.
  • Floodwaters and water pollution impact communities along Lake Champlain tributaries, the lake itself, and the Richelieu River.

What You Can Do

  • Know the watershed in which you live.
  • Support the protection of wetlands to help slow the flow of water entering streams and rivers in the basin.
  • Take action on your own property to limit runoff to local waterways that drain to Lake Champlain. Find out how at




Did You Know?

  • Lake Champlain’s narrow shape and position between mountain ranges result in winds commonly blowing from the south.
  • These winds push water to the north and when they recede the lake sloshes back to the south.
  • This creates an oscillation of the lake called a seiche (pronounced saysh).

Why Do We Care?

  • Usually, the surface seiche changes the water level at the north and south ends of the lake by about 4 inches (10 cm).
  • During high water periods, the seiche can amplify flooding impacts at both ends of the lake.
  • In addition, surface waves formed by winds can cause added erosion along the shore.

What You Can Do

  • If you live or are recreating near the lakeshore during times of flooding, be aware of the influence of winds on lake water levels and wave action.

Diagram showing how wind makes water rise



Little Lake Lesson Eleven - The State of the Lake

Cover of State of Lake Report for Lake Champlain Did You Know?

  • Lake Champlain receives a regular report card!
  • The Lake Champlain Basin Program produces the State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report every three years to update the public on scientific data and trends.

Why Do We Care? 

  • The diverse ecosystems, working landscapes, and vibrant communities that inspire and sustain us depend on clean water.
  • The report focuses on the Lake’s condition, threats to its health, and progress being made to improve water quality and habitat.
  • It highlights individual and community efforts to protect and restore the natural and cultural resources of the region.

What You Can Do

  • Take action to reduce pollution and help Lake Champlain (e.g., mow your grass to 3 inches, limit pesticides, fertilizers, and salt).  
  • Get involved! Join a lake or river organization, volunteer, or participate in community-based scientific research.
  • Get informed! Read the State of the Lake Report.




Black and white Secchi Disk dropped over side of boat into lake Did You Know?

  • Volunteers have sampled water quality near the causeway with the Vermont Lay Monitoring Program since 1979.
  • Volunteers are supported by Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and Lake Champlain Sea Grant.

Why Do We Care?

  • Water clarity has decreased near the causeway since monitoring began.
  • This means that what we are doing on the land is causing harm to the lake.
  • Sediments and nutrients flowing into the lake cause the growth of cyanobacteria and algae that, together, reduce water clarity.
  • Cyanobacteria blooms are fed by phosphorus from lake sediments and land uses in the watershed.

Graph of Secchi disk measures What You Can Do