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Village Says Milfoil Effort Needs Help

  • Bradley Bulson, a rising sophomore at Unity College in Maine, shakes a clump of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil off his paddle while working to extract the non-native plant from Dewey’s Pond in Quechee, Vt., on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016, as part of a summer internship along with the help of fellow classmates Emma O’Brien and Taylor Onessimo. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An invasive Eurasian milfoil bloom has congested much of Dewey’s Pond, spelling bad news for the pond’s native flora and fauna, as seen from the side of a canoe on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016, in Quechee, Vt. Likely spread by way of boat or a dumped aquarium, the invasive plant is known to increase the overall temperature in a body of water and to decrease the water’s available dissolved oxygen, killing fish in colder months. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After loading up his canoe with manually extracted Eurasian milfoil, Unity College sophomore Bradley Bulson transports the invasive species to 5-gallon buckets, which are then dumped into a sprawling pile adjacent from the boat launch of Dewey’s Pond in Quechee, Vt., on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. Bulson, with the help of fellow classmates Emma O’Brien and Taylor Onessimo, on average extracts about 200 5-gallon buckets worth of the invasive plant. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Mac Snyder

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2016 12:00:58 AM
Modified: 8/9/2016 12:01:50 AM
Quechee — Dewey’s Pond is quickly succumbing to a worsening invasion of milfoil, but it can be saved, town officials say, if a self-sustaining group of interested people materialize and pitch in by patrolling the pond’s waters and pulling the milfoil out, one plant at a time.

“It’s a matter of time and people,” said Gary Pelton, who left the area two years ago to take a job with Unity College in Maine, but who returns each summer to spend weeks pulling milfoil from the water. “The more people you have doing something, the easier it is, and the more likely it is you will be successful.”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent over the last several years have not been enough to beat back the plant from the 52-acre pond, said Tad Nunez, Hartford’s director of parks and recreation, and two factors have tipped the tide in the slimy invasive plant’s favor.

In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene dumped tons of silt into the pond, which runs between Quechee Main Street and Deweys Mills Road. That sediment made the waters more shallow and warmer, which created ideal growing conditions for milfoil.

Meanwhile, this year, the grant program that sustained the town’s eradication efforts were cut in half, further weakening the official response.

“Instead of $28,000, we got $14,000,” Nunez said. That reduced the amount of time the town can afford to pay a team with specialized milfoil-harvesting equipment. Nunez said the Save Dewey’s Pond Committee, a group of 14 stakeholders, is considering purchasing its own harvesting machine.

Ann Bove, who administers the Aquatic Nuisance Species Grant for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the amount that any particular town gets out of the program depends on how many applicants there are, and how well their proposals match up to the criteria used to weigh them.

“I add a few applicants every year,” she said.

This year, Pelton brought three Unity College interns with him — teens Taylor Onessimo, Emma O’Brien and Bradley Bulson — all of whom hope to move on to careers that will allow them to work with animals and benefit the environment.

The three students receive a stipend and live rent-free in tents at the Quechee State Park. They spend nine hours a day in canoes, paddling along the surface of the water and pulling out handful after handful of the plant.

By one recent morning, the bottom of the canoe piloted by Onessimo and O’Brien already was covered with piles of the dense, green weed.

When the canoe is so full that the two can’t comfortably continue to pull, they bring it back to shore and fill up 5-gallon buckets that they use to transport the plants to a large heap on the ground, where they die.

O’Brien estimates that they pull 20 buckets in an hour, and about 200 buckets each day. Over the weeks, they’ve pulled many thousands of gallons of milfoil. But there’s always more.

“It’s a treatment, not a cure,” O’Brien said. “It gives the native plants a chance to re-establish themselves.”

Onessimo said she was happy to spend her summer doing labor on the pond, and that she was rewarded by the dramatic difference she sees in milfoil density over the course of a particular day.

“I would have done this, even if it was useless,” she said. “I get to work with a wildlife biologist, and learn all sorts of skills.”

Though their days are filled with labor, the students said they were enjoying themselves — Bulson likes to catch and release every turtle he sees, O’Brien is a birdwatcher who thrills at every new kingbird sighting, and Onessimo has learned to track specific species of dragonflies, reveling in the difference between a black-and-white widow skimmer and a black-and-orange Halloween pennant.

Then there are the long nights at the campground, often beginning with a can of baked beans or macaroni and cheese cooked over the fire, before retiring to their tents.

Onessimo said the simple lifestyle, absent of television and video games, was a relief.

“I go to bed at eight, and I wake up at six feeling so refreshed,” she said.

Pelton and Nunez are hoping to groom a group of local volunteers who will pitch in on the milfoil removal effort.

Last month, the town announced a series of volunteer sessions during which area residents are encouraged to bring a small boat, kayak or canoe and a 5-gallon bucket to the Dewey’s Pond Landing off Quechee Main Street.

The first two sessions are on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m., with two more sessions planned for the same time slot next week.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.


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