Winter 2020 1
Welcome by Rob Terry, Executive Director A new year has dawned—a new decade in fact. For Merck Forest & Farmland Center, 2020 is a something of a special year. On July 1st, MFFC will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding. A lot has changed in the last 70 years. In 1950, there was not a single cabin in Merck’s forest. In fact, there wasn’t much forest, as vast swaths of the property were still largely denuded. In spite of this, George Merck had the vision required to see through neglected hill farms and overharvested woods and catch a glimpse of a future in which the land had been rehabilitated to serve as an inspirational oasis for travelers from near and far. His writings from the time express his intent “to provide a variety of educational experiences, especially for young people, that all may learn to appreciate the natural world, some may come to feel at home in it, and a few may develop skills for careers in farming, forestry, and land management.” George Merck recognized the need for a place that matched this description in 1950. In the intervening 70 years, this need for places in which people can build a meaningful connection with natural and working lands has grown exponentially. The US population has more than doubled since 1950, exploding from 152 to 327 million. Shortly before 1950, the number of farms in the US peaked at 7 million. In spite of dramatic increases in population, that number now stands near 2 million--more than twice as many people, less than a third of the farms. Meanwhile the percentage of the US population living in urban areas has grown from 64% to approximately 81%. Perhaps the most staggering statistic of all was released last year in a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is currently estimated that the average American spends 90% of their time indoors. Ninety percent. 90. With George Merck’s vision guiding our thoughts, and grounded in the realities of today’s world, we look forward to building on the amazing work that has been accomplished here in the last seventy years as we strive to ensure that Merck Forest & Farmland Center continues to provide its members and visitors with the best possible on-property experience while serving as an advocate for the protection of natural and working lands in the region and beyond. In so doing, we intend to continue to expand MFFC’s reach, laying the groundwork with innovative projects and partnerships that will strive to enhance the fabric of this community which we hold so dear. Read on to learn more about what we have planned, and as always, I hope that we’ll see you up on the mountain soon!
BOARD OF TRUSTEES George Hatch, President Ann Jackson, Vice President Kat Deeley, Secretary Keld Alstrup, Treasurer Dinah Buechner-Vischer Jeromy Gardner Jim Hand Mark Lourie Sam Schneski Sue Van Hook Brian Vargo
STAFF Eli Crumley Grounds/Maintenance Ethan Crumley Forestry/Sugaring Operations Cara Davenport Program Coordinator Kim Davis Weekend/Visitor Center Tim Duclos Conservation Manager Dylan Durkee Farm Manager Stephanie Breed Visitor Experience Coordinator Chris Ferris-Hubbard Education Director Kathryn Lawrence Assistant Executive Director Marybeth Leu Communications Coordinator Kristian Moore Resource Assistant Liz Ruffa Director Of Institutional Advancement Rob Terry Executive Director
Enjoy Wintertime at Merck Forest & Farmland Center • Relax in front of the wood-fired masonry stove in the VC • When at the VC, pat the resident Maine Coon cat Ellie • Walk the Stone Lot trail for a 360° view of the mountains • Join us for a blustery or a still full moon hike • Go for a snowshoe, hike, or cross-country ski on our many trails • Make a snowman on the lawn in front of the Harwood Barn • Undertake some knitting projects with Merck wool yarn • Get snowed in, make a huge batch of soup and read a book by the fire • Enjoy the winter sky through the bare branches all over Merck Forest • Appreciate all the subtle winter colors- winter reds, purples, oranges and yellows- that go unnoticed during summer and fall foliage • Sample the different syrup grades, peruse our wonderful selection of children’s books and don’t miss out on the newly arrived sheep skins at the VC.
• Take a short hike to the farm to visit the chickens, sheep and draft horses. (Fern and Arch are partial to peppermints!) • If the sky is clear, wait on the deck of the Hatch Sap House for a beautiful sunset. • Refresh with some homebrew around the fire with friends, after a hike up Antone • Sled down Old Town Road; beware other hikers, water bars and the trees, of course. • Look for antler sheds in the woods • Do some animal tracking in the snow • Ice fish Birch Pond for the brown trout • Ski backcountry glades • Play in the snow with your dog • Hike the Burke Trails off the parking lot • Cross-country ski out the Old Town Road and back
In preparation for your time at Merck Forest, always try to check the weather in Rupert before you head up. MFFC has its own weather station set up at Weather Underground/ Rupert.
Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Maple Program 1 of 2-part series on songbird conservation at Merck Forest Tim Duclos, MSc. - Conservation Manager, January 2020 The science is clear and without dispute: many songbird populations are in decline. A 2019 report published in the journal Science presented startling evidence that an estimated 3 billion birds have been lost across North America in the last 48 years (Rosenberg et al., 2019). This adds to an already substantial body of evidence regarding the plight of many songbird populations globally, regionally, and locally. These trends are for species occupying a spectrum of habitats- most of which exist in large or small part at Merck Forest- including northern hardwood forests, grasslands, shrublands, and old fields. Given that the lands of Merck Forest represent nearly all of the habitat types experiencing population declines, we have the opportunity, if not the obligation, to aid in avian conservation through our resource management efforts. Importantly, here at Merck Forest, we also have the unique opportunity to share this with a wide audience as we work to combat the extreme challenge our avifauna face in the modern era. Merck Forest is known to host a diverse array of bird species- 117 species and counting, to be exact- this according to reports on eBird.org. This has been documented through the work of dedicated birders loyal to Merck Forest (check out the list on eBird by searching hotspots for “Merck Forest”) as well as longstanding monitoring efforts (for example, Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Forest Bird Monitoring Program; https://vtecostudies.org/projects/forests/vermont-forest-bird-monitoring-program/). We also have a diverse mosaic of community types on the property (as documented in Kat Deely’s 2015 master’s thesis; Deely, 2015) and a rich forest management history across the property, some explicitly with birds already in mind (ex: Foresters for the Birds demonstration site off Hatch trail). These lands are home to resident birds year-round, long distance migrants during the breeding season, as well as migrants stopping through on their travels; see VCE’s spring 2019 Biothon results from May 18th on eBird.org of sightings of magnolia warbler (Setophaga magnolia) and cape may warbler (Setophaga tigrina) in the shrubland habitat on Stone Lot road. While many factors are affecting songbirds beyond our borders, here at Merck Forest we have the opportunity to provide quality breeding, wintering, and stop-over habitats for many species for at least part, if not all, of their life cycle. The decline of our songbird species is attributed to a host of factors, these primarily being a rapidly changing climate, habitat fragmentation, land use change, and environmental pollution and disease; these stressors affect bird populations via a variety of mechanisms, in both subtle and obvious ways. To boot, birds experience these effects across a dynamic life cycle existing between breeding habitats, wintering grounds and the annual migration in-between (and, yes, even ‘resident’ birds migrate, a distance). Here at Merck Forest, the large unfragmented size of the current land holding, regional location, diversity of natural community types, topographic complexity, and relatively unimpacted nature of the land, alongside the conservation status (conserved with Vermont Land Trust in 2015), all told makes Merck Forest a high-value site for avian conservation- not to mention for a wide range of other forms of life. Couple this fact with the capacity for, and particular focus on, science-based habitat management efforts by the organization, and it is fair to say that Merck Forest offers a premier opportunity to maintain a healthy community of avifauna and mitigate the plight of native songbirds. Here I wish to share with you some of our avian-focused work undertaken in the past year. With so much to talk about, this will be a twopart series; in this issue, with sugaring season around the bend, we will discuss our new partnership with Vermont Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Maple program. In the spring issue, in prep for the return of our neotropical migrants, I will report out on the work underway to create the next generation of shrubland habitat at Merck Forest. In this episode and the next, I will also present a vision for work to come in the future and offer an opportunity for you to partake in this effort in whatever way you can- whether it be participating in citizen science efforts, volunteering on habitat improvement projects, financially contributing to this work through membership or annual giving, or simply bringing a friend with you to go birding on Merck Forest property.
Bird-Friendly Maple We are excited to announce that Merck Forest has formally joined with Vermont Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Maple Program (https://vt.audubon.org/conservation/working-lands/landing/bird-friendly-mapleproject) to better manage our 33-acre, 3000-tap, sugarbush for the birds. By integrating avian-focused habitat management objectives into our existing sugarbush management plan, we will benefit the birds that inhabit our northern hardwood forests while continuing to meet demand for our certified organic, sustainably harvested, and downright delicious maple products. Additionally, with this work we advance our efforts to establish positive collaborations and merge our conservation objectives with the knowledge and efforts championed by our partners, like Vermont Audubon. This new engagement with Vermont Audubon adds to the partnership history between our organizations; Merck Forest also hosts two forestry operation demonstration sites for another Audubon program, Foresters for the Birds (https:// vt.audubon.org/conservation/foresters-birds). The prospect of engaging in the Bird-Friendly Maple program originates from another valued partnership: a 2018 class project led by a group of University of Vermont seniors in the Rubenstein School of Natural Resources (for another example of work completed under this partnership see article “Connecting for Conservation”, in the Spring 2019 Ridgeline). The standards under the Bird-Friendly Maple program add to the management goals already in place for Merck Forest’s sugarbush, in accordance with the Vermont Organic Farmers Organic Maple Sap & Syrup certification. In terms of forest management objectives, our approach reflects an effort to maintain ecosystem diversity and otherwise avoid a monoculture of maple species (Acer sp.) within the stand, 4
