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Below The Surface

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spiny Softshell Turtle Release Event

This past October, Steve Parren, a biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife (VTFW), brought Spiny Softshell turtle hatchlings to ECHO that he had collected from nest sites which had been compromised or were vulnerable to predation. These hatchlings have since made their temporary home at ECHO under the care of ECHO’s Animal Care Department but it'll soon be time for these youngsters to head back out to the Lake (albeit a much larger Lake this year!).



On June 22, Lake level permitting, these youngsters will be released back into the wild in a cooperative effort between VTFW and ECHO to support this threatened species in Vermont. Members are invited to share in this incredibly rewarding and fun stewardship activity. The usual, optimal release site is currently inaccessible due to the continuing high Lake levels. As the release date approaches and (hopefully) the Lake level drops, we will determine the best possible site and/or an alternative date for releasing the turtles. There are a limited number of slots available for participation.

UPDATE JUNE 14, 2011 (via marketing department): The release date is confirmed as June 22. As in years past, ECHO members will be invited via an E-blast. This will go out any day now (week of June 12). Slots fill up quickly so check your email and respond by email. Each will be time stamped and we will call you to confirm the time and place. Thank you!

So long, fare well, and thank you.

June is always bittersweet for us at ECHO. We are gearing up for a busy summer season, welcoming camps, out of town guests and generally enjoying the beautiful ECHO deck, but it is also the time we say goodbye to many interns and volunteers, including the E-team, our environmental ambassadors.

The E-team spent the last 8 months at ECHO learning everything about the Ecology Culture History and Opportunity of the Basin and learning how to share this information in a fun and educational way with visitors.

As the E-Team coordinator, I am especially proud of the accomplishments of the E-team this year because we are now officially a part of the ASTC (Association for Science and Technology Centers) Youth Inspired Challenge. This initiative is inspired by President Obama’s goal to increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) knowledge in our nation’s youth. At ECHO we have cultivated a small community of young learners that is curious about the natural world and science, looks forward to a future education and career in science, and values education and dialogue on the issues. Congratulations E-team, and thank you for being leaders. You are the future of the Lake Champlain Basin!

Written by Kirsten Brewer, ECHO's Open Door Coordinator, Americorps State
(posted by Gerianne Smart, Director of Marketing and Communications)

Pictured: 2011 ECHO E-Team! © ECHO

Monday, May 30, 2011

Turtle Travel Time

Monday morning, on the commute in, I rescued my first turtle of the season: a painted turtle on Dorset Street near Pond Road. It was facing west, so I took it west into the brush along the road. It was easy enough to do since I was commuting on a motorcycle. Stop, bend down to pick it up, put it on the seat between my legs and drive off onto the shoulder. Probably the first motorcycle ride for the turtle. He pulled his head in when I picked him up and kept it in during the ride; I guess he had a helmet.

Whether or not we broke the helmet law, the annual rise in turtle travels is upon us. Tis the season when turtles start moving out of the water in search of the perfect substrate to lay their eggs. If you find a turtle wandering around and it’s in a bad location, like the middle of Dorset Street, take a moment, do a turtle a favor, and practice a little environmental stewardship: move the turtle to where it seems to be going, to a safer place. Always take it in the direction its going: if you take it back from where it came, it's very likely to turn around and try again.


Why did the Wood turtle Cross the Road?**

Why bother? Turtles are semi-aquatic omnivores. Young turtles consume aquatic invertebrates; things that can grow up to become the insects that buzz and bother us throughout the summer. I think we have enough of those; I'm fine with helping species that consume insects. On the flip side, though one should never flip a turtle, turtles are food for many of the more charismatic species we're more apt to get excited about: the warm, fuzzy or feathered species. Turtles are food for otters, raccoons, fox, coyotes and other mammals. Herons, egrets, birds of prey and other bird species also consume turtles. If you don't get green and environmental for sake of the turtles themselves, do it for the birds and the mammals. If that doesn't cut it, just do it to see how good you feel about it after you do it.

