Welcome Welcome to the winter Ridgeline. As I type, a storm is brewing. I’ve spent the last week incessantly hitting refresh on NOAA’s weather site, watching the storm creep across the ten-day forecast, growing in intensity as it draws nearer. At present, we’re anticipating up to three feet of snow in Vermont’s southern Green and Taconic mountains. Three feet. If the forecast is correct, there will be periods during which the snow will accumulate at 2.5” an hour. This is fantastic news. A deep snow pack is important for our forests. Snow serves as a blanket, insulating tree roots from the winter’s deep cold. Studies from experimental forests around the northeast have demonstrated that without a deep snowpack forests suffer increases in tree mortality. This kind of tree mortality, in turn, initiates a cycle by releasing carbon dioxide from the soil that contributes to global temperature increase, further reducing snowpack. While it may make travel difficult, cancel plans, and require hours of back breaking work to clean up, know that every inch of snow that falls in our woods helps to keep our forests and the natural communities they support healthy. And if that’s not enough to make you love all of this snow, pack a thermos, grab your skis, sled or snowshoes and come on up—that ought to do it! Rob Terry Executive Director Merck Forest and Farmland Center
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
George Hatch, President Ann Jackson, Vice President Keld Alstrup, Treasurer Kat Deely, Secretary
Jeromy Gardner Jim Hand Mark Lourie Sam Schneski Brian Vargo
From Forest to Deck By Dylan Durkee, Farm Manager My interest in working in the forest started early: my cousin and I made dirt bike trails through local woods, clearing brush and small trees from the paths. I salvaged and processed these small trees -- then sold them for firewood. At the young age of fourteen, I started to realize that there is a lot of value in wood, and that it is an asset not to be wasted. Those lessons came back to me last summer as we started planning a large renovation project of the Frank Hatch Sap House. The project involved replacing the siding, decking and doors. The cost estimate for pressure-treated lumber was very high, so I started thinking about cost-effective alternatives. After online research and discussions with some foresters, I found that larch – which we have in abundance at Merck Forest – is a good substitute for pressure-treated wood. It was an easy decision. The process was simple and involved three steps: 1. Marking and cutting the trees to harvest, 2. Skidding them out to a landing, and 3. Milling them into lumber with a portable sawmill. Due to the density of larch it was possible to lay it down on the deck “green” (that is, not kilndried). It will dry in place, and shrinkage will be minimal. Compare this efficient 3-step process with using commercially pressure-treated lumber: 1. Forester marks trees for harvesting 2. Logger cuts trees and skids them out to a landing 3. Trucker transports the logs to the sawmill 4. Sawmill operator mills trees into lumber then sends it to the kiln 5. Dried Lumber is planed to commercial dimensions
Larch (family Pinaceae genus Larix, sp. Laricina), called “Tamarack” or “American Larch,” is a needled deciduous tree well suited to the cool damp forests of New England. Its wood is dense, tough and weatherresistant. The larch plantation at Merck Forest, planted by George Merck in the 1950’s, is now a magnificent mature stand, ready for harvest.
6. Lumber is transported to chemical-treatment plant and chemical preservatives are introduced 7. Treated lumber is moved to pressure and/or vacuum cylinders and pressure is applied to increase absorption of the chemicals 8. Finished P/T lumber is transported to lumber yards 9. Purchased lumber is transported to a worksite There is a lot involved in commercially processing timber into lumber: heavy equipment and lots of diesel fuel; chemicals, waste and disposal; there is a lot of labor, and many hands on the material. All in all, it’s not a light tread on the carbon footprint. Using the resource of the larch plantation – already in place at Merck Forest – saved us about $5,500. With the right tools, some planning, and careful work habits, an enormous amount of money can be saved, and an asset turned into something useful and beautiful.
Exploring Merck’s Winter Landscape Where to go, how to get there, what to see??? When the snow is good, there are endless opportunities for a world-class ski or snowshoe experience in the woods. Here are a few classic route suggestions; feel free to stop in or call the Visitor’s Center to get more info on any of these tours or an update on snow conditions. Happy adventuring!
A Ramble Around the Farm—Walk, Ski or Snowshoe Enjoy the stark beauty of our farm at rest in winter’s cold and quiet. The rolling meadows and farm roads around pastures, orchards, and berry patches are perfect for you to try your hand at skiing or snowshoeing. While you’re out, duck into the barn to warm up and say hello to the chickens, sheep and horses. Time it right and you can watch the sun set over the southern Adirondacks from the Sap House deck. Dress warmly, as the winter wind blows hard through the gap. This is typically a quick trip to a half-day jaunt.
