Montpelier—Three unique Vermont wetlands are now being classified as ‘Class I’ wetlands, a designation that places extra protections on wetlands with exceptional ecological features. The three wetlands receiving Class I designations are the Sandbar wetlands (Milton and Colchester), Dennis Pond wetlands (Brunswick), and Chickering Fen (Calais).
These are the first wetlands to be granted Class I status in over a decade. Only three other wetlands have been assigned Class I status: Dorset Marsh in Dorset, Northshore Wetland in Burlington, and Tinmouth Channel Wetland in Tinmouth.
“These wetlands were conserved years ago in recognition of the value they provide in protecting fish and wildlife habitat, buffering our communities against the devastating impacts of floods, and improving water quality for drinking or swimming,” said Emily Boedecker, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. “The Class I designation memorializes their value by ensuring that the simple pleasure of spending quiet time observing nature in these treasured places is protected for all Vermonters, today and into the future.”
Though most wetlands exhibit substantial levels of plant and wildlife diversity, Class I wetlands are granted additional protections from encroaching development because of their exceptional or irreplaceable values.
The Department encourages the public to enjoy these areas, but to do so at appropriate times of year and through established trails or observation areas. Spring and early summer are the time of year when many wetland-dependent wildlife such as wood ducks, herons, osprey, bitterns, marsh wrens and many more are nesting, laying eggs, and rearing young. It is important to avoid disturbing wildlife in wetlands during this time of year.
If you are visiting, consider the following information to respectfully access and observe wildlife at these wetlands:
- The Sandbar wetland complex is mostly designated as a wildlife refuge by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. In the refuge area, public access is prohibited. However, good viewing opportunities are available at several locations along Route 2 in Milton and from Sand Bar State Park. Additionally, people can use canoes or kayaks to paddle along the perimeter of the refuge and down the Lamoille River to observe wildlife from the water. Boats can be rented from Sand Bar State Park. The 1,100-acre wetland complex includes stands of wild rice and one of the largest and best-condition examples of the uncommon Lakeside Floodplain Forest natural community type in the state.
- The Chickering Fen wetland, wholly owned by The Nature Conservancy, is accessed via an easy one-mile hiking trail ending in a boardwalk into the wetland. Good times to visit the fen include May and June when unusual fen wildflowers can be found, and late October when the tamarack surrounding the fen turns bright yellow. The hike itself also features views of other wetlands, conifer forest, and a rich forest with spring wildflowers. Please remain on the boardwalk when viewing the wetland to avoid harming the sensitive fen vegetation. The trail crosses private property, so please do not enter areas marked as No Trespassing.
- The Dennis Pond wetland can be explored either from the land or via canoe or kayak. This wetland supports ecosystems usually found in colder areas to the north of Vermont, with spruce-fir forest, large expanses of bog, and frequent moose sightings. Access is available via Route 102 and Dennis Pond Road in Brunswick. The bog is best viewed by boat to prevent trampling of sensitive plants. The site can also be accessed in the winter from a VAST trail on the west end of the wetland basin. Be aware that some of the Dennis Pond basin includes areas of private land. Please respect No Trespassing signs.
Class I designations occur as part of a robust public process to make updates and changes to the Vermont Wetland Rules, which govern protections on wetlands. Amendments can be initiated by the Agency or through a petition to the Agency. The three wetlands nominated for Class I designations were included in the updated set of rules approved in January 2017. The updates became effective April 1.
Other revisions to the wetlands rule included increasing the public noticing period for permit applications by 5-15 days, and outlining a clearer permit amendment process.
To learn more about Class I designations and how you may help protect these vital resources, visit the Vermont Wetlands Program website at: http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/wetlands.htm