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Streambank stabilization and tree planting

One part of being a friend of the river is to take care of its streambanks. Many of us live quite close to the Mad River or one of its tributaries. Some of us are riparian landowners meaning that we are owners of streambanks. Some of us live distant from the river but enjoy walking along or paddling its course or fishing its waters. Whatever the case may be, we each have a responsibility for the care, protection and maintenance of streambanks.

Friends volunteers planting vegetation along a streambankErosion of streambanks is a major problem on the Mad River. Streambank erosion is a natural process that is occurring all the time as streams and rivers meander back and forth across their flood plains. Normally, trees and vegetation keep streambank erosion down to a slow pace, except during catastrophic flooding. The problem occurs when we use the land for fields, homes and businesses and do not leave and maintain an adequate vegetated buffer along the streambanks. Streambanks without a tangle of roots to bind the soil are vulnerable to the forces of water unless artificial measures, such as stone riprap, are used to stabilize the bank. Much of the Mad River has been riprapped , an expensive solution that leaves little vegetation to keep the waters cool and provide food and cover for fish and wildlife.

   A knotty problem affecting streambanks is one we hardly recognize because it looks so lush and green growing on the streambanks almost everywhere. Japanese Knotweed (a non-native invasive species commonly called Bamboo) may look good but it really is the scourge of streambanks. It grows and spreads very rapidly. Its root structure is minuscule compared to that of normal woody vegetation, so it provides no permanent streambank protection or stabilization. It grows vigorously and dominates the bank so that no other vegetation can compete to provide the plant diversity needed for healthy streambanks. (Click here for information on Japanese Knotweed control)

   Part of the solution to streambank erosion is to keep all the existing vegetated streambanks in a stable condition. Don't clear any more than is really needed for development reasons and maintain the banks in a healthy, diverse condition. Then restore vegetation on banks that are void or so thin that the trees will be soon gone. To remind us of this need, stream buffer or setback requirements in town zoning and subdivision ordinances would be helpful. But mostly it's up to each one of us to recognize the need and do the protection and restoration that needs to be done.

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