Warm Winter

It seems as though we may finally get a real winter after all, but the warm period over the last two months was very out of character for Maine/New Hampshire. In Manchester this November, temperatures reached up into the 70’s, and on Christmas day it was 64 degrees.

It’s tempting to say this is all just a part of living in New England, with our crazy “bikini one day, parka the next day” weather.  In addition to the peculiarity of the weather, it’s beginning to have some major effects, some of which could present some serious issues. For one, plants are beginning to come out of their dormancy, with flowers blooming in Boston on Chrismas Eve. This means that the plant will be less likely to survive as the cold weather quickly returns. They aren’t the only ones struggling though. Ski resorts are dealing with much higher costs of having to make snow, and plow drivers aren’t supplementing their income the way they did last year with the continual barrage of 6+inch storms. Our lakes and aquifers could also be affected since they are mostly recharged by the snow melt in Spring.

Also, squirrels are getting much fatter, which isn’t really bad or good, but it is just adorable.

Fat Squirrel

What’s causing all this warm weather? It’s easy to point to global warming, but the answer isn’t quite as black and white as that. Saying that one warmer winter without snow is the result of global warming is like saying that just because we had a polar vortex last year means global warming doesn’t exist. Both fail to look at long term data, and look at weather instead of climate.

Many also suggest the dreaded El Niño, but that doesn’t seem to be quite the  answer either. According to NOAA, the Eastern U.S isn’t really experiencing El Niño the way that the west coast has, with warm weather and lots of heavy rain.We may begin to experience El Niño later on this year, but meteorologists aren’t seeing any signs of it on our coast yet.

The actual cause of this warm weather is the same force that drove us to twenty-some odd degrees below zero in 2014; the polar vortex. The band of cold air around the north pole, called the Arctic Oscillation, is particularly tight this year, keeping all the cold air in northern Canada. During the polar vortex, air pressure differences caused the Arctic Oscillation to slip down into the US, bringing cold temperatures with it. What we are seeing now is the opposite effect, where Arctic Oscillation’s tightness is keeping our area of the world quite mild.

Don’t get too comfortable with the warm weather though; the Arctic Oscillation could still slip and bring a cold snap that would plunge us back into the icy reality of winter in northern New England. Even as a write this, the temperature is a brisk 24°F, where it seems like only a few days ago it was in the high fifties.

Strange Lakes

We all love to think of our lakes as unique, and certainly they are. However, the lakes in the AWWA regions are (thankfully) relatively tame. We get the odd freshwater jellyfiish, invasive species, or algae bloom but, as these examples from around the world demonstrate, things could get a lot, lot weirder.

1. Laguna Colorada

laguna coloradaLaguna Colorada in Bolivia is perhaps one of the stranger lakes to make this list. Sediments and algae give it its vivid red color, and the lake is punctuated with borax salt islands. The result is something utterly otherworldly. This saltwater lake is also frequently visited by massive flocks of flamingos, making the whole color palette of the area quite otherworldly.

2. Jellyfish lake

Jellyfish LakeJellyfish lake in Palau is a saltwater lake, connected by rock fissures to the ocean. Many lakes have jellyfish, including freshwater lakes like our own Province Lake, but what makes Jellyfish Lake unique is the concentration and quantity of jellyfish here. Each day, millions of jellyfish migrate across the lake, which is only about 1500 meters long. Luckily, these jellyfish are not harmful to humans, which makes snorkeling with them quite the thrilling experience.

3. Lake Superior

lake-wavesWe all know Lake Superior is big. It is, in fact, the biggest freshwater lake in the world. But the shear size of the lake isn’t why Lake Superior is on this list.  With such massive size, the lakes have a great deal of “fetch” or space for wind to move over the water. This results in some waves on Lake Superior reaching a staggering 35 feet tall. That’s some choppy water!

4. Don Juan PondDonJuanSTILL.0660_webThis shallow body of water can be found in Antarctica. What makes it unique from, say, the rest of Antarctica’s “lakes” is that it’s not frozen. Even at -30°C (-22°F), the pond doesn’t freeze. This is in large part due to the extreme salinity levels, which sit at around 40% and are 1.3 times higher than the Dead Sea.

