The 123-acre Green Mountain College campus on the Poultney River provides a rich environment for academic programs, student life, and ecosystem services. It is divided into three distinct regions: 39 acres of natural areas including the Poultney River buffer zone, 40 acres on Cerridwen Farm, and 44 acres of designed buildings, landscapes, and athletic fields.
In addition to the natural areas on campus, St. Catherine Mountain is home to the College’s Deane Nature Preserve, which is 85 acres of land open to students and the public for education, research, recreation, and leisure, located 5 miles southeast of campus.
Green space on the Green Mountain College campus provides ecosystem services, and is vital to education, research, and recreation. Campus lands are outdoor classrooms and field sites for projects by both students and faculty. They are used in practical application of skills learned in courses, provide a healthy living area for GMC and Poultney community members, and contribute to our dedication to sustainability on campus.
Our campus lands provide habitat for over 300 native vascular plant species in more than 15 plant communities, ranging from riverine floodplain forests on the Poultney River to dry oak forest at the Deane Nature Preserve.
In addition, the Poultney River, which runs near the western boundary of campus, lies within the Poultney-Mettowee watershed and the Lake Champlain Basin. This watershed is 309,000-acres, and provides water for 17 towns in Vermont and New York. The Poultney River is one of the cleanest rivers in the state, and supports diverse fish and freshwater mussel communities including eight threatened or endangered species such as the eastern sand darter and the pink heel-splitter.
Floodplain wetlands and forests associated with the Poultney River form one of the least-developed riparian corridors on a warm-water river in Vermont. The College maintains a 35-meter wide buffer zone along the river to decrease erosion, maintain high water quality, and moderate water temperature. The buffer zone plays a vital role by providing habitat for native plants and animals, biomass production, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and waste processing, among others. Check out a map of our riparian buffer zone.
To ensure that these ecosystem services continue, vegetation in natural areas is allowed to develop primarily through natural processes. Invasive species are managed, native flora is planted to restore some areas, and studies of restoration are conducted.
Faculty and students are engaged in research projects in a variety of disciplines on campus lands and in the region. Some field labs are designed to give students the opportunity to contribute to long-term studies while they learn field and lab skills. For example, students have collected most of the plant specimens in the College’s herbarium and made it possible to compile a flora list for campus and Deane Nature Preserve.
Beginning in 2001, Ecology students have monitored old fields on campus to compare the course of succession following release from hay and corn. Faculty and students in the Biology program conduct research on campus lands and in the Poultney River. Topics include:
- Genetic structure of northern brook lamprey populations in the Champlain Basin
- A spatially explicit study of environmental influence on Beech Bark disease
- Carnivore surveys in the Southern Lake Champlain Valley
- Effects of coarse woody debris on tree seedling establishment in floodplain forest restoration
- Genetic structure and its implications for the ecology and conservation of fish populations in the Champlain Basin
- Ecology and Systematics of Dragonflies and Damselflies in Vermont
A sense of place produced by the natural areas and green spaces found throughout campus is an important aspect of our connection with the land. With a section of the Poultney Community Trail and other recreational trails located on our main campus, there are many opportunities for students, faculty, and community members to enjoy the lands.
The scenic Poultney River attracts students to swim, study, meet, jump from the rope swing, and otherwise enjoy their surroundings. At Deane Preserve, two routes to the top of St. Catherine Mountain offer a choice of moderate and steep ascents, and the west-facing bluff on top offer great views of Lake St. Catherine and the distant Adirondacks.
Lewis Deane Nature Preserve
The Lewis Deane Nature Preserve is an 85-acre forest located on St. Catherine Mountain donated to the college by Bill and Linda Osborne in 2002 (see the dedication speech and press release). The Vermont Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the land. The preserve is available for use by students and the local community for education, research, inspiration, and recreation. Located on St. Catherine Mountain, four miles southeast of the main campus, trail head parking is on the west side of Endless Brook Road, about one mile southeast of Vermont Route 30.
