The rivers, streams, and wetlands you see in Vermont today are far from their natural state

Four hundred years ago, Abenaki families lived in a densely forested, mossy land, with winding streams full of dead wood and fallen trees, and many beaver ponds slowing – but not stopping – the flow of water. Larger rivers flowed through forested floodplains that would fill during spring thaw and heavy rains. Over time, rivers would move back and forth across the valleys, altering the land as they moved.

While there were still floods, this landscape would have absorbed, slowed, and spread floodwater more than our modern one.

Undoing a dangerous legacy

All this changed when Europeans settling in Vermont cleared 80 percent of forests, straightened streams, reinforced riverbanks, drained land, cleared debris from waterways, and killed nearly every beaver. When massive amounts of rain fell on this newly exposed land, it moved fast and hard, taking soil and everything in its path downstream. This is the legacy Vermont has been slowly undoing.

Efforts to save forests first began in the late 1800s. Thanks to that work, and economically driven changes in farming practices, most of the state is again wooded. More recently, conservation and restoration work has been reversing some of the past damage to our wetlands and waterways.

The Vermont Land Trust has been conserving land since 1977. We’ve protected over 450,000 acres of forests that help filter and slow water. And, over the past 15 years, we’ve focused more on restoring the natural state of our rivers, streams, and wetlands.  We are playing the long game, as there is no comprehensive quick fix. With increasingly intense storms connected to a changing climate this work has made clean water and flood safety more urgent.