The Great White Way: 2015-2016

Fifth Work Session

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016

Success!  The Great White Way is open once more.  This will likely be our most successful ESH patch, because it is the widest of the five slopes that we will be clearing in the 10-year project. Once the saplings start regrowing in dense thickets, we expect nesting birds to be attracted to the site.  Studies have shown that nest predation decreases with increased distance from the forest edge, so the wider the clearing, the better.

Thank you, most heartily, to all 71 people who have helped with this project since we started in 2013.  The oldest person who helped was in his nineties, and the youngest was in grade school.  And every single one of you made a difference.  We couldn't have done it without you!

Saturday's crew: Malcolm Moore, Mike Purcell, Robert Spring, Jeff Nugent, Diana Todd, Phil Greenleaf, Amanda Whiting, Jen Millett, Marc Huard, Augusta Bartlett.  Not pictured: Pete Crosby.

We've tossed aside the brush to open some paths through the cleared area so that humans can enjoy the ESH patch, too.

Drowning in debris.  The stump sprouts will soon grow up through this mat of tree tops.  Volunteers tossed some of the woody brush into piles to provide sheltered havens for small mammals, ground nesting birds and other wildlife.

We've left some islands of birches and other trees to add some variety.

Despite the incredibly hard work of the many, many volunteers, it became clear that we wouldn't be able to clear this slope using volunteer labor only.  We had a modest amount of money in the budget for this project, and with that, along with a generous donation, we hired Robert Spring to help us finish the task.  Robert and his wife Stephanie had been key volunteers on this project for the last two years, and we were happy to be able to hire him for the job.  If you'd like to contribute to help HMCA continue this effort through the next phase, we are now able to take donations online, via the Donate button.  We are a 501(c)3 non-profit, so your donation is tax-deductible.

Robert Spring

Some final tidying up by Gussie.

Some final tidying up by Gussie.

We've left some islands of birches and other trees to add some variety.

Fourth Work Session

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016

Early promotional material for the Hogback Ski Area boasted that Hogback was in Vermont's "snow belt," receiving 120" of snow per year.  The conditions at our fourth 2016 work session certainly supported the "snow belt"  claim.  Driving up to the conservation area, the ground in all the surrounding towns was bare.  But come around that last curve on Route 9, and BOOM! there was the snow.  Although we had a bright sunny day, the snow had not yet melted by the time we called it a day at noon.

We're making good progress, reaching the 300' mark.  We started at the bottom of the slope, at the 865' mark, so we've worked our way uphill over 500'.

Pete Crosby points to the edge where we stopped last time.  We picked up here and continued clearing up the slope.

The crew:  Diana Todd, Mike Purcell, Pete Crosby, and Nancy Anderson.

Third Work Session

Monday, Oct. 10, 2016

How to have fun in the woods:

- Climb a tree.

- Play with power tools.

- Build a massive brush pile.

- Hang around with Grandpa.

- Play with friends.

The crew, left to right: Diana Todd, Nancy Anderson, Forrest Holzapfel, Taylor Burt, Chris Zappala, Amanda Whiting, John Kohler, Bill Walsh, Malcolm Moore, Dixie Dillon, Pete Crosby, Jack Widness.  Not shown here: Lee Todd, Staley McDermet, Tim Callahan, Evelyn Gelter.

Tim Callahan and Evelyn Gelter.

Tim Callahan and Evelyn Gelter.

What a great day we had on the mountain!  The sky was crisply blue, the sun was dazzlingly yellow, and the foliage was  stunningly red-orange-yellow.  We had 16 people working on the project to clear the former ski slope to generate new growth and increase habitat variety on the mountain to attract and support birds and wildlife.  Click the button to see a map of the progress we made.

Second Work Session

Sept. 18, 2016

The crew, from left: Pete Crosby, Sarah Freeman, Diana Todd (kneeling), Amanda Whiting, Todd Smith, Phil Greenleaf.

At 3:00 in the morning, it was raining hard, but by the time we gathered on Hogback at 9:00 it had eased off to become what New Englanders used to call a lowery day.  It didn't rain, but we all got plenty wet from the drops lingering in the trees.  But that didn't slow us down.  With three chain saws running, we made significant progress up the ski slope.

We've decided to build more brush piles.  Last year we focused on  dropping the trees and delimbing them to form dense mats of brush.  The mats seem to help suppress the hay-scented fern, which, even though it is a native species, can become rampant and take over a slope.  The mats also provide decent support for the snow cover, making a reasonable skiable surface.  What we hadn't thought about was the other three seasons of the year.  Trying to walk on those mats is like walking on a pile of massive pick-up sticks.  We're now trying to leave a few wide swaths free of brush and debris, so that we can get better footing walking to the work site.  To do that, we have to mass some of the brush in piles.  Lots of small mammals like living in brush piles.  Check it out this winter - you'll be able to see tracks in the snow of all the animals that have moved in and taken up residence.