5. Lake BhalkhashbalkhashLike many of the lakes on this list, Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan is a saltwater lake. That doesn’t make it unqiue, there are many lakes like this around the world. What is unique about this lake is that it is also a freshwater lake. Balkhash’s two sides are separated by a narrow strait which keeps the waters from mixing.

6. Lake Baikallake baikalThis Russian Lake is famous for being the deepest and oldest lake in the world.It also sports a massive amount of methane in it, which bubbles up to the surface, leaving rings massive enough to see from space.

7. Pitch Lakepitch lakePitch Lake in Trinidad contains the largest amount of natural asphalt in the world. This means the water here is sticky and black. Somehow though, the lake is still able to support microbiological life.

8. Boiling Lakeboiling lakeThe Boiling Lake in Dominica is, as the name would imply, constantly boiling. This is due to a fissure below the lake in which hot gases can escape via the Earth’s crust. The lake is inaccessible by road, and the thick layer of vapor hanging over the lake makes photographing this phenomenon difficult.

9. Lake Nyoslake nyosLake Nyos in Cameroon is one of the few lakes that has taken lives without a drowning. A pocket of hot magma sits under the lake, creating a layer of gaseous carbonic acid. In 1986, a sudden outgassing of this lake occurred, tragically suffocating 1,700 people in a nearby village.

10. Man Sagar LakeJalmahal_RestoredMan Sagar Lake in India is the site of the beautiful Jal Mahal palce. Hundreds of years ago, a drought led the local government to dam a river, flooding the palace and surrounding low-lying area. The palace still stands today and is supposedly haunted, because there’s no way an abandoned palace in the middle of a lake wouldn’t be.

 

 

AWWA in Augusta

Yesterday I took a trip up to Augusta, Maine. It tends to be pretty hard to get me to drive around to different areas of Maine. I drive enough for work, and I have everything I need in Portland (i.e. a grocery store, restaurants, and a Reny’s to buy Carhartt’s). I guess what I’m trying to say is it takes something pretty important (like returning a pair of worn down shoes to LL Bean) to get me to venture around to other cities in Maine.

Bean Guarentee

Yes they’re ten years old and my dog chewed on them and they lit on fire that time I went camping, but what am I supposed to do? PAY for new boots?!

Yesterday was no different, because the Maine Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources took testimony on L.D 1040, a document which, if passed, would create a funding opportunity for YCC’s working in Maine for the benefit of shorelines.

The capitol building was shining in the Spring light, making a wonderful but deceitful view with strong winds and 30 degree temperatures. The inside of the Cross building where the hearing was held was clean and stately, with long hallways and dozens of rooms where Maine’s future is decided.During the hearing, leaders of several Maine YCC’s spoke to the merits of the programs, both environmental and societal.

The capitol building on a clear and inappropriately freezing first day of April

The capitol building on a clear and inappropriately freezing first day of April

AWWA’s own YCC has been in existence since 2006, and in that period has installed 670 erosion control BMP’s on 172 properties. Youth Conservation Corps programs are expensive, especially since ours doesn’t charge for designs or labor. Additionally, we have to continually buy new tools, keep the truck gassed up and running (an uphill battle), and all the other costs of running a YCC.

By the way, if this is sounding like a thinly veiled plea for money, it is. Feel free to go ahead and click that “Donate” button in the top right corner!

L.D 1040 could help alleviate some of the burden of these costs for the 11 YCC’s in Maine, or help to fund the creation of new YCC’s in areas of the state where teens aren’t spending their summers digging holes to save lakes. In addition to the environmental benefits, YCC’s help to turn today’s teenagers into tomorrow’s informed citizens, and even bring some kids into environmental fields. It certainly did for me, which is what I spoke to yesterday. You can find my testimony below.

Sam Wilson YCC Testimony

 

Posted in YCC

AWWA Hiring for Youth Conservation Corps

The Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance (AWWA) will once again be hiring a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) this summer. The YCC installs erosion control practices such as infiltration stairways, detention basins, and rain gardens on properties surrounding local waterbodies in the border region of Acton, ME and Wakefield, NH. YCC Crew members learn important team working skills, carpentry, native plants, and landscaping and gardening techniques. Applicants ages 15-19 should enjoy working outdoors, be willing to do highly physical labor, and have a desire to help their local environment and community.