Since its acquisition in 2002, Green Mountain College has utilized the preserve as an outdoor classroom. Research conducted by students and faculty members at the College ranges from studies of factors explaining variation in susceptibility of beech trees to beech bark disease to baseline studies of trail conditions. A number of classes have incorporated Deane Preserve into their curricula. For example, Ecology and Botany classes have established permanent plots for long-term studies of forest dynamics. Recreation students designed a more sustainable and user-friendly trail route, and students in Images of Nature classes built the trail.
Natural processes are the main driver in natural resource management at Deane Nature Preserve. The College’s natural areas crew and groups of volunteers maintain trails and manage invasive species. A long-range management plan for Deane Preserve is in development.
For more information, check out Ruth Larkin’s monograph “Up On the Mountain”. She reviewed studies made by students and faculty during the first eight years of the preserve (see also the Compiled works of students at the Deane Preserve), revised and expanded the Deane Preserve flora, and discussed the ecology of the preserve after living for a year with her husband and young son in the home they built next to the preserve.
The dominant geographic feature in the preserve, Mount St. Catherine, formed 500 million years ago when a great series of volcanic islands collided with the modern day North America. The resulting Taconic Orogeny broke up the sea floor and deposited this region’s characteristic slate rock on top of the continent. Sand and gravel were deposited during the most recent glacial melt some 13,000 years ago and dominate the valley floor and the steep hill near the brook. Today, erosion is the dominant geological process, maintaining shallow soils and slate outcrops on steep slopes.
Deane Preserve is naturally diverse, with more than 250 species of vascular plants. (See Ruth Larkin’s “Up On the Mountain” for a more current species list, and “Flora of Lewis Deane Nature Preserve” by students in Botany, 2007.) Northern Hardwood and Hemlock Northern Hardwood Forest predominate. Sugar Maple and Ostrich Fern grow along the brook. Red Maple and White Oak trees are common on sandy and rather nutrient-poor valley flats. White Pine is common on deep glacial deposits of sand and gravel. At the base of steep slopes, nutrient-rich soils support Rich Northern Hardwoods Forest of Sugar Maple, White Ash, and Sweet Birch with American Maidenhair Fern. Upslope, look for Hemlock Forest on thin, acidic soil. As you near the top, you will see a dramatic transition to a Dry Oak Forest, where drought-tolerant trees of southern forests make a northern appearance above a carpet of Pennsylvania Sedge. Also keep an eye out for the preserve’s wildlife, which includes White-tailed Deer, Turkeys, Porcupines, and birds of the forest such as Barred Owls. Endless Brook runs along the east side of the mountain at the base of the mountain, providing habitat for the indigenous Brook Trout.
Disturbances and herbivory remove vegetation and contribute to the ecology of any ecosystem. Deane Preserve was grazed by sheep in the mid-1800’s (up to the summit), by cows at lower elevations into the 1970’s, and increasingly today by deer browsing tree seedlings and herbs in the forest. Forests returned in the late 1800’s and 1900’s to the entire preserve, except where occasional mowing prevented forest succession in the old field. Natural disturbances such as the 1938 hurricane and ice storms have damaged or killed larger trees, or targeted smaller plants under the surviving big trees during surface fires on the mountain-top in the mid-1940’s.
Endless Brook is home to indigenous brook trout. The brook snakes its way along the east side of the nature preserve, going underground as it nears Lake St. Catherine, earning the brook its intriguing name. On the slopes, seepage areas can be moist all summer, while outcrops and the mountain top experience lengthy dry periods. From the dry mountain top, visitors will see an extensive bog at the foot of the mountain, and beautiful Lake St. Catherine covering over 852 acres in Wells and Poultney.