**Why did the wood turtle cross the road? You tell me!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Slow, Quick, Quick: The Flood Foxtrot

Mother Nature has clearly been dancing to her own rhythm this year. December's early and constant snow falls began our record breaking winter which didn't end until we had beaten almost every precipitation record on the books. January 2-3, 2010 ranks number one with 33.1" snowfall and the third highest occurred with the March "monster" on 6-7, 2011 with 25.8" of snow.

The gradual snow melt in March caused only minor flooding episodes, nothing unusual for a spring in the region --accept for the potholes and ruts that rerouted school buses and swallowed up grown adults. As a skier I was out enjoying some the best snow in my lifetime, putting in amazing spring skiing turns until the end of April. But while the skiers watched the snow melt run down the mountain streams and creeks we could see the rivers slowly expand over farm fields and dirt roads.

Mother Nature danced up one storm after another in April. According to the Vermont State Climate Office Climate Impact Summary Report for April there were frequent periods of rain on April, 4-5, 10-11, 16-17, 20, 23, and 25-28. With record and near record rainfall and flooding across portions of northern Vermont during the afternoon of April 26th into the early morning hours of April 27th. ECHO "temporarily" installed a flood cam on April 27th to keep track of waterfront flooding that we thought would only last a week or maybe two. Let's just say we have had to reinforce the duct tape and we certainly would have gigged up a better system had we known what we know now.

Now after over a month of flooded yards, rotting buildings, fish spawning in parking lots and battle weary communities, she picks up her pace. In just one night, May 26, 2011, Mother Nature hit this region with a massive rain dump to rival the 1927 flood. Rivers like the Winooski River in Montpelier jumped their banks at lighting speed. According to the National Weather Service table the Winooski River in Montpelier climbed from 5 feet at 7:15 pm on May 26, 2011 to 17.59 feet at 6:15am on May 27, 2011. That's 12.59 feet in less than 12 hours! Now that's a flash flood.

Amazingly, almost as fast as the river has risen, it is leveling off and receding. We know this is due to the high volume of raging water from all the rivers and streams heading down stream to Lake Champlain, already swollen over her banks at 102'+ for more than a month now. We'd hate to classify this as a "routine", but certainly we are all learning how to live with this high water by working together to make the best out of a tough situation. Meanwhile, we're hoping that Mother Nature hangs up her dancing shoes real soon and settles down for a nice, normal spring and summer.

Photo: May 26, 2011, Burlington's New North End flash floods when the storm drains can't keep up with the rain, (C) Julie Silverman/ECHO

Friday, May 20, 2011

ECHO's Impact on Pre-Service Teachers

Below is an excerpt from Jackie Stacey, a Junior and pre-service teacher from the Department of Education at St. Michael's College who took part in the Spring, 2011 semester of ECHO's Inquiry Science in the Schools project. Her commitment of 80 hours of practicum experience working directly with Burlington School District 3rd graders has had significant impact on her career trajectory. ECHO was lucky to have such a dedicated, emerging educator in our midst. We have grown from our association with Jackie and all the support staff and faculty at St. Michael's College.

Tracy Truzansky,
ECHO Assistant Director of Education

"If I could use one word to describe my experience at ECHO Inquiry Science in the Schools (ISS) project> I would, but there is no way I can simply choose a single phrase. This practicum has pushed me in ways I didn't think were possible, I was challenged on a daily basis to understand new material, utilize inquiry science, and provide a vital learning experience to six different classes of third grade students. I was forced to analyze my own disappointing experience with elementary science and harness that energy to create a positive and successful learning environment for the students placed under my care. Looking back on my semester and the time I spent with this program I can confidently say that if given the opportunity I would gladly repeat it; not to say that this was an easy course by any means, but because of the hard work and dedication I have come out on the other end feeling that much more prepared to become a professional teacher.

One of the biggest reasons I decided to become a teacher was the fact that I knew I could make a difference. In high school I spent two weeks in the Amazon Jungle in Peru working at a school. If I could make changes happen for these kids in just two weeks, the possibilities would be endless of what I could do with a class in a year. I have gained so much from this program; confidence, teaching strategies, content, and most importantly a new found love for science. I have never been more excited to take what I have learned and use it. I have the opportunity to be a great teacher, and ECHO has played a significant role in this endeavor. Students will continue to graduate from Saint Michael's College and become very talented teachers, but not many will be able to understand the experience I have had with ECHO and how it has completely prepared me for the professional world of teaching."