CLICK HERE TO APPLY ONLINE!

All interested applicants should contact Sam Wilson by email at swilson@awwatersheds.org or by phone at (603) 473-2500 if they need a hard copy of the application.

Applications will be due May 1st.

Check out these pictures of past AWWA YCC Crew!

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The 2014 AWWA YCC Crew installs a shoreline buffer.

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The 2013 AWWA YCC Crew installs a set of infiltration steps.

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The 2012 YCC Crew Poses with a Rubber Razor before installing it.

2014 crew pizza

The 2014 YCC crew enjoys a hard-earned pizza on their lunch break.

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A completed YCC site from 2013 on Great East Lake

 

 

Posted in YCC

Snowed In: How Portland Deals with Snow

Last week, we looked at how Wakefield deals with snow. It’s a pretty uncomplicated process of plow, sand, salt, shovel and snowblowers. In Portland, things are a little bit more difficult.

Portland is the urban center of Maine. Located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Fore River and Casco Bay, it is home to roughly 66,000 people, although the greater Portland area houses roughly 200,000 people. Hardworking entrepreneurs have revitalized the city; award winning breweries, coffee roasteries, bakeries and restaurants have made Portland their home in the past ten years. It’s a great city to visit and an even better city to live in. I moved here three years ago, and every minute I get to spend enjoying the city’s beautiful scenery, amazing food and wonderful people is a privilege.

IMG_1451Dealing with snow in Portland is slightly more complex than Wakefield. When it snows in Portland, the first thing to come is the snow ban. Cars have to be moved to one of several lots or garages. My fianceé and I have one spot for our two cars, so we move a car to a nearby school. In the morning, we dig the car out before 7AM, and park on our street again, where snowplows promptly form another berm around it.

In Wakefield, when the driveways are plowed or shoveled there is plenty of room for the snow to go one the sides. However, here in Portland if you shovel your driveway, chances are you’re filling in someone else’s spot.

IMG_1423The majority of the snow removal done by the city happens in the congested Old Port, where the bulk of the offices, businesses, and restaurants are. This is where some creativity is employed. The streets and sidewalks are far too narrow for the plows to simply make snowbanks on the side of the road. Instead, massive snowblowers are deployed overnight, placing the snow into trucks which dump it at snow dumps at large vacant lots, sports fields, and school grounds.

This snowfarm in Portland's Bayside neighborhood is nearly 40 feet tall.

This snow dump near Trader Joe’s in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is nearly 40 feet tall.

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A snow dump on the edge of town is now considered to be at capacity, as it is near the FAA height limit and may interfere with small aircraft at the nearby Portland Jetport.

Sidewalks are cleared with specialized vehicles which have attachments for either plowing or snowblowing on the front, and salting or sanding on the rear. These machines often don’t reach the residential neighborhoods, which are tasked with clearing their own sidewalks.sidewalk plowFalling ice is also a real concern.Tall buildings combined with ice and lots of people walking under them makes for a bad combination. Outside our building one morning, I awoke to find half of a tree missing and the previously immaculate sidewalk buried in a foot of snow.

There's still more to come down as well.

There’s still more to come down as well.

Salt is overused here, with large piles often found on the sidewalks. Fortunately, groundwater contamination isn’t as big of an issue here as it is in rural place such as Wakefield, which need groundwater for their wells that make up the bulk of the town’s water supply. Portland’s water comes from rural (and protected) Sebago Lake to the north All of this salt ends up in the harbor.

IMG_1424Most boats in the harbor have been left to freeze, however the waterfront does have to remain open for ferryies and a city fireboat. Many island residents come in to the city each day for work, and if the ferry is shut down, they become isolated, trapped either at their home or office.

Things get difficult in the harbor when the temperature drops below zero

Things get difficult in the harbor when the temperature drops below zero

melter

I couldn’t find a melter in use in Portland, but this shot from Canada illustrates the process.

Perhaps the most unique method of snow management available to Portland is the melters. Snow takes up a lot of space, but water can enter the storm drains and get off the streets. Snow melters, while expensive, are able to melt a large amount of snow that would otherwise crowd our streets.