13,000 years ago: Vermont was ice-free; sand and gravel deposits
1770’s: Possible earliest European settlement
1840’s: Peak of sheep grazing
1870-present: Forest regrowth
1938: Severe hurricane damage
1945: Lewis Deane purchased the land
1940’s: Surface fires on the mountain top
1970’s: Cattle grazing ended in the valley
2002: Land donated to Green Mountain College
All visitors to the preserve are asked to follow these guidelines:
1. Leave-no-trace: carry it in, carry it out.
2. Travel on foot only, except for handicapped access or approved management practices.
3. Hunt only by permission.
4. Engage in no illegal activities.
5. Camp only in designated areas.
6. Build no fires, except in designated areas.
On the main campus, there are approximately 39 acres of designated Natural Areas, about a third of total land area. These are home to native flora and fauna in a variety of floodplain habitats, including riparian forests, hay and corn fields in various stages of succession, marshland, and low wooded areas. Near the river, the college maintains a 35-meter wide buffer zone that provides ecosystem services, field sites for classes and studies of the river and riparian forests, and recreational opportunities. The Poultney Community Trail, located near the Poultney River, is maintained for skiing and hiking. The trail links campus with the town of Poultney and its rail trail.
In addition to providing ecological and societal benefits, the Natural Areas address conservation goals set at both state and regional levels by organizations such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, and the Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resource Conservation District.
The College’s Natural Areas Policy guides the use and management of College natural areas. Users are asked to practice Leave-No-Trace principles. The policies also provide guidelines for sustainable use of the areas, removal of invasive species, planting native species, restoration of areas such as the old corn and hay fields, and cleanup.
Native Species Landscaping
The first native species garden on campus was established in 2000 by students in the Botany class. Several additional gardens have been established either through the Student Campus Greening Fund (SCGF), or through service learning projects by students and faculty. These include gardens with plants from the Northern Hardwood Forest on the north side of Ackley Hall and next to Waldron Athletic Center; plants from forest openings on the western side of Pollock Hall; and plants of early succession and a medicinal garden on the south side of Ackley.
In 2010 the college adopted its Native Species Landscaping Policy. The rationale for the policy was based on applications of plant conservation biology in the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation,the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation, and similar guidelines, and a review of policies and approaches at other colleges and universities (Gowdy and Graves 2010).
Landscaping with native species is a sustainable land management practice, as identified by AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS), and it helps to reduce GMC’s carbon footprint. Practicing native species landscaping promotes GMC as a leader in sustainable and conservation practices, while also increasing biodiversity, habitat, and ecosystem health.
Invasive Species Management
Management of non-native, invasive plant species on the Green Mountain College campus was precipitated by the 2004 discovery of Garlic Mustard near the Poultney River. This invasive biennial herb from Europe is very successful in North America because our native insects and other animals aren’t adapted to consume the plant – like most exotic invasive species, it lacks the natural controls that exist in its native range.
In 2005, Undergraduate Research Assistant Pearl Wetherall wrote a management plan for control of Garlic Mustard. That year, Forest Ecology and Management students began implementing the plan by organizing the first Earth Day Garlic Mustard Pull.
The College established its Invasive Species Control Policy in 2006. Currently, management focuses on five species:
Biennial and Perennial Herbs
Robust Wetland and Riparian Herbs
- Japanese Knotweed (management plan)
These invasive plants are managed by a multifaceted team consisting of a part-time, year-round Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) AmeriCorps member, a 3-person Natural Areas Crew in summer, funded in part by the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, and a work-study student throughout the school year. This team eradicates invasive plants, manages data, writes management plans, and organizes students and other volunteers in classes, clubs, and at volunteer events.
A community-wide service day is held yearly on Earth Day to remove Garlic Mustard plants from campus lands. Service learning projects that involve management of invasive species are also encouraged.
Campus Lands Information and Land Use Proposals
The Land Use Committee advises the Provost and College Cabinet to maintain and enhance the values of campus lands in keeping with the mission of the College. It provides recommendations to the Cabinet on land policy, and on any proposed projects that will change land use, appearance, safety, maintenance requirements, ecosystem function, or species composition. Follow the Land Use Proposal guidelines, and send as an email attachment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Land use proposals are often needed for new field research projects, field-based academic programs, outdoor art projects, changes in land use or land management, new structures, and landscape plantings.
Deane Nature Preserve information
Deane Committee at email@example.com.
Cerridwen Farm Information
Farm and Food Program.
Student Campus Greening Fund Proposals
Contact the SCGF director.