Announcements / Opportunities / Science

Cornwall Clayplain Forest Walk

Sunday, October 15th, 1:30 – 3:30 pm, join conservation ecologist Marc Lapin for a guided walk through one of Cornwall’s finest examples of a Valley Clayplain Forest natural community. This hemlock-hardwood forest abuts a rich wetland complex, all part of the Beaver Brook watershed, a major tributary of the Lemon Fair River. Learn about the site’s plants and soils, and investigate the principles of landscape connectivity. Clayplain forests, once common across the Champlain Valley, are now rare and listed as “threatened” in Vermont.

There is parking close to the forest site. Take Route 125 to Foote Farm Road. Once on Foote Farm Road, turn left on Beaver Brook Road (approximately 700 feet). Vehicles can be parked along the circle at the end of Beaver Brook Road. Please, no dogs.

Clayplain Forest Aerial

Marc Lapin is an Environmental Studies Laboratory Professor at Middlebury College. The walk is sponsored by the Cornwall Conservation Commission. For more information, contact Mary Dodge at 802-462-2899.

As the name implies, clayplain forests grow in relatively flat areas with clay soils. Similar forests once covered much of the Champlain Valley, but because the rich clay soils make excellent farmland, almost all of the forests (over 99%, according to The Nature Conservancy) were cut and replaced with farms.

The clay soil in the Champlain Valley was deposited after the last ice age, when a glacial lake and then an inland sea covered much of the area. Clay deposits only form in mostly-still water, unlike the sandy soils that form along beaches and river deltas on the edge of the ancient waterway. The tiny particles of clay soil hold rich nutrients, but are largely impenetrable to water, so these forest types can experience standing water much of the year. However, not all clayplain forests are wetlands. There are three gradients of clayplain forests, indicative of the overall presence of water which drives the vegetative community.

As part of an inventory of Cornwall and the subsequent report, this particular forest block is called “The Gully.” The 2014 report provides the following site description:

“[this area] features examples of two rare natural communities in Vermont: Mesic Clayplain Forest and Sand-Over-Clay Forest. Dominating the north portion of the site, the clayplain forest is well-drained and has a canopy dominated by a mix of hemlock, sugar maple, American beech, and other hardwood species…The forest in this well-drained portion contrasts with the wetter portion of clayplain to the east.”

The east and south sides of the forest block abut other wetland types associated with Beaver Brook, all influenced by the hydrology of the Lemon Fair River. The wetland types within this area are diverse, including seeps, cattail marshes, and alluvial meadows, with beaver activity creating its own habitat. The presence of these wetlands provides a number of functions and values to both the forest block and the landscape. Wetlands help to mitigate storm and flood waters, protect water quality, and provide wildlife habitat.

This whole system of forest blocks and wetlands is incredibly important when considering land connectivity, wildlife corridors, and habitat/plant diversity. Please join Marc and the Cornwall Conservation Commission to see this rare clayplain forest natural community and learn more about its unique characteristics.

Marc Lapin Chart

This chart by Marc Lapin shows relative dominance of various tree species for different natural community types.

Wetlands provide many functions and values on the landscape—recreation is one of those values we should take advantage of. For other easily accessible, amazing wetlands you can visit across the state, check out the other blog posts in this series.