While capturing these images of Portland and thinking about what its like living under the boot of Old Man Winter, I couldn’t help but romanticize the New Englander spirit. Ultimately there is a camaraderie that is formed by experiencing the harshness of winter together. We are often cold, the wind stinging our face, but we are together and surrounded by the beauty of our natural world, historic cities, and the great people that make our communities special. Even when it’s 4°F there are people walking around Portland, going about their day. Warmer weather is tempting, but I can’t imagine going through a winter without New England.

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Snowed In: How we Deal with Record Snows

With the amount of snow we’ve received in the Northeast over the past month or so, it becomes difficult for us to remember what summer looked like. Chances are, there was a time just a few months ago when you were outside and you were uncomfortably warm. Remember that?

Remember when that glaring sun was a bad thing?

Surely this must be myth.

But, right now we’re in the month of February, often considered the coldest month of the year. In fact, Concord has had eight days so far this month where the temperature has dropped below 0°F and Mount Washington’s wind chill factor was -88°F this past weekend. I’ve spent my entire life in the three northern New England states (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) and this is by far the harshest winter I’ve experienced, albeit at a bit of a late start.

The cold isn’t the only thing making this winter unbearable. The snow has been monumental; literally record setting. Multiple blizzards and winter storms have pounded New England. Ironically, this is one year where Massachusetts can attest to this more than Maine and New Hampshire. With more than 72” of snow over a 30 day period, Boston’s had so much snow it has stopped the T, bringing the city to a grinding halt. Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA even has a wall of ice comparable to the one from Game of Thrones , and MIT has a mountain of snow dubbed the “MIT Alps”.

The MIT Alps, a snowbank several stories tall in a vacant green on campus

The MIT Alps, a snowbank several stories tall in a vacant green on campus

They literally have had to dump snow into Boston Harbor, an act normally illegal but permitted in times of extreme need. Further north in the AWWA region, we went nearly three weeks without two consecutive snow-less days. We also came within an inch of beating the snowiest two week period on record at 48.4”.

So where does all this snow go? This blog will examine how Wakefield and Acton, rural New England towns, and Portland, the largest city in Maine and home to yours truly, have dealt with the snow.

I will start with Wakefield, as they are likely familiar to all of our readers. The solution in Wakefield is simple when dealing with snow. A mix of plowing, sand and salt have kept the roads relatively clear. The Fire Department needs to clear the small number of fire hydrants and homeowners snowblow, plow or shovel their own driveways. Private roads are maintained by some now very sleep deprived plowmen, and the roads are kept relatively passable. Space is what allows all this to be possible. Snow gets blasted back from the roads and into ditches, forest, or onto lawns. As more snow comes down, the snowbanks get gradually higher.

Sometimes taller than an extremely salty Prius

Sometimes taller than an extremely salty Prius

The heavy snow in the past month has led to some challenges, even with the increased storage space along rural country roads. Plowmen try to put snowbanks as far back as possible, but even the best plowmen wouldn’t have anticipated this much snow without any melt. The result is snowbanks encroaching on driveways, parking lots, etc. Dirfts also cause a major problem, because while the snow is still powdery and the winds are still active, the shoveling is never over.

My dad learns this lesson multiple times each winter

My dad learns this lesson multiple times each winter

This means that additional plowing, snowblowing, or even a loader has to come in and remove this snow. Though expensive, none of this is impossible with the use of even the most basic equipment and chemicals.

When all of this snow melts, which could start as early as Sunday with anticipated rains, the various chemicals from the road, sand, salt and exhaust fumes will go with it, sinking down into the ground or running overland into streams and rivers. Salt becomes a major problem, as it is dissolved so thoroughly that the ground cannot filter it out, leading to high levels of salt in groundwater, especially near major roads. This is nowhere near as big of a problem in Wakefield as it is in more urbanized areas though, but we’ll get to that next week in my discussion of how Portland, ME is dealing with all this snow in an urban environment.