First Work Session

Sept. 4, 2016

An enthusiastic crew came out in perfect weather for the first clearing session of  2016.  We were impressed by the size of the swath that had been cleared last year, where the stump sprouts have already been providing tasty young shoots for browsing deer (and maybe moose?).

The crew: back row - Harriet Todd, Stephanie Spring, Nancy Anderson, Kara Hamilton, Amanda Whiting, Geri Medina, Rob Todd; front row - Robert Spring, Staley McDemet, Diana Todd; not pictured - Gussie Bartlett, Lee Todd.

Robert Spring brought his commercial grade weed whacker fitted with a custom-made "brush blender" blade and wowed us all with what he could tackle with it.

People with hand tools lead the way, clearing out the smaller growth so that the chain sawers can more easily tackle the larger trees.  (That's Gussie Bartlett in the photo above.)  The map of progress doesn't show the work of this advance force; it only shows areas that have been fully cleared.

Enjoying the view and some chocolate at the end of a good day's work.

It takes fast hands to catch a wood frog, but once caught, this one was content to pose for a portrait.

The crew, below, left to right, Tracy Remelius, Valentina Brown, Stephanie Spring, Robert Spring, Amanda Whiting, Staley McDermet, Augusta Batlett, Jim Irish, Jebb Remelius, Andrew Healey, Diana Todd, and in front, on four paws, Libby.

We hit a significant milestone on this, the last workday for 2015:  one full acre cleared!  Thank you to everyone who helped make the 2015 season such a resounding success!  Give yourself a pat on the back.

 

This is going to be the most secure ESH patch for nesting birds.  Studies have shown that nesting success improves as distance from the forest edge increases (predators like fisher cats don't like the open spaces), and this is the widest of the former ski slopes.

 

The Tower Trail crosses this slope near the top of the mountain, but we're working from the bottom up, so you can't see this opening yet from any of the hiking/snowshoeing trails.  But it's easy to find if you want to bushwhack over and take a look.  Click on the Maps tab in the menu at the top of this page and download a print-at-home map.  The names of the former ski slopes are on the map.  Just look for The Great White Way.

Fifth Work Session
Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015
Fourth Work Session
Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015

On Saturday morning, you could tell we were heading towards winter - it was definitely cold and the peak flush of fall color had passed.  The bare branches made the job easier, though, since you could see what you were doing.

 

People with loppers made solid progress upslope, removing smaller saplings all the way to the 600' mark on the east half of the slope.  Before the project started, we installed stakes down the middle of the slope at 100' intervals and took a 360 degree series of photographs at each stake.  We'll re-photograph every year to document the regrowth, like we've been doing over on Meadow.  On the Great White Way, we've been working our way up from the bottom of the slope, which is at the 860' mark.

 

The chain sawyers are following in the path of the lopper-wielders, and have cleared to about the 700' mark.  Click on the button below to see a map showing progress.  The lopper work doesn't show up on the map until the sawyers have come through.

Diana Todd, Amanda Whiting, Valentina Brown, George Hooper.  Not pictured: April Weeks.

The green photo above is the "before" shot at the 600' mark, taken in early July, 2015.  The lopper crew has worked their way up to the 600' mark.  That stake topped with pink ribbon marks the spot.

The view of the hills and mountains to the north is really opening up, just in time for peak foliage season.

Right, two masters of the chain saw, Jim Irish and Robert Spring.  These guys really know what they're doing!  Notice that they're wearing full safety gear.  If you don't have a set, we can loan you one when you're helping with the ESH project.

Below, two masters of the lopper, Amanda Whiting and Stephanie Spring.

What made the odd marks on this stick?  An animal?  There's always something interesting to see and talk about out in the woods.

The crew, left to right: Diana Todd, Rob Todd, Jeff Nugent, Linda Lyon, Jim Irish, Amanda Whiting, Staley McDermet, Stephanie Spring, Harriet Todd, Robert Spring.

The sky was so clear and the sun was so bright that the foliage absolutely glowed.  What a great day it was to work on the mountain!  This was a very productive crew, clearing 1/5 of an acre.  The people with loppers cleared the smaller stuff, making the chain sawyers that much more efficient when they reached the pre-thinned patches.

 

Earlier in the weekend, the ESH committee took an "invasives cruise" of the slope.  Good news!  There's almost nothing to report.  So far only two tiny 1-year old seedlings of buckthorn have been found.  This slope also has much less hay-scented fern than Meadow (the slope we cleared in 2013-2014) does.  Hay-scented fern is a native plant, but it can take over and inhibit hardwood regeneration.  The ESH committee is keeping a close eye on the fern over on Meadow.  If you'd like to become a member of the ESH committee, which does much more than just chain saw and clipper, let us know!

Third Work Session
Monday, Oct. 12, 2015
 
Second Work Session
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015

Wow!  We made great progress, clearing almost 1/6 of an acre, nearly doubling the size of the "starter" patch that had been opened in August.  The view is starting to open up, too, just in time to see the start of the foliage season.

