VUHS students apply studies to volunteering

SHELBURNE — Shovels and tree saplings at the ready, an energetic group of volunteers, including 35 biology students from Vergennes Union High School, fan out along an eroding riverbank. Planting locations are scouted, holes are dug, young trees are gingerly placed, and moist earth is tamped down. 
To the students’ delight, their recent lesson on river restoration and improving the water quality of Lake Champlain was held outside under bright blue skies at the Upper La Platte Natural Area in Shelburne. The students and volunteers stepped up to plant more than 300 trees and learn why restoring riverside forests is so important for both protecting our communities and Lake Champlain. 
“Opportunities, such as working with the Lake Champlain Land Trust, provide fabulous experiences for students,” VUHS biology teacher Justin Gay said. “We got to tie issues we had covered in class such as water quality, ecosystem dynamics, and river erosion with place-based examples.” Once mature, the trees planted by the students and volunteers will help buffer against extreme flood events, slowing flows and trapping sediment that would otherwise wash into Lake Champlain’s Shelburne Bay. Lake Champlain is a source of drinking water for over 200,000 people across the Champlain Valley.
“The Lake Champlain Land Trust is committed to protecting water quality through strategic land conservation, science-based stewardship, and demonstrating best practices for restoring compromised shorelands,” said Chris Boget, executive director of the Lake Champlain Land Trust. “We thank our partners at the Intervale Center, Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program, State of Vermont Ecosystem Restoration Program, and landowners Peter and Sandy Dietrich for helping us take this positive step toward improving the health of the lake.”
The Lake Champlain Land Trust has been involved in restoration efforts at the Upper La Platte River Natural Area since permanently conserving the now 85-acre community treasure in 2011.
This restoration project is made possible thanks to funding from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Ecosystem Restoration Program and other generous supporters. In total, the Lake Champlain Land Trust is restoring more than a mile of frontage along the La Platte River through a series of community tree plantings over the next two years.
Several students commented on how they would like to return with their families to check up on the trees. When they do return, the students can pass along the knowledge they gained and see their hard work bearing fruit — or in this case — a restored riverside forest of healthy young trees permanently filtering sediments and preventing phosphorous from reaching Lake Champlain. 
“I’ll definitely make sure to go back in the future and see the then tall, healthy trees that my fellow classmates and I helped to plant,” said VUHS freshman Megan Tarte. 

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