while promoting the default natural community type represented. Benefits of tree species diversity include resilience to forest stressors, increased nutrient cycling and water purification, additional capacity to sequester carbon, and, of course, the diversification of wildlife habitat. With these objectives in mind, we actively maintain a forest management plan that describes and outlines our approach in achieving these goals over time; by entering into the Bird-Friendly Maple program, we commit to additional standards of specific benefit to forest dwelling birds. The existing composition within the Merck Forest sugarbush is a sugar maple-beech-yellow birch dominated community consisting of a relatively even-aged structure. In accordance with the organic certification program, the overarching management goal for the sugarbush is to promote more age class diversification through gradual forest tending- with a goal to achieve 25% or greater representation of non-maple species within the context of the existing natural community. These goals are achievable through forest thinning- a practice whereby individual trees are strategically removed from the stand, thus retaining trees that represent the age and species that, collectively, lend diversity in desirable ways. However, the standards of the Bird-Friendly Maple program add additional criteria and set more rigorous goals specific to forest dwelling birds that occupy various environs within the stand- whether it be birds that nest on the ground like the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), in the understory like the black-throated blue warbler (Dendroica caerulescens), mid-story as is the case with the black-throated green warbler (Dendroica virens), upper canopy where you will find the scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea), or in a cavity tree for the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Some species also associate with a particular species/type of tree, exemplified by blackburnian warblers (Dendroica fusca) and mature conifers. By turning the focus from an even-aged maple monoculture toward a diverse, structurally complex, forest stand, we in-turn benefit a larger avian community. Other forestry objectives that aim to benefit the birds include the eradication and control of non-native, invasive plant species, of which, thankfully, only one species, bush honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.), has been found in low numbers. Invasive plants reduce native plant diversity and otherwise generally provide sub-optimal resources for wildlife compared to native plants. Furthermore, our objectives under the program will be to maintain greater than 25% understory and mid-story canopy cover, promote the abundance of large cavity trees and down woody and coarse woody debris on the ground, and promote particular species of non-maple like red spruce (Picea rubens) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)- two species of particular benefit to birds. We also commit to restricting our forestry activities to outside the summer breeding season. This past summer we conducted a baseline assessment of current conditions within the sugarbush. Audubon conservation biologist, certified forester, and Bird-Friendly Maple project lead, Steve Hagenbuch, alongside conservation intern, Sam Blair, joined me for a day of vegetation measurements and bird monitoring within the stand (see Sam’s account of the experience here https://vt.audubon.org/news/ summer-sugarbush-0). Our findings indicate that the sugarbush is already in a relatively good state for forest dwelling birds- although we are below target in terms of tree species diversity and, as mentioned above, have a slight infestation of honeysuckle. With regard to other features of benefit to birds, the current conditions within the sugarbush meet or surpasses standards of understory and midstory cover, snag density and down and coarse woody debris. All told, we will continue to maintain the sugarbush at these standards, while doubling down on controlling the invasive species and also increasing species and age class diversity. Lastly, during our time in the field, we were graced with the song of many of the species of birds we seek to benefit with this work, which is exciting- including most of those mentioned above that specialize on various forest stand features. So, the next time you enjoy a taste of Merck Forest’s prized syrup, know that you are enjoying a product produced in adherence to the highest standards of sugarbush management in the region. Anytime you purchase our maple products or donate to our work, you are also helping the birds. Beyond enjoying our syrup, I also hope that you join us for one of our upcoming bird related workshops, for one of our spring birding hikes, and/or citizen science opportunities. Or, simply, come and bird on the property with a friend- but do make sure to submit your observations to eBird.org, referencing Merck Forest, of course. For more information on ecology related events and more, check out our events listings in this publication, online, or on social media. I hope to see you all out there, binoculars in hand. — Deely, K. (2015). Master ’ s Project : An Ecological Assessment of An Ecological Assessment of Merck Forest & Farmland Center. UVM. Rosenberg, K. V., Dokter, A. M., Blancher, P. J., Sauer, J. R., Smith, A. C., Smith, P. A., … Marra, P. P. (2019). Decline of the North American avifauna. In Science (Vol. 366). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313