 

 

Maine Supports Project to Protect Great East and Wilson Lakes

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has awarded a Nonpoint Source Pollution Control project grant to the Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance for 2015-2016. The “Great East Lake and Wilson Lake Watershed Implementation (Phase 2 Maine)” project will continue the work started in Phase 1 and address serious chronic road issues on Lakeside Drive on Great East Lake, residential properties on both Great East and Wilson lakes and work with both lake associations to further enhance the lake residents’ understanding of the connections between land activities and water quality.

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Erosion on Lakeside Drive after a midsummer storm

The newly formed Lakeside Drive Road Association is eager to work with AWWA and Maine DEP to correct chronic erosion issues along its road and residential properties. The sediment delivery to Great East Lake from Lakeside Drive is estimated to be well over 40 tons per year and the road association is committed to this repair and its long-term maintenance.

Many of the shorefront properties along Lakeside Drive have been impacted by the torrents of stormwater running off the road and the AWWA Youth Conservation Corps will assist those interested in repairing their landscapes to infiltrate the stormwater before it reaches the lake. In addition, the AWWA will continue assisting landowners around the rest of Great East Lake and on Wilson Lake to make their properties more lake-friendly.

Healthy septic systems are an important ingredient in healthy lakes. AWWA will partner with the Great East Lake Improvement Association and the Wilson Lake Association to survey residents within 250’ of the lake about their septic systems. The information will be analyzed to determine where septic outreach and potential cost-share funds for improvements to malfunctioning systems are needed.

If you own property on either Great East or Wilson and would like AWWA’s help with your landscape or have questions about your septic system give us a call at (603) 473-2500 or email swilson@AWwatersheds.org.

Funding for this project was provided in part by a Watershed Assistance Grant from the ME Department of Environmental Protection with Clean Water Act Section 319 funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Invasive Aquatic Species Workshop- A Resounding Success

This past Sunday, the Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance hosted a workshop on Invasive Aquatic Species at the Acton Town Hall. Representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Exotic Species Program, the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program in Maine, and the York County Invasive Aquatic Species Project spoke about the invasive species currently in our area and the species Maine and New Hampshire may have to deal with in the near future.

Workshop participants attempt to identify different species of milfoil

Workshop participants attempt to identify different species of milfoil

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A tray of Eurasian milfoil

 

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Amy Smagula of the NH DES teaches New Hampshire residents about aquatic invasives.

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The workshop floor bustled with activity as local residents made their way around to view the different types of native and invasive plants.

67 attendants learned how to correctly identify a vast array of different invasives, how to conduct an invasive species survey in their respective states, and what to do if they find an invasive in their lake. The workshop was a success in e very way imaginable, and we want to thank everyone who came out to help protect their lake and all those who helped pull this great event together!

Under the Surface: A Look Under the Ice at Province Lake

I’ve been unable to post a blog for our winter series, Exploring the Winter Rivers, for the past few weeks. This is primarily due to the flurry of winter trainings and conferences that AWWA’s been attending in order to keep up to date on the best stormwater implementation and outreach methods. However, once I knew Dr. Haney was coming up  to Province Lake this winter, I knew it would be something I had to tell you all about.

Dr. Haney had last come to Province Lake in September 2013 with his field limnology class to do sampling on the waters of Province Lake. One of the most valuable tests which he was performing was a sediment core analysis, sediment core analyses are particularly valuable because, unlike other tests which give us a snapshot of the lake, a sediment core analysis can give us a look at the history of the lake. This is particularly useful on Province Lake, where the history of the lake is murky at best and one historical document seemingly contradicts the last. While a core sample was obtained in September, Dr. Haney was not sufficiently pleased with the depth of the sample. It seemed as though the core sampler wasn’t penetrating the sediments as far as it should have. Typically, Dr. Haney is able to gather information dating back to pre-development times, but our first sample was only able to take us back several decades. A plan was made to perform winter sampling, hoping the ice would give us a more stable launching pad for the sediment corer.

Yesterday gave us another opportunity to attempt a sediment core grab. Dr. Haney, his student John DuFresne, and past student Nancy Leland were all in attendance, as well as members of the Province Lake Association, AWWA, and NH DES. We loaded up the snowmobiles (provided by members of PLA) and headed out to the deepest spot of Province Lake.IMG_9923

With motorized augers, we were able to quickly drill through the ice in seconds.