- Jackie Stacey,
St. Michael's College Pre-Service Teacher

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We're all connected...or are we?

For thousands of years, Lake Champlain Basin's vast natural network of rivers, streams, ponds and lakes connected every inch of the watershed's 8,234 square miles (21,326 sq. km) of forests, fields, marshes, swamps and shores. The original inhabitants of the region used these blue highways as trade routes and many created seasonal settlements along river and lake shores.

Jump to the 18th and 19th centuries, the European settlers--that learned about these trade routes and natural resources--wanted to expand their ability to service growing communities like Burlington, and move lumber and other wood products, marble, granite, and farm products to market. To do this they opened the Champlain Canal in 1823, thus offering a major new trade route connecting Lake Champlain to New York City and beyond. To connect west to Buffalo, the Erie Canal was completed in 1825. To complete the northern route to Montreal, the Chamby Canal opened for business in 1843. In its heyday, this "commerce triangle" slashed the cost of shipping goods and created a busy and lucrative regional economy.

Today in the Champlain Valley, we rely on the canal system mostly for recreational use. Motor boats, sail boats and the occasional small excursion cruise boat rejoice in the seasonal ritual of the opening of the Champlain Canal in May. This year due to the extreme flooding and slowly receding high water throughout Vermont, New York and Quebec, the canal system is closed until May 23rd--delaying the return of many boaters to Lake Champlain. In fact, the raging water and delayed opening of the Champlain Canal is affecting the PCB dredging operation on the Hudson River.

So, we're feeling a little more isolated from the rest of the northeast these days. We know the waters will recede, the docks will go in and the boaters will return to the Burlington Waterfront in due course. In the meantime, we continue to be amazed at the Flood of 2011 and the far-reaching impacts it has had on our lives within the Lake Champlain Basin.

Photos: Historic Champlain Canal, (C) ECHO Collections; Hoehl Park and Navy Memorial at ECHO, (C) Julie Silverman

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Waders, Raincoats & Work Gloves

Today, like many other folks living and working around the waterfront, I donned my big brown waders, bright red raincoat and I began moving equipment around ECHO to higher ground. Our parking booth on the south side of the building flooded this morning and we had to put it up on stilts like a tiny seaside home. We are now measuring the water level based on how close it is to flooding the foundation--we have about 21" to go--and by the steps that are flooded--one at posting. As we get ready for our Cafe Scientifique tonight, 6:30-8:30--aptly named Emerging Contaminants~Sex, Drugs & Vices that Affect our Water --staff have been moving all of the debris away form ECHO's west side for the building for the media and caterers to get in. But ECHO is one of the lucky businesses on the Burlington Waterfront. Our doors are still open to the public and we are here for you to talk and learn about the Lake, whether you love it or hate it right now. We want to hear from you.

ECHO's Voices for the Lake website is a perfect place for folks to share their experiences, thoughts, passions, concerns, stories and issues related to the Lake. Anyone can write a story, contribute a photo, post a video, record a story or share a link. There are so many people across the Champlain Valley affected by the flooding, Voices for the Lake is a place to share your stories with others.

Here's my story-
I love skiing, sailing, gardening, ducks, frogs and even muskrats...but enough with the water already! I'm starting to feel like the worms that are crawling into my garage to keep from drowning--I've rescued as many as I can and I've relocated them to my raised strawberry beds. But, with my rain barrel over flowing for days now and my basement feeling cave-like, I'm not sure there is much drier or higher ground left in Burlington anymore. With tonight's forecast of snow at higher elevations and more rain on the way, I think we are all feeling a little soggy and worm-like.

Photos: Julie Silverman/ECHO (C)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lake Flooding Impacts Us in Many Ways

We have all been watching the steady rise in Lake Champlain very closely. Here at ECHO, with our first floor at 104 ft, we are still over a foot above the current lake level. The aerial photo is of ECHO. To see more go to the Lake Champlain Basin Program album. This floor level, along with our sea walls and paving, has managed to keep the encroaching lake at bay. But this has not been the reality for many folks living along the lake or near the swollen rivers. ECHO Board member Buzz Hoerr has a place in Colchester. I will let him tell his story….

