Monthly Archives: August 2013

Vermont Natural Community Mapping on Natural Resources Atlas

Of all the mapping work that I do, I’ve often posted about my iNaturalist observations. The actual mapping I do for work, however, is much more complex and until recently wasn’t really possible to see online. This has since changed, in part, due to the Vermont Natural Resources Atlas, a website that offers a wealth of spatial information on natural resources in Vermont – everything from state significant natural communities (see below) to deer wintering areas to information on rivers to property boundaries and much more.

Much of the mapping I do revolves around “state significant natural communities” – natural communities that are judged by quantitative criteria to be the best and most important examples of their type in the state. These range from large intact expanses of the most common natural community types (like Northern Hardwood Forests) to just about any example of the rarest types (such as Pitch Pine-Heath Rocky Ridge Forest – below).


I haven’t mapped all of the State Significant Natural Communities on the Atlas, and in fact many great ecologists have worked on mapping them over time. However, I have had the opportunity to map to a greater detail than others have in the past because of the abundance of amazingly detailed air photos and other GIS layers that are increasingly available. Last Fall and Winter, State Lands Ecologist Bob Zaino and I created a natural community map of the incredible Victory Basin including the wetland/floodplain complex and surrounding state lands. Because this is such an exceptional site, nearly every natural community meets the criteria for state significance and thus is displayed on the Atlas.

Moose River, Victory Basin

To see the Atlas, go to . Unfortunately it seems to work best on Internet Explorer. Navigate to Atlas Layers —>ANR Atlas Layers —>Fish and Wildlife —>Significant Natural Community, and zoom to an area of the state, such as Victory Basin, to see any mapped state significant natural communities. Check out the other neat layers too.


This map offers the opportunity to see some of Vermont’s most interesting ecosystems. In a place like Victory Basin WMA, exploring for hunting, fishing, and wildlife/plant/ecosystem observation are encouraged, and these layers could help with any of these. Just keep in mind that these are wild, undeveloped places, and don’t venture off trail without being safe and well-prepared.

Many of the state significant natural communities are also on private land – permission was initially obtained to survey these areas, but his doesn’t mean there is public access, and landowners have also often changed, and many areas are now posted No Trespassing. Vermont has a long tradition of not posting “No Trespassing” signs on private land, to allow hunters and wanderers to roam between forests owned by different people, but if you don’t know the local area it’s always better to ask around locally even if the land isn’t ‘posted’. But, with so much great state land as well as the Green Mountain National Forest, there are plenty of natural communities to explore on public lands.

Above: a neat swamp on Snake Mountain. I haven’t figured out the ranking for this one yet, but it will probably end up being state significant and thus will show up on the atlas at some point.

Happy exploring!

Rivers and Greenways in the Southern Appalachians

The southern Appalachians are a place of great biological diversity… of hardwood trees, of salamanders, of landscapes, and a rich cultural history as well. The area supports the tallest mountains on the continent east of the Mississippi, includes areas approaching temperate rain forest in precipitation, and because of many factors including abundant moisture and lack of glaciation in the recent Ice Age, the area supports the most diverse deciduous hardwood forests on Earth, as well as islands of boreal conifer forest.


Freshwater mussels and salamanders thrive in the area’s waterways. And, while the South is often portrayed as an area of homogeneous conservative politics and culture, as always the truth is more complicated. For sure I don’t agree with much the mainstream politicians from the area have to say, but as with any place, when you get out and explore you will find many good people who love the rivers and mountains and the land.

I had a reminder of this when visiting family in the area, when we discovered a river greenway in the tiny town of Marion, North Carolina, less than a mile from the hotel we were staying at.



This is the Joseph McDowell Historic Catawba Greenway, a paved path along the Catawba River. This flat paved path allowed my fiance’s 90 year old grandfather to enjoy a stroll along the river, while also giving me plenty to look at. The path meanders through about a mile of floodplain forest, with lawn areas, benches, and two platforms where anyone can fish, including people in wheelchairs.
There is also a small loop that brings you to a round hill with historic graves on top.


There are plans to expand the trail – in two years if we stay in the same Comfort Inn the trail will come nearly to our door. The trail will also connect to a school.


I’m not sure how long this trail has been around, but it appeared to be new. It was being enjoyed by many people both times we visited – a elderly couple out for a walk; children fishing, biking, and looking at turtles; joggers; people pushing strollers. For a town with a population under 10,000 the greenway was getting a lot of use despite the fact it wasn’t easy to find. I happened to see it on Google Maps, but my fiance had been to the hotel in the past without ever knowing the trail was there!

Later, we passed through the Roanoke, Virginia area, and found another greenway – the Roanoke River Greenway.


We had a bit more trouble finding access to this greenway, and sections of it seemed in a bit of disrepair, though this appeared to be at least in part due to recent floods. Nevertheless there were many people enjoying the river in some sections via fishing, dog walking, jogging, and strolling.


Other sections were mostly empty when we visited, though I’m sure they are used at other times.


There was also information on controlling stormwater runoff. The river did look to have some water quality issues, but considering the population of the area it was not in bad shape.


The area supported the expected mix of native, invasive, and naturalized vegetation and landscaping that one finds along an urban river, with some areas of native revegetation as well. These should help with the lack of riparian buffer in some areas, over time.

These greenways were two great examples of communities reclaiming space along a river in a populated area for both conservation and recreation. Both greenways are well-used by their communities, both offered space to native plants and animals and allowed the river to flood without harming people and structures, and both have expansion plans in their future. I look forward to visiting them again next time I am in those areas.

Of course, I didn’t stay on urban greenways the whole time. I got a chance to visit the top of Mount Mitchell, wander a diverse forest near a reservoir, and visit the beautiful and impressive Linville Falls and Linville Gorge.



As always, I was on the lookout for plants and other interesting organisms and keeping track of them on iNaturalist. I managed to document 150 species in North Carolina, which are viewable here. Here are my Virginia observations. There is also a project called Evolving Appalachia, similar to the Vermont Atlas of Life. They have a way to go before catching up with Vermont in observations and species, but with a higher population and greater number of species in the area, they may surpass Vermont over time (despite my desire for the Vermont project to be the best one on iNaturalist, I still contributed copious sightings to the Appalachia project, of course).

I don’t know when I will next be in the South, but I look forward to visiting the Tulip Tree forests again.