And of course you can’t beat a simple winter walk in the brisk air. Remember that our temperatures may be different than in the valleys, and the wind on the hillside is a force to be reckoned with. Check the weather icon on our website for a real-time update about conditions at the Visitor Center. Dress accordingly, and remember walking poles and your MicroSpikes/Yaktrax (available for purchase in the Friends of the Forest shop).
A Quick Trip to Viewpoint – Snowshoe (recommended) or Ski This three-mile out-and-back culminates at an expansive northwest facing view with Mount Antone in the foreground and the Southern Adirondacks extending to the horizon. Typically, there will be broken trail on this well-traveled route. However, if you come up within a day or two of a major winter storm, you can expect to experience the joy (and the effort) of laying fresh tracks. Before heading out, check in at the Visitor Center to see whether the cabin at Viewpoint is occupied – if it’s vacant, you may stop in and warm up before heading in from your adventure. In most snow conditions, the climb to Viewpoint is possible with waxed or waxless skis, and the descent begins with a short steep section culminating in a ninety-degree turn. This is typically a half-day jaunt.
A Long Out and Back on Old Town Road— Ski (recommended) or Snowshoe This long steady glide under mature eastern hardwoods, past ponds and through meadows begins at the Visitor Center and picks up 250 feet on a steady climb through the farm to the junction of Old Town and Antone Roads. From here, a rolling two-and-ahalf mile, thousand-foot descent awaits. This is another out-and-back, so don’t forget that what goes down must come up. Two stream crossings that require taking off skis add a sense of adventure to this journey into the heart of Merck Forest. In most conditions, this trip is possible with waxed or waxless cross-country skis. This is typically a full day mission. Ski or Snowshoe to the Sky—Ski or Snowshoe This classic out-and-back begins with a steady 2.5 mile, thousand-foot climb starting at our Visitor Center and culminating atop 2,600-foot Mount Antone. You’ll be rewarded with sweeping views over our farm and up the spine of the Northern Taconic Mountains. On the way down, shake things up a bit, and save a small ascent in the saddle, by coming back via the Ski Trail. While this tour is possible with waxable or waxless skis, due to steep sections and sustained climbing, climbing skins or snowshoes are recommended. For experienced skiers, this will be a half day jaunt or full day mission depending upon your pace. The descent is on a moderately steep woods road -- and a strong snowplow or linked turns are a must. If you don’t feel comfortable skiing steeper terrain, snowshoes are a good option. Lunch Break Glades—Ski only If the snow is deep, and you’re looking for more turns than tour, the Lunch Break Glades are the place to be. From the Visitor Center, put on your climbing skins and head straight for the high point on Antone road between the junction with Old Town Road and the Clarks Clearing. From there, set off into the woods on your right, heading roughly northwest. Welcome to the top. Below you, you will find 650 vertical feet of open mature hardwoods that offer superb classic east coast tree skiing. Fair warning, we recommend this for experts only, and always suggest going into the woods with a buddy—remember, this is a backcountry area (no ski patrol). As things flatten out at the bottom of the glade, keep your eyes open for the Wildlife Trail, where you can either set (or pick up an established) skin track to head back to the top and pick a new line. 4
It’s Made in Vermont By Kathryn Lawrence, Assistant Executive Director
– It’s one of the things we look for in purchasing items to carry in the Friends of the Forest store at the Visitor Center. We feature items that are locally made (Vermont and through New England) and that are consistent – to the greatest extent possible – with our values and mission. Here is a sample of the kinds of products that we think reflect our focus: • Books that educate children about the forest, farm and animals • Books for adult readers about environmental issues • Reusable utensils and shopping bags • Regionally made gift items such as ornaments from Danforth Pewter, candles from Bedrock Tree Farm and Way Out Wax, toys & ornaments from Maple Landmark, and stuffed animals from the Douglas Company, luxurious scented soaps, Merck-themed mugs and pottery pieces from local artist Roseanne Henning • Notecards in individual or boxed sets featuring New England flora and fauna • Camping essentials: headlamps, Darn Tough socks, snacks and drinks, and bandanas • Products made by our staff: holiday ornaments, handmade cutting boards, and snowshoes recycled into mirrors and sconces. (Even our most recent shelving units were constructed of materials recycled from the SapHouse renovation -- now that’s local!) Obviously we also sell our own farm products (pork, lamb & mutton, sheepskins & yarn, and eggs) as well as value-added products produced on the property (raspberry & blueberry jams, rendered lard for baking and cooking, frozen blueberries, and organic maple products – syrup, maple cream, sugar & candy). If you have not stopped by recently, please come in to say hello and to sample our maple syrup – we’re always happy to see old friends, welcome new visitors and swap hiking stories.
