The red maples are turning crimson, tamarack a bright yellow, and even the sphagnum moss presents a variety of colors within the Colchester Bog Natural Area located in Burlington’s backyard. Here you have an opportunity to see the remarkable plant diversity that exists within a bog and its surrounding wetlands. Bogs are interesting places to visit, in part, because they contain some of the oddest plants you will find in Vermont. Bogs are also incredibly fragile and vulnerable to human impacts, and can be one of the most challenging wetland types to explore. Colchester Bog provides a unique opportunity for access, so come for an autumnal visit.
You can bike along the western side of the natural area via the Causeway Park and Island Line Trail, which literally takes you across Lake Champlain. You can also walk into the bog itself on a 400 foot long boardwalk built by students and community members and suspended on plastic floats to avoid disturbing the plants beneath. Step through the fallen leaves, enjoy an autumn day, and experience a unique sense of time and history.
The Colchester Bog began forming more than 9,000 years ago, dated by studying the peat accumulation that measures over 18 feet deep in some areas. Because of the uniqueness of the bog and its plant communities, several research and educational projects have been conducted there. It was also considered for Federal Designation as a Natural Landmark back in 1975. This newspaper article from The Sunday News, dated August 10, 1975, gives a wonderful overview of the bog and why it is such an amazing place. A map created by a UVM class in 2014 helps illustrate the plant communities within the natural area.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. When walking on the boardwalk, keep your eyes open for a pitcher plant or a sun dew, two carnivorous plants, and double-check that the rock you’re seeing isn’t really a snapping turtle.
This wetland has many functions and values, including water quality protection for Lake Champlain, and habitat for rare, threatened, or endangered species. It is also simply a beautiful place to visit. In addition, the Colchester Bog is a comparative “wilderness” to the surrounding urban and suburban communities, providing a welcome respite from city life. Take advantage of the beautiful fall (or dare I say summer-like) days and go for a walk or bike ride on these trails to glimpse 9,000 years of nature.
And not to worry, if you live in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, next week we will highlight one more wetland, with great hiking and skiing possibilities, in your region.