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East Branch Ausable restoration project takes place in Keene Valley

May 22, 2013
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

KEENE VALLEY - Volunteers met at Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley Sunday, May 5, armed with shovels, to plant trees. The planting was done in partnership with the Ausable River Association, Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Trees for Tributaries Program of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Rivermede Farm and the town of Keene.

The planting is part of a plan to prevent erosion and flooding along the East Branch of the Ausable River in the town of Keene. Funding is provided by the New York State Department of State through the Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.

The Rev. Milton Dudley told his congregation about the project at the Keene Valley Congregational Church that morning, and a good number showed up to work. Dr. Rachel Schultz brought her SUNY Plattsburgh Restoration Ecology class to the site as well. Altogether, Corrie Miller, executive director of the Ausable River Association, counted 86 volunteers. She had originally hoped for 10, she said, so all the help was a boon.

Article Photos

Martha Allen/Lake Placid News
More than 100 volunteers turned out Sunday, May 5, to plant trees along the banks of the Ausable River in Keene Valley to prevent erosion. The treees which now look more like twigs or switched,are of several different species indigenous to the area.

Volunteers worked both on the Rivermede Farm property and on the opposite bank, which borders state Route 73 and will be a town park.

According to Miller, volunteers planted 2,500 trees and shrubs of species native to the area, replacing about 54,000 square feet of critical riparian buffer in only three hours.

The trees were supplied by the DEC Saratoga Tree Nursery through the Lake Champlain Basin "Trees for Tributaries" program. This program is a partnership between DEC and the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program goals are to restore and protect the stream corridors that connect to Lake Champlain.

Small and slender, they looked more like switches with long roots than trees. Volunteers planted them carefully along the bank and watered them with buckets of water. As the trees grow, their roots will hold the soil and prevent erosion of the bank. The day was hot and sunny, and Miller said she might plan a bucket brigade to water the plants again in a few days, but rainfall during the week rendered this undertaking unnecessary.

The riverside trees and shrubs now flank a 2,800-foot stream bank restoration project, which was completed last summer. The plantings will, over time, protect the restoration project, Miller said, and further stabilize the riverbanks, build the flood plain's capacity to protect downstream infrastructure, and improve wildlife habitat and fishing opportunities for recreation.

Rob Hastings, owner of Rivermede Farm, said that last summer's restoration project worked well to prevent the flooding that had become commonplace in recent years. There have been five "bankfull events," or high water events, since last August, he said, and the banks have held each time.

For a long time, this half-mile stretch of river was grower broader and shallower, filling with sediment an gravel as its banks eroded and caved. High water was greedily eating the land of Rivermede Farm at a rate of several feet a year.

In 1998, Trout Unlimited began initial studies of the problem.

The Army Corps of Engineers became involved with the project in 2005, then withdrew in 2012 because the town could not come up with sufficient funding for the Army Corps plan.

Trout Unlimited approached U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, offering to partner with them to perform a different, more natural, version of the stalled 15-year project within a modest budget.

From July 14- through Aug. 14, inside 23 work days, under the direction of U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Trout Unlimited, Ward Logging LLC, under Michael Ward, harvested and staged whole trees, logs and boulders from the Rivermede area and performed active construction. Seeding and mulching was done by TU, F&W and Essex County Soil and Water District.

There is no riprap at this site. All materials come from the neighborhood, following a healthy natural, but skillfully engineered river model.

According to TU information, extreme flooding is increasing in frequency, and methods such as dredging, straightening, laterally confining, vertically entrenching and overwidening stream beds are unstable and cause destruction to roads, buildings and bridges during major floods.



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