First Farm Chores by Sarah Elliott, Visitor Experience Coordinator On a frigid workday afternoon, Program Coordinator Cara Davenport and I work together to complete farm chores. We gingerly cross the lumpy frozen road, crunching our way downhill on a snowy strip. After a year’s apprenticeship, Cara is an experienced hand, but for me this is all new. Inside the small animal barn, Cara teaches me about caring for teenage chicks, who demonstrate an appreciation for cuddling. Next we push together to slide the Harwood Barn’s heavy door open, to retrieve hay for our two Suffolk Punch workhorses. Arch greedily shoves his wet nostrils against my fingers, looking for treats. I dodge his lips and huge teeth to fill the manger with hay. Fern, the other half of our driving team, hangs back waiting her turn but Arch doesn’t give an inch. Eventually, she loses patience, and I can see her long neck and head below the fence, reaching into the young sheep pen and munching their hay instead! Deep inside the Harwood Barn, the laying hens surround our feet while Cara fills the tricky-to-close, heated water dispenser. The rooster struts among his hens, warding us off with a piercing “cock-a-doodle doo”. The hens rush away from us, with intensifying rueful clucks as I gather a baker’s dozen of variously sized, still-warm brown and aqua colored eggs from each nesting box. Into each concave nest we replace the eggs with fresh wood shavings (hardly sufficient recompense for those delicious orange-yolked eggs!). With care, we close the barn doors. The sun falls below the hill and blue shadows creep against the snow as we each carry a bale of hay down to the ewes’ pasture. The girls are tightly huddled at the gate, waiting for us; we toss the bales over the fence to them and they get noisy and rambunctious. Cara bravely shoves her way into their tight group and spreads the hay out so each gets her share. Then we’re off to our own suppers.
All full-time Merck employees rotate in to do chores occasionally, in order to give the farm staff a break, as part of our “Hands to Work” practices.
Greetings from our Conservation Manager by Tim Duclos, Conservation Manager Hello Friends! I am excited to have joined the MFFC team and come ready to lead the advancement of conservation priorities here at Merck Forest. As a trained ecologist and native Vermonter, I greatly value the rich history and natural and cultural resources our working lands provide; I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to apply this passion and my craft here at Merck Forest. I see so much opportunity for great work to continue to be done here, to honor the depth and breadth of past efforts, and to share the experience with you all. Broadly, I intend to work collaboratively to study the ecology of the property, continue to support the sustainable uses of our forest resources, provide for compatible multi-use recreational opportunities, and, above all, continually strive to share the lessons the land provides to those from near and far. Using the most up-to-date scientific methods, we will establish long-term monitoring of plant and animal communities, including those of breeding birds, amphibians, bats, deer, bear, pollinators, and other sensitive plant and animal populations. We will strive to find ways to ensure that our use of the landscape is beneficial for flora and fauna; for example, we will be working to enroll in Audubonâ€™s Bird-Friendly Maple program, and continue to participate in the Foresters for the Birds program. Our focus will also involve monitoring current and future threats posed by forces such as climate change and invasive plant and forest pests. Beyond our borders, we hope for our conservation work at Merck Forest to grow into a greater collaboration across the region, as our goal is to maintain biodiversity and connectivity for plant and animal populations across the greater landscape. Importantly, through these efforts we will continue to expand the vital opportunity for visitors, students, and partners to learn from the conservation work being done here and all the lessons that this landscape offers. Along the way, we will also address improvements to our trail and hut system so that visitors can continue to make lifelong memories here. Please stay tuned for information on our monitoring programs, forest management work, educational offerings, and, perhaps, ways to contribute as a citizen scientist. I look forward to seeing you out in the forest and sharing this land with you.