Phelan Fretz
Executive Director

Here are some observations from dealing with lakeshore flooding for the past couple of weeks at our home, surrounded by water.

For our kids, it's very important to keep it light, they feed on the emotional reactions we have. So when it's sunny and calm, we have canoe races up and down the road, and they go exploring on sailboards through the woods. It can be overwhelming if you don't take the wins when they happen. There are plenty of tough days, like yesterday's wind/waves and then last night seeing this next front re-forecasted to be much more of a rain event than originally believed. When you take a few trips a day to the "outside", literally a few hundred feet up the road, people are gardening, fixing ruts beside their driveways, mulching around trees, while you will be returning to your own little disaster zone, rowing into your house with groceries, laundry, kids from school, medical needs, it seems very surreal.

When I saw the reactions of those in Japan and in the SE US to what they've been through, it kind of hits you from a distance. But when you live something like this, and feel how disorienting it is (and this isn't anywhere near as bad as what they've been through), the loss of order we all depend on in our daily lives so we can deal with the social ups and downs of money, work, kids, etc. all changes completely, and it really throws you off. I think that is what has struck me the most. People say and do things, both good and not good, that they would never "normally" do. People will do things that take care of their own lives but intrude on others, like charging up and down a flooded road not thinking at all what those waves are doing to the insides of garages, crawlspaces, etc. And others offer to help and will do extraordinary things they might not normally do, like let you sleep in their less damaged house, or use their shower or bathrooms because they have septic and you don't. Besides what each of us is dealing with ourselves, that can really help or hurt a lot. Constantly telling yourself there is nothing you can do to change the weather, only little things to keep the damage to a minimum and your living situation tolerable, can never stop, or you can become terrified when waves or logs are pounding your house all night and you blame yourself. Helplessness is not a fun state to be in when it's not just your house, but your home, in so many ways you never really thought about before. We miss our dog, there's nowhere for him to go to do his business, so we put him in the kennel. No matter how low I get, he always thinks I'm the greatest person in the world. I could use that certainty, that unquestioning faith and devotion now!

We realize it will go down a lot slower than it came up, and there will be times when big rain and winds will disrupt the movement back to what is "normal". Clearly, with the lake about a foot above average for several years now, we are in a "new normal", and actually have been for a while. Evidence of increased precipitation is there, but also we have paved, roofed, drained and tiled so much of our developed acreage and farmland that the water gets down here much more quickly than it used to, thus the critical mass that led to this. People have diked the one outlet for the lake, the Richelieu River in Quebec, with seawalls to protect all the homes along it all the way to the St. Lawrence. So the ability to spread out over its banks to the normal floodplains that are now farm fields has been pretty much eliminated, holding up the draining process of the many more rivers that empty into Lake Champlain. And think of the literally years of excess nutrients and toxic pollutants from silted river channels, farm fields, yards, parking lots, etc, that will have an effect we can't possibly measure yet if ever, all coming down in the space of the last few weeks.

My first neighbor had lived in this spot for many years, and was a man of few words who I really respected and looked to for experience from his time here. He told me one thing that rings in my ears now, "the lake always wins".....

Buzz Hoerr

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wind and Water

Today the winds have been blowing steadily around 15 mph from the south creating whitecaps and moving more debris and water up onto southern shores. The Navy Memorial--home of the Lone Sailor--in ECHO's Hoehl Park are partially underwater. Someone braved the waves and flooded parking lot to give the Lone Sailor a 'staff' to steady himself against the waves.

Other brave adventurers took advantage of the wind to kiteboard on the waterfront while lunch-time spectators watched in amazement. It is rare to see kiteboarders launch airborne in Burlington Bay, a port usually busy with boat traffic but with the breakwater under feet of water and no boats to speak of--not even the die-hard UVM sailing team--a few hearty souls have the ocean-like harbor to themselves.

Stay up to date on waterfront weather, visit ECHO Lake Weather and the National Weather Service Burlington Lake Champlain Forecast.
Photos: Julie Silverman/ECHO (C)