River Ecology


During a curriculum unit on river ecology, middle school science students began assessing the health of waterways in their region of Vermont. They found that many rivers had diminished water quality from erosion along their banks. Students contacted local environmental organizations such as Friends of the Winooski and Friends of the Mad River (which feeds into the Winooski).

These community partners helped educate students about the importance of healthy riparian areas. Students did further library and Internet research, and staff from the University of Vermont’s Watershed Alliance helped them conduct an inventory along the Winooski River—correlating water temperature and dissolved oxygen, testing pH, and collecting other data. Students then made similar observations along severely eroded sections of nearby Crossett Brook.


Knowing that streamside vegetation afforded many benefits, including shading the stream and fostering wildlife habitat, the students decided on a hands-on approach—planting trees that would provide strong root systems to hold riverbank soil in place. Working with Friends of the Mad River and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff, students participated in a riparian planting day, planting more than 100 trees along a degraded riparian area of the Mad River in Waitsfield.

Following the planting day, students had a final wrap-up session with staff from the UVM Watershed Alliance, comparing their findings along the two rivers and discussing what they had learned about the dynamics of riverbank erosion and the importance of shading and wildlife habitat. “The students clearly felt a huge sense of accomplishment,” notes their teacher, Wendy Moore. One student observed that she wanted to return to the river someday years from now with her family and see the trees grown and tall.