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Dead Creek working on first-of-a-kind visitor center

ADDISON — The Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area is best known for the annual visit of thousands of snow and Canada geese to its farm fields and wetlands. But Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department officials say — and many year-round visitors already know — there is much more to the 2,858-acre site that includes land in Panton and Bridport as well as Addison.
Birdwatchers visit Dead Creek year-round, hunters and trappers get permits to make use of the site, it is a destination for anglers, and the landscape is also surprisingly diverse, according to Amy Alfieri, the department wildlife biologist who manages Dead Creek.
“Dead Creek is unique because it captures such a variety of habitat. We’ve got the vast wetlands,” Alfieri said. “We’ve got the agricultural fields as well as some upland habitat. It’s really kind of like a quilt, where you have a patchwork quilt of habitats, basically, different kinds of habitats that provide a diversity of homes for a diversity of species.”
By 2017 — assuming all goes smoothly — it will be easier for the public to learn more about Dead Creek’s history, habitats, 200 species of birds, eight species of mammals and five species of salamanders and newts, and about other Fish & Wildlife projects around Vermont.
The department is taking advantage of the site’s location at a gateway into Vermont (it lies just a few miles east of the Lake Champlain Bridge) and the fact there was an empty building on the site (a ranch home that once housed site managers) to install a visitors’ center.
Funding that Alfieri estimated at roughly $50,000 will cover the already completed interior renovation of the home and the ongoing creation of dioramas and displays to be installed inside it. That funding came from the annual state capital budget, she said.
Just as Alfieri said Dead Creek is unique among Fish & Wildlife’s management areas, so will be the visitors’ center — there is not another like it in Vermont, and thus it will be used to promote the department as well as Dead Creek. 
“It’s not only about showcasing Dead Creek, it’s also about having the opportunity to educate and interpret what we have, not only at Dead Creek, but also all the work we do across the state,” Alfieri said. “The Fish & Wildlife Department really doesn’t have another place like this as far as an actual visitors’ center where people can go and interact with someone and do some hands-on work in the various displays and walk away with a piece of knowledge they didn’t have before. We just get so many visitors, and we get so little opportunity to interact and to teach. This will be a great place for this to happen.”
Planned displays to be created and installed over the next year will focus on the timeline and history of the conservation of Dead Creek; on hunting, fishing and trapping there; on its wetlands and waterfowl management program, active farmlands and clayplain oak-hickory forests; and more.
A REPRODUCTION OF a trapper’s shelter is part of a new visitor’s center being renovated in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison. The facility will open in 2017. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
At least one will be updated regularly.
“We’re going to have kind of an emerging issues display, a kind of changeable display, so we can talk about some of the latest hot-button issues, whether it’s white-nose (bat disease) syndrome, or maybe we’re having a snowy-owl eruption and we’ll do a snowy owl display,” Alfieri said.
Alfieri is also putting out a call to local residents for historic photos or videos of the area, which includes man-made ponds that can be drawn down to encourage migrating birds to stop and feed on fish.
“We’re looking for any historical photos of these lands that will show the changes in management and land use over time. We are especially interested in photos of the area before the dams were built,” Alfieri said in a press release. “If anyone has old home movies of people using Dead Creek for hunting, fishing, or birdwatching, that may be useful to us as well for a video we are producing about the history of this area.”
Those who have material to contribute may reach Alfieri at amy.alfieri@vermont.gov.
Overall, Alfieri envisions the visitors’ center as a destination for group visits, from schools, senior centers and clubs, and she also mentioned its prominent location on the state highway.
“It’s going to hopefully reach out to anyone and everyone,” Alfieri said. “Families passing through on Route 17 may see it and think, what is that, that’s new, that’s exciting, let’s check it out.”
And she is looking forward to meeting those interested in Dead Creek.
“We’re excited to have an opportunity to interact with all the visitors, and this is the best way to do it,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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