Twenty people joined the Abbey Pond wetland hike organized by the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club on August 26, 2017. The trailhead is off of Route 116 in Middlebury. The purpose of the hike was to explore the Abbey Pond and associated wetland complex. Zapata Courage, a Vermont District Wetlands Ecologist, was asked to lead the hike and talk about the ecology and history of the area.
The hike is considered moderate, with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet, almost all within the first mile. Along the steeper portion of the hike, you get to view waterfalls and walk along cascading streams. As the trail travels up the side of the mountain, there are beautiful views of the Champlain Valley. Upon reaching the plateau along the spine of the Green Mountains, the hike is primarily flat, a welcomed break, ultimately ending at Abbey Pond.
Along the way to Abbey Pond and its wetland, we sampled wood sorrel (sour!) and wild cucumber (like a water chestnut), and tasted the wintergreen flavor of yellow birch. We hopped on rocks crossing the stream, observed a couple of toads, and learned the names of some of the tree and plants around us. We learned why Christmas fern is named so and that it is an upland fern. We also learned why the sensitive fern, a wetland fern, is considered “so sensitive” and we exploded the seed pods of the “touch-me-not” jewelweed plant.
Upon arrival at Abbey Pond and while the group sat on the big rock, enjoying lunches and snacks, Zapata talked about the overall area and the functions and values of wetlands on the landscape. We explored what those functions and values are for the Abbey Pond wetland complex.
Abbey pond is within an ecological Special Area designated by the U.S. Forest Service. It supports a community of marsh animals and unique plants, including pitcher plants and sundews, two of Vermont’s carnivorous plants.
The water in Abbey pond is held back by a beaver dam. This helps hold flood and storm waters back, minimizing downstream damage. The wetland vegetation uptakes nutrients and traps sediment, helping to maintain good water quality of the stream too.
The fish and wildlife functions were easily noticed. We saw eastern newts and fish in the pond, evidence of use by deer and moose, and we talked about other species that are likely found in the area. A number of salamanders, toads, frogs, and snakes have been documented in the area, as have three species of bat, including the northern long-eared and little brown bats, both endangered in Vermont. Abbey Pond wetland also supports a few rare, threatened, or endangered plants, so the wetland habitat is important to their existence.
All in all, it was a great fall-like day, with the red maple trees along the perimeter of the pond just beginning to turn their characteristic maroon color. It was a fun way to learn about and enjoy a wonderful wetland in Vermont. Other incredible wetlands that are easily accessible by trails include Peacham Bog, Colchester Bog, and the Vernon Black Gum Swamps. Get out and enjoy a fall foliage hike in one of them!