This year Vermont has made water quality a priority, with a particular focus on Lake Champlain. But it’s going to take a lot of boots on the ground to fix runoff problems along all of the rivers and streams that flow into the big lake. One source for this hard labor is the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.
Along the Elmore Branch of the Lamoille River, a crew of young adults from the VYCC is trying to keep an old road from slowly washing into the river.
Matt Haddock is a 20-year-old from Richmond and a student at Lyndon State. At school he’s a psychology major. But in Elmore he’s moving rocks and crushing stone. And he’s learning more than environmental theory and hard labor skills: Camping and working with a VYCC crew requires teamwork, consensus building and problem solving skills.
Haddock says stabilizing a culvert starts with finding the right rocks and digging them up by hand.
"Then, after we dig them out, we bring them all the way over to the point where we’re going to decide how we’re going to match them to the rest of the wall," Haddock explains. "And that usually takes a lot of debating and a lot of arguing about how exactly we’re going to go about that, because there’s a lot of different strategies and a lot of different ways of how we could go about that."
This section of Eagle Ledge Road is now classified as a trail and closed to motorized vehicles. The VYCC crew is stabilizing the road around a large culvert with big rocks they find on site. And they’re crushing up other rocks to fill the gaps and filter stormwater runoff before it flows into the river.
Just down the road, other crew members are digging runoff channels along a low-lying section. Caroline Corsones is from Mendon. She’s a senior at Notre Dame, and this summer she’s a VYCC crew leader.
"We’re making an open path for the water so it doesn’t sit and stagnate and absorb a lot of the phosphorus from the road," Corsones says. "Basically, if we can make channels throughout this road, and channels out that are nice and armored, the water will flow freely and it will be water without any sediment. The rock will catch the sediment. So it will just be free water going back into the river."
Corsones also makes sure her crew has the long-view of why they are doing this work.
"Right now I’m digging out this ditch and making it very, very gradual so that water will freely, basically come off the road without taking any phosphorus with it," she explains. "Because when there’s runoff of phosphorus into the Lamoille River it will cause algae bloom in Lake Champlain, which will choke out a lot of the native species. So, that’s basically the long-run of why we’re digging ditches right now."
Crushing rocks and digging ditches sounds like punitive work that might be assigned to a chain gang, but these VYCC crew members aren’t complaining.
"Actually, for some people it’s really fun," said 20-year-old crew member Tylar Smth, of Barre. He said he is one of those people enjoying breaking up rocks.
The Elmore project is funded by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Naomi Galimidi, the development director for the VYCC, says the corps is a natural fit for the state’s water quality priorities.
"The State of Vermont knows what needs to be done, and it’s a matter partly of finding the labor force to do the work, says Galimidi. "And VYCC is really committed to being part of that labor force and also being a collaborating partner with all of the watershed groups across the state."
Once this crew is finished in Elmore, they’ll pack up their campsite at Elmore State Park and move on to a new project in another part of the state.