The Worth of the Woods (Part 2) By Rob Terry, Executive Director In our summer issue, we began an exploration of the worth of the woods by examining the value of an individual tree. Not surprisingly, it turns out that there are many ways to quantify that value, including: mast, board feet, BTUs, shade, carbon sequestration, and more. Even dead trees, both standing and on the ground, provide critical support for wildlife as a source of both food and shelter. We also identified that there is more to a tree than its practical usefulness. Remember that twisted birch we evoked, its exposed roots enveloping a lichen-covered glacial erratic? When plugged into itree, the USDA’s tree valuation tool, it came up as worthless. Nonetheless, what it provides in terms of solace, inspiration and emotional refuge is priceless. Ultimately, we seemed to settle on a three-factor approach to a tree’s value, highlighting its ecological benefit, forest product worth, and aesthetics.
*Unfragmented: Not divided by roads or broken up by large, deforested tracts
Taken individually, a tree’s value is simultaneously quantifiable and indefinable. Rare, however, is the tree that stands alone, particularly here in Vermont where 78% of our landscape is forested. Our forests, of course, do not end at the state line—rather, they are part of a larger interconnected landscape that we divide taxonomically, geographically and practically into a host of adjoining and overlapping stands, compartments, blocks, ecoregions, bioregions, and ecozones. Vermont’s forests are included in the North Woods, a somewhat slippery identity variously defined from an “ecoregion” (including New England and Maritime Canada) to a larger bioregion encompassing that landscape plus portions of the US Midwest and vast swaths of Canadian forest. Closer to home, Merck Forest sits perched at the northern end of a large, unfragmented* forest block loosely bordered by • route 315 and Rupert, Vermont, to the north, • 153 and 22 from Salem to Cambridge, New York, to the West, • 313 and Arlington to South, and • 7a and 30 from Arlington through Manchester and Dorset, Vermont, to the East. This connection to the largest temperate mixed broadleaf forest in the world and positioning within an unusually large unfragmented forest block contributes substantially to the ecosystem’s health and to biodiversity here at Merck Forest. That rich biodiversity is perhaps the most valuable aspect of a forest (allowing that, in any meditation on values, the writer’s bias is inevitably the most significant defining factor). Presently Earth is losing an estimated 150 to 200 species of plant, insects, birds, and mammals to extinction daily. Some scientists have even suggested that we are witnessing a sixth mass extinction on the planet, with aggressive models showing that the planet is losing species at roughly 10,000 times what is believed to be the background (or normal) rate of extinction. That seems like more than enough despair for one newsletter. While these facts are a bit bleak, this context is important as it demonstrates that now more than ever, biodiversity matters. Our forests are rich interconnected systems of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms, sustaining us in countless ways. Forests produce the air that we breath, cleanse the water that we drink, shelter food we can harvest, store fuel and lumber for future use, and sequester the carbon warming our planet. When left to flourish, or managed deliberately for biodiversity, our forests serve as stalwart warriors in the battle against ecosystem collapse. There is – thankfully – hope. Our actions, and at times inactions, have the capacity to dramatically impact our ecosystem. Noted biologist E. O. Wilson, in his book Half Life, recommends a bold course of action: according to Wilson, in order to stave off a pending collapse, we must act now to “dedicate fully half of the Earth’s surface to nature.” In a world awash with vivid images depicting ecosystem collapse and habitat loss, it can be easy to lose hope. Things even got a little dark early on in this essay. Thankfully, the cause is not lost. Spaces like Merck Forest and its surrounding woodlands demonstrate that intact habitat can exist even on the doorstep of some of the world’s largest urban centers.
Are You Ready? By Chris Hubbard, Education Director At our weekly staff meetings, one item on our agenda always comes up: What is on our Hazards Inventory this week? We evaluate the hazards – human, mechanical and environmental – that we expect to encounter, and develop management strategies proactively to contain risk for our visitors and ourselves. Two recently implemented tools include an Access Guide and a Go Pack for our staff ’s use in the woods. • The Access Guide was developed and distributed to local Fire, Rescue and Dispatch (911) crews so that they may quickly and efficiently locate campers and hikers needing assistance in an emergency. • The Go-Pack is a backpack equipped with emergency supplies, such as a comprehensive first aid kit, emergency signaling devices, heat-reflecting bivvy sacks, and a camp stove. It is designed for our staff to use when heading out into the backcountry, where radio contact may be spotty and the potential for an accident exists.
