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Friends of the Mad River

Not all rivers inspire their community members to create a conservation plan entitled “The Best River Ever,” but the iconic Mad River is not just any river. The 26-mile long Mad starts up high in the Granville Wilderness Area, winding its way north through Warren, Waitsfield, and Moretown where it converges with the Winooski. Vermonters who live in the Mad’s watershed, which also includes the upland towns of Fayston and Duxbury, have an identity fiercely rooted in the river, farms and forested mountains that define the valley.

Friends of the Mad River (FMR) was formed in 1990 by a group of citizens concerned with impacts that recent land use decisions, such as a proposed snowmaking pond adjacent to the river, were having on the health of the watershed. As Kinny Perot, President of FMR’s Board of Directors, said: “The river is a mirror of whatever is going on in the watershed. How we treat the land is reflected in the health of the river.” Friends of the Mad River is committed to informed and active stewardship of the Mad River and its 144 square mile watershed. FMR does its work for generations of people and wildlife who call the Mad River Valley home because they believe that a healthy ecosystem, well-informed and engaged people, diverse and sustainable economic opportunities, and a shared love for their special place are the cornerstones of a resilient and thriving watershed community.”


                                  

Governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, in 2014, FMR hired Corrie Miller as their Executive Director. Corrie, who has worked as a conservation scientist and director of the Ausable River Association, has brought her wealth of knowledge about watershed science and non-profit management experience to lead the Friends’ diverse programs and restoration projects. Speaking on how FMR has matured over the years, Corrie says: “The Friends has maintained a continued focus on our mission, but adapt to new opportunities and problems as they arise.

Conservation Planning

FMR began its watershed wide conservation planning in 1994, collaborating with the Mad River Valley Planning District to lead a year-long community planning effort to identify both citizens’ and ecological concerns in the watershed and develop solutions. As a culmination, Friends published “The Best River Ever: A conservation plan to protect and restore Vermont’s beautiful Mad River Watershed” in 1995. Among many other projects identified in the plan, the Friends has focused on conserving public access along the Mad River, and later formed the Mad River Watershed Conservation Partnership with the Vermont Land Trust and the Planning District in the early 2000s. The Friends has worked with others to conserve much-loved swimming holes and riverside parks like Warren Falls, Lareau Park and Kingsbury Park. FMR has also worked with landowners to conserve valued upland headwaters through conservation easements and floodplain lands through river corridor easements, incorporating the restoration of riparian buffers when appropriate.

Water Quality Monitoring

The Mad River Watch, started in 1985 by concerned citizens and adopted by the Friends when they formed, is the longest annual volunteer water quality monitoring program in the U.S. The Mad is known for its outstanding natural resource characteristics including 19 swimming holes, white and flat water for paddling, cold water fish habitat and scenic waterfalls, which has made water quality a high priority for the Friends. However, the health of the Mad and surrounding streams has been impacted by stormwater and agricultural runoff and increased sedimentation from streambank instability.

Throughout the summer, Mad River Watch volunteers collect water samples at dozens of sites in the watershed, which are then analyzed by scientists and used to inform bi-weekly water quality reports that are published online in the newspaper and on signs at swimming holes. This past year, Friends of the Mad River completed a study analyzing data from their 31 years of monitoring to identify long term trends in water quality and update their monitoring protocol to better capture data of interest to the community and the state. As a result of the study, in 2016, the Friends reduced their number of monitoring sites to target more problematic areas and enhanced the parameters analyzed.

Recent Projects: Flood Resilience and Stormwater Management

With its steeply sloping hills, narrow headwater valleys, upland ski resort development and village centers right along the river, the Mad River Valley has a suite of rural stormwater management challenges and potential for flood-related damages. Tropical Storm Irene ushered in a paradigm of flood resilience planning and projects around Vermont, with Friends of the Mad River among the groups leading the charge. Immediately following Irene, the Friends began a public outreach and technical consulting initiative to work with landowners to implement better driveway culvert design, since under-sized culverts can increase damages to roads and property from flooding. In 2012 and 2013, the Friends planted 2,300 trees and shrubs along denuded riverbanks to increase stability and provide wildlife habitat. In 2014 and 2015, Friends worked with partners to install two new flood- and fish-friendly culverts under town roads in areas that were particularly vulnerable to flooding.  

Friends has focused on working with partners to implement stormwater management projects at sites across the watershed to both improve water quality and strengthen flood resilience. Thanks to High Meadows Fund, in 2015, Friends of the Mad River, the five watershed municipalities and other partners began collaborating to better manage stormwater across the whole watershed through the Ridge to River initiative. At the core of the Ridge to River initiative is a taskforce whose members seek technical expertise and public input to develop a five-town stormwater management program. Corrie Miller says: “Because stormwater runs across municipal boundaries, managing it better calls for collective planning and action at the watershed level.”

For over 20 years, Friends of the Mad River have implemented educational, restoration and conservation initiatives based on innovative watershed-wide community planning and scientific research. In the face of new challenges, the Friends continues to work with residents of the Mad River Valley to protect the watershed they care so deeply about.