Nancy Leland and Linda Schier dropped a plankton net through one of the holes, collecting both phyto and zooplankton. The number and variety of plankton which are present in Province in winter will give us a clearer picture of Province Lake’s ecology throughout the year. The phyto and zooplankton are separated through a simple device which attracts the zooplankton to the light. Within 20 minutes, we can be sure that 95% of the zooplankton will have gone down into the light exposed tube.IMG_0054

At the sediment coring station, however, things were not looking as promising. Repeated attempts at different sections of the lake yielded nothing but murky water, with the corer failing to penetrate the sediment layer. Typically, with the amount of weight Dr. Haney attached to the corer yields almost too much sediment, filling the tube entirely. This time however, we were lucky to get an inch. It appears as though Province Lake either has an abnormally hard sediment layer, the layer is incredibly small, or as Dr. Haney suggested, the lake churns sediments enough to keep them from forming a consolidated layer of sediment, instead leading to several feet of murky water at the bottom of the lake.

Photo Mar 27, 11 25 19 AM

 

This is not a failure though, merely another piece of Province’s puzzle. Dr. Haney believes that the next step will be to map the bottom of Province Lake after ice out. With this, we will be able to determine how deep the sediment layer is, and hopefully determine a site which will yield a better sediment core. We will keep you all posted with updates as we receive them.

I’ve posted more photos of our time out on the ice below.

 

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An auger is used to drill a hole through the surface of the ice.

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A device used to separate phytoplankton from zooplankton.

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Pulling plankton from under the ice.

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Dr. Haney examines a plankton sample full of copepods.

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Members of AWWA and PLA observe the pulling of plankton

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A plankton net emerges from below the ice.

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AWWA member Jeanne Achille is excited to ride a snowmobile!

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The team loads up the snowmobiles to head out to the deep spot.

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A shot of the auger being towed behind a snowmobile.

Exploring the Winter Rivers: The South River Barrens

My second foray to one of the AWWA region’s frozen rivers brought me to the South River, which enters Province Lake almost exactly at the border between Parsonsfield, Maine and Wakefield, New Hampshire.

Starting right about here.

Focusing right about here.

I was excited to get out onto the South River, as it is the largest river system entering Province Lake.  I’ve been working in the Province area quite a bit as of late (as you can see here, here, here, and here too) to help reduce the cyanobacteria blooms which have occurred in the area repeatedly for the past several years, so I thought it would be nice to check out one of the lake’s biggest tributaries.

Province Lake

Province Lake

I started my trip off Rt-153 where the South River runs under a culvert into Province Lake. From here, I made my way over the icy snowbank and began my trek into the marshy surroundings of the river.  Despite the clear definition of the river where it meets the culvert, I still had a difficult time keeping track of the main channel as I pushed away from the road. The South River didn’t have a coniferous canopy cover to shield it from winter’s barrage of snow and ice, and as a result the river was completely hidden from view with the exception of a few sparse patches of water popping up in the wetland brush. The river also takes multiple small channels through a wetland area within the first several hundred feet. I eventually found myself hundreds of feet away from the main river, wondering both where I had gone wrong and how a large river can just disappear.

Pretty easy to get lost walking through this.

Pretty easy to get lost walking through this.

A quick bit of recon led me back to the river and the road. Once again, I made my way following the river’s path; this time really focusing on following the main stem.  At one point I even found the faded tracks of another animal that appeared to have followed the river. The recent thaw and refreeze had blurred the tracks’ definition, but whatever had made them was definitely bigger than a house cat.

Finally, I pushed through the scrubby wetlands and into a section of open river. The river straightened out and I could see a few thousand feet in front of me, and hundreds of feet on either side.

The vast icy expanse surrounding the South River

The vast icy expanse surrounding the South River

The running water was clearly channelized now, tearing an uninterrupted white band through the scrub. The river’s normal banks were defined on either side by a sudden rise in elevation, however a closer look at the surrounding wetland vegetation and geography tells the whole story. Scrubby wetlands vegetation means that the ground hundreds of feet on either side of the South River stays wet. That is somewhat common in slow moving rivers. The less obvious thing is that on either edge of this wetland we can find sharp rises in elevation.  During floods, the water in this area rises above the normal banks and floods the entire wetland area.  The area of woodland vegetation begins to occur on the sharp rises past the wetland area, where “normal” plants can put down roots and survive. This means that during a high water time, the South River likely triples or quadruples in width.

