Science

Exploring Vermont’s Wetlands: Colchester Bog

20141020ColchesterBogBBlack organic ooze, quicksand, insect eating plants, quaking mats of sphagnum moss, and so much more!

Back in 1975, Colchester Bog was nominated for national recognition through the National Natural Landmarks (NNL) Program. Sites are designated as NNLs because they contain the best remaining examples of specific biological and/or geological features nationwide. The natural features represented include aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, geological processes and resultant landforms, and records of geologic history, an illustration of the diversity of our Nation’s natural landscape. There are only 597 sites identified throughout the US, and 12 sites are either wholly or partially within Vermont! To have been nominated for such a distinction, Colchester Bog is truly an exemplary and irreplaceable system within Vermont, if not within the nation.

20141020ColchesterBogAFormed 9,000 years ago in an old channel of the Winooski River, Colchester Bog resides on a peninsula of Lake Champlain just a few miles north of Burlington, VT.

Since the time of the river shift, nearly 20 feet of sphagnum moss have filled the former river channel, forming a spongy ecosystem.The natural area consists of open peatland, a mat of sphagnum moss and sedges, shrub and tree dominated swamps, open water areas (laggs), a sand dune, and some upland areas.

As one of only two large peat bogs along Lake Champlain, Colchester Bog with its sphagnum moss mats and the decaying peat beneath, a unique habitat, complete with bright flowers and carnivorous plants (sundews and pitcher plants) exists. Colchester Bog provides habitat for sixteen (16) Rare, Threatened or Endangered (RTE) species and two (2) uncommon species.

Many common plants can be recognized within the bog, but there are some species that continue to exist from times past, when the climate was warmer, including the black gum tree. Other species only exist because of the presence of remnant sand dunes, like the pitch pine tree. A truly unique combination of habitats and species.

The bog provides habitat for a number of animal species, including this snapping turtle. Beavers and other mammals have been observed and a variety of insects make the bog home. Birds nest here and more come to feed upon the variety of berry producing plants; including blueberry, marsh cranberry, and huckleberry bushes. The bog also protects the water quality of Lake Champlain, enhancing the habitat for fish and other aquatic species.

20141020ColchesterBogCThe University of Vermont still manages this natural area after acquiring 180 acres in 1973 with the help of The Nature Conservancy. Colchester Bog supports a diversity of flora and fauna, which makes it ideal for research and educational opportunities. Colchester Bog is used by UVM faculty for research, field trips, and classes, but it is also open to the public to come and enjoy. A floating boardwalk and an observation platform helps to reduce impact to the wetland by visitors.

The Vermont Wetlands Program encourages you to go and visit this unique system to explore and enjoy its beauty!