Our landscape consists of over 3,000 acres of backcountry (defined by the National Park Service as “primitive, undeveloped portions of parks.” Merck’s development (beyond the farm) is generally limited to foot-trails and unpaved roads, and backcountry hazards abound. These include rough terrain, lifethreatening weather, wild animals, and unreliable cell & radio service.
If you’re heading into the backcountry -- at Merck Forest or elsewhere -- be prepared. Proper planning, adequate clothing and equipment, and letting someone know where you’re headed, are just a few things that you can do to prepare for an adventure in the backcountry. Having first aid training is another critical skill: we are offering a SOLO Wilderness First Aid class this spring. Looking to be more prepared when heading into the backcountry? Looking to renew a certification? Give us a call at 802-394-7826 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
News & Events at Merck Forest & Farmland Center
Repeat visitors to the Visitor Center will miss a familiar face, as KATIE CONNOR has moved on to other ventures. We know that Katie will be a big success in her new position and wish her every happiness. (Fern and Arch send hugs and kisses, Katie!)
We have completed a number of on-site improvements – physical as well as infrastructure-related. Here’s a recap:
Our friend SARAH ELLIOTT, who has been part of the weekend staff for several years, is ready and willing to jump into the breach. Congratulations to Sarah on becoming our first Visitor Experience Coordinator. CARA DAVENPORT has moved from Apprentice into a new role of Program Coordinator. She will bring her passion for integrating conservation, community, and outdoor work to students and visitors through coordinating a variety of Visitor and Education programs. TIM DUCLOS has joined us as Conservation Manager. Growing up exploring the woods and waters of Vermont, Tim is excited to apply his interest and expertise in land management, scientific research, environmental education, and civic engagement to our operations at Merck. LIZ RUFFA has recently joined MFFC’s team in a newly created role of Director of Institutional Advancement. Liz has extensive experience in network development, strategic planning and capacity building. She looks forward to developing marketing and development strategies that will continue MFFC’s success as a top tier environmental destination and land-based learning institution. Liz serves on VT Foodbank’s Board of Directors, on the VT Community Development Board and is a Selectperson for Town of Dorset.
➢ Thanks to a generous donor, we now have a trail-sized excavator to help us clean up logging jobs and keep our network of forest roads and hiking trails in tip-top shape. ➢ Nestled in the woods on the Discovery Trail, the new Yurt should be fully operational in the spring, as an outdoor educational program center. ➢ Dylan and Cara have completed on a stylish timberframed outhouse for use in the field above the Saphouse; the existing outhouse at that location will be relocated to the Viewpoint Cabin. ➢ In the VC, we have completed the installation of fiberoptic telephone & Internet services, developed a new website, implemented a new cloud-based visitor database, and installed a real-time weather station, which is linked to the website.
ON THE HORIZON:
Details for the following upcoming events are on our website.
for children Fee: $50 / day or $125 for 3 days.
➢ MAPLE MADNESS FOR CHILDREN -- March 16 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm, $10 per child.
SCHOOL-VACATION CAMPS ➢ WINTER IN THE WOODS. February 19 - 21, 9am to 3pm. ➢ SPRING ON THE FARM. April 16 - 18, 9am to 3pm.
FAMILY ACTIVITIES ➢ PANCAKE BREAKFAST. Admission: $10/teens & adults, $5/children 5 to 12 years, Free/children under 5. ➢ MEET THE LAMBS. May 18 @ 9:00 am - 3:00 pm, Suggested Donation: $3pp.
GUIDED HIKES ➢ FULL SNOW MOON – February 16 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm $5pp. ➢ OWL PRESENTATION AND WALK – February 23 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm, $5pp. ➢ CABIN FEVER HIKE – April 13 @ 2pm - 4pm, $5pp. ➢ FINDING SPRING EPHEMERALS HIKE – May 11 @ 2pm – 4pm, $5pp.
ADULT ACTIVITIES ➢ SOAP FELTING WORKSHOP -- February 9 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm $30pp. ➢ VERNAL POOL MONITORING WORKSHOP -- March 1 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm, Free. ➢ SOLO WILDERNESS FIRST AID WORKSHOP. May 4-5, 8:30am to 5pm, $200 ($240 with optional CPR Module). Pre-registration is required; bring a bag lunch.
MEMBER EVENT ➢ SAVE THE DATE: ANNUAL MEETING. June 8, Time TBD. The Annual Meeting convenes at the Frank Hatch Sap House and is open to all members.
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PO Box 86, Rupert, Vermont 05768
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