The crew:  Andy Healey, Amanda Whiting, Patrick Allen, Jim Irish, Yeuhi Abe, Alex Nichols.  Not pictured: Diana Todd.

 
First Work Session
Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015

A small but intrepid crew came out in the rain to launch the volunteer phase of the work on the Great White Way.  After a wet but productive morning, they repaired to a cozy restaurant for lunch, warm drinks and warm conversation.

Devin Green, Amanda Whiting, Diana Todd

 A bit tired out.

Fall 2015 Project Plans

The second phase of the ten-year project to enhance wildlife habitat variety in the Hogback Mountain Conservation Area is underway.  The growth on The former Great White Way ski slope was thicker than what we encountered in Phase 1 on Meadow, so we hired Conner Hamilton to open three slots on the slope.  This will make it easier for volunteers to continue the work.  Five work parties have been scheduled.  Volunteers are needed to wield loppers, haul brush, and operate chain saws.  We meet at 9:00 and quit by noon.  Gather in the field behind the white A-frame building on Route 9 just west of the gift shop.  If it’s a big leaf-peeping weekend, please park in the big parking lot north of the highway.

 

Sunday, Sept. 13

Saturday, Sept. 26

Monday, Oct. 12 (Columbus Day weekend)

Saturday, Oct. 24

Sunday, Nov. 8

 

Work gloves and some hand tools will be available to borrow, but if you have your own favorite tool, bring it.  Chain sawyers, bring your own saw and please note, you must have chaps and hearing/eye protection.  A few sets of safety equipment are available to borrow.  Please contact us at hogbackvt@gmail.com to reserve a set.

 

If you need transportation, contact us at hogbackvt@gmail.com a week in advance and we’ll find you a ride.

 

Why does cutting trees create valuable habitat?  Right now, the vast bulk of Vermont’s forests are essentially middle-aged.  We’ve all heard the surprising statistic that at the height of the sheep craze in the 1840’s, about 80% of Vermont was open agricultural land.  Now that ratio is reversed, with almost 80% of the land forested.  But that middle-aged even-aged forest, existing in a culture where we try to  suppress forest fires and prevent floods, is not as susceptible to the natural fire and flood disturbances which consistently created large natural openings in the forests in pre-colonial times.  Nature just isn’t creating ESH in our modern forests at the same rate that occurred in the past.  As early as the 1960’s scientists documented declining populations in birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even invertebrates that rely on ESH for part of their life cycles.  The situation has become critical for some species.  For example, the New England cottontail rabbit no longer exists in Vermont due to lack of suitable habitat.  Other ESH-reliant species in decline include woodcock, rose-breasted grosbeak, veery, yellow-bellied sapsucker, bobcat, least shrew, bog turtle, and a clutch of butterflies.

 

When the ski area when out of business and the slopes were no longer mowed, the gradual reversion to forest created valuable swaths of ESH on the mountain.  But that early regrowth is by now no longer early.  The ski slopes are starting to look more like middle-aged forest.  The ten-year plan to increase habitat variety on the mountain aims to turn back the clock by re-opening the five major ski slopes, one every two years.  Cutting the young hardwood trees that are growing on those slopes won’t kill them.  They’ll come roaring back via stump sprouting.  You can take a look at this process yourself by walking up to the former Meadow ski slope and seeing the regrowth already underway there.  You’ll also see how blueberry is thriving thanks to the increased sunlight, how milkweed has returned, how hawthorns are producing heavy fruit crops.  The nipped tops of the stump sprouts show that browsers (deer?  moose?) are enjoying the buffet.  Wander up in winter and you will see tracks of many small mammals that have set up housekeeping in the brush piles.

In 2015 we'll concentrate on clearing the lower half of the slope, connecting the middle and bottom openings.

That's Diana on the left in the photo below, wearing her cake-pan hat.  Literally, it's a cake pan that she sewed onto the top of her hat.  What's it for?  To attract signals from outer space, of course!  She's added an external antenna to her GPS unit, which attaches magnetically to the cake pan.  By keeping the antenna on top of her head, she minimizes body blocking of the GPS signals that happens when you carry the unit in a pack or pocket.  The metal disk of the cake pan is also supposed to "boost" the signal.  She has found her recorded tracks are more tightly grouped, more reproducible, when she wears the cake pan hat.  She uses the GPS unit to make the maps that are guiding this project.

Scoping the Project

October 13, 2014

The Great White Way was the name of the wide, north-facing beginner's ski slope.  It's labeled 16 on this trail map from the 1970's.  In the fall of 2014 we spent a morning inspecting the slope and putting out preliminary markings.

 

The slope is heavily overgrown, but it's easy to tell where it used to be.  We just followed the line between the large, old trees at the edges and the younger growth that has filled in the middle.  We stumbled across some interesting "cultural artifacts" including the hulk of an ancient truck and bits of the old lifts.

from left: Diana Todd, Staley McDermet, Amanda Whiting, Jim Irish.

visits since Sept. 2016

webmasters:  Bob Anderson and Diana Todd