I continued onward, the sparse vegetation and glaring white snow of the river giving a dystopian feel to my little walk. I traveled only a mile or two in that day, but the South River felt endless in snowshoes, each step leading to more of the same, each slight angle around bend in the river revealing another vast expanse of ice.

Time and space seem to work differently here.

Time and space seem to work differently here.

And then I found poop, and it brightened my day.

Hoo-ray!

Hoo-ray!

I’d had a suspicion about the ill-defined tracks from earlier that day. My identification skills being somewhat dull from city living and never having them in the first place, I naturally assumed they were something big and dangerous like a mountain lion, or possibly a long extinct relic of the ice age hunting me behind the cover of the bushes. My mind wanders when I’m alone in nature.

Obviously the work of something that wants to eat me.

Obviously the work of something that wants to eat me.

My logical side however, thought it was likely beaver, mink, or fox. Of course, I otter have known better.

Get it?

It was otter scat, is what I’m getting at.

funny-otter

Even this otter hates my puns.

Now, not to focus on the poop, but there was poop all over the place.  I had first noticed it  a while back and had my suspicions that whatever was dropping scat was living in the water by how frequently it popped up by thawed pockets. Then there were two key pieces of evidence:

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Exhibit A

I tried to capture a photo as clearly as possible, but those pictures show an opening in the river with tracks that come out of the water, move about 15 feet away in a semicircle, and loop right back into the hole. This narrowed it down to otters or beavers, and then I saw this:

IMG_0508Exhibit B

That is a track clearly marked with a belly slide. River otters love to slide where they can; it’s a fun, fast, and efficient way for them to move. Also, a closer look at the scat (because how can you not look closer, right?) revealed small stones and bits of shell from their favorite meal, freshwater mollusks.

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Not all can handle the glamor of my job.

 A large area of open water with a concentrated amount of scat indicated that their burrow was likely nearby.

IMG_0507Otters aren’t the only creatures roaming the banks of the south river in winter. Not far from where I believed the otter burrow to be, I found coyote scat. It’s my belief that a coyote came to the area looking for an otter based snack, and as he was visiting he left this behind. The size was much different from the otter’s, as was the (ahem) composition.

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Not as grainy, much larger. Thanks for letting me borrow your gloves, dad!

Satisfied with the day’s  adventure, I turned north and used a shortcut to quickly make my way over dry land through the woods and back onto Rt-153. Walking between the trees, I couldn’t help but think of my thought process while working on the Province Lake Watershed Management Plan. I’d always thought about how the plan would help the lake and the people on it. My snowshoeing trip gave me a different perspective though. Preserving the Province Lake watershed doesn’t just help balance a lake with a nutrient overload for the benefit of waterfront residents. It protects the natural ecosystem of the area, plants and creatures that have lived in the region for millenia without major change, always present but almost unseen. The man made world dominates the developed, asphalt border of Province Lake, but a few hundred feet away nature still prevails. And that is a trait which will always be worth protecting.

Places like this are disappearing, but they are worth an uphill battle.

Places like this are disappearing, but they are worth an uphill battle.

I’ve added a few additional photos below. Be sure to like us on Facebook and/or Twitter (@AWWA_Lakes) and look out for next week’s blog post!

Bird's nest

Bird’s nest.

The canopy of conifers on my way out from the river.

The canopy of conifers on my way out from the river.

Some really well defined otter tracks.

Some really well defined tracks. I’m thinking raccoon.

A closeup of where i believe otters are living in the rivers

A closeup of where I believe otters are living in the river. Note the defined entryways.

Ice can freeze in many strange ways. Here we have a layer of ice over liquid wwater, being contained by a layer of snow and ice.

Ice can freeze in many strange ways. Here we have a layer of ice over liquid water, being contained by a layer of snow and ice.

Lastly, for those who came here just looking for more pictures of my dog Gir, who was in last week’s blog on Pike Brook, here he is dressed as a taco for Halloween

Gir Taco