Winter Camping at Merck Forest by Tim Duclos, Conservation Manager Winter camping is popular at Merck Forest, more than any other season. What could be better than venturing into the snowy forest to explore the property by day and hunkering down by the fire in a warm cabin by night? You can experience that here, at MFFC. But, as you venture into the woods for your next adventure, here are some important tips to keep in mind. This is not a comprehensive list of necessary items for your trip, rather, just some particularly notable ones to keep in mind during wintertime. • Beware of hypothermia: dress in layers, avoid cotton (wool is best), and remove clothes as you exercise before you start sweating. Bring a windproof shell and consider a mask and/or ski goggles. • Tell somebody where you are going and when you will be back, leave contact info in case of your late return. • Always carry multiple fire sources in waterproof containers. Always. • Know Merck Forest’s emergency action plan; you are provided this when you register your cabin and it is also posted in the notebook at each cabin. When you are out here, you are on your own. You can call 911 and engage emergency services. At very best, from the time of your call to response, it could be well over an hour for emergency responders to arrive on property. • Bring an emergency beacon and do not depend on cell service- indeed, coverage is poor for most providers here. • Bring all necessary gear for first aid, survival, and navigation. • Bring traction: at a minimum, you will want MICROSpikes, which are available for purchase in the Visitor Center. For deeper snow conditions bring skis or snowshoes. • Before your trip, check the weather conditions for Merck Forest on Weather Underground (search “Rupert, VT”). You can also call the Visitor Center ahead of your visit to ask about trail conditions. • Always carry a map (they are free in the Visitor Center) and compass. You can also use digital tools such as the Avenza Mapalthough, never completely depend on digital technology. • Be a good steward: pack out what you pack in and leave your cabin better than you found it. • Each cabin has a guide to using the woodstove. Know how to use the stove and be careful to shut down the stove when away from the cabin. • Do not burn our hard-earned firewood in the outdoor firepit. What wood exists at the cabin now must last through spring. • Shut and hook the cabin and outhouse doors upon departure. • Seasonal water sources listed on the trail map are frozen in the winter. Pack all water in or plan on filtering it from streams shown on the trail map (the streams run year-round here). • Use due diligence and maintain capacity for quality decision making. • Proper preparation and planning prevents poor performance. Most likely, if you prepared properly for your trip, you are going to have a heck of a lot of fun here.
So… have fun! 6
Grooming Update by Rob Terry, Executive Director It’s amazing what you see when you slow down and look. This summer, while cleaning out around an old pole barn on the farm, Merck Forest’s Farm Manager found a cross-country ski groomer. While the groomer has been out of commission for quite some time (likely about ten years), it cleaned up nicely and has already been put to use this winter. Since grooming is new to Merck Forest, it seems like it would be worth taking a moment or two to answer some questions about the process. Why groom ski trails? Merck Forest offers over 30 miles of trail and 3,200 acres of terrain that is ski accessible. A long-time feature in guide books such as “Best Backcountry Ski Tours,” Merck Forest is well known as a skiing destination. By grooming ski trail when conditions are suitable, the organization hopes to create an opportunity for younger and less experienced skiers to start out in a more controlled environment. When and where will Merck Forest be grooming? At this time, the organization is still figuring out the best schedule and locations for grooming ski trail. For the winter of 2020, anticipate that Merck Forest will groom when conditions are favorable and staff members have available time. Throughout this winter, staff will experiment with grooming in a number of different places in hopes of determining relative quality and accessibility. How will I find out if trails have been groomed? Keep an eye on MFFC’s Facebook page, and feel free to give the Visitor Center a call to receive an update on trail and grooming conditions. Hopefully the snow will return soon and Visitor Center staff will have good news to report. Does it cost money, and are there any rules about travelling on groomed trail? There is no charge to ski at Merck Forest, on or off of groomed trail. Donations are welcome, and we encourage visitors to consider membership to help support the organization’s work to offer high-quality experiences for visitors. If you chose to use groomed trail, please travel by ski or snowshoe only, so as not to “post hole,” create deep hiking-boot sized holes in the trail that make ski travel difficult.
148 Acres… An Eye to the Future Cara Davenport, Program Coordinator If you take a walk in the woods on the 148-acre landscape directly behind the Mettawee Community School (MCS), across the valley from The Nature Conservancy’s North Pawlet Hills conservation area and Haystack Mountain, you will encounter a wealth of habitats. As you cross through shrubland rimmed hay fields, a seasonal stream flows under a boardwalk built by the 5th grade class to aid access. From the field, you’ll arrive at a tree line; to your east is a low wetland framed by marsh plant life, as you continue through the tree line you’ll emerge into a thick hemlock stand. Should you choose to ascend, you will follow the terrain uphill through steep mixed northern hardwoods. Ultimately, you will emerge into a dry oak habitat, where sedges cover a gently sloping summit punctuated by red oak, hophornbeam, and shagbark hickory trees (a species whose craggy bark provides the endangered Indiana bat with shelter to roost). This special block of land, home to so many species of flora and fauna, will soon be regularly visited by MCS students, Merck Forest & Farmland Center (MFFC) staff, and community members thanks to a partnership between the MCS, Vermont Land Trust (VLT), and MFFC that has led to the acquisition of this parcel as an MFFC satellite campus. This expansion of the reach of Merck Forest’s boundaries has created some exciting possibilities, and is the product of much thoughtful consideration and collaborative work. Between VLT, the MMCS, and MFFC, multiple spheres of influence and resources have been pulled together to conserve the property and make it accessible for the community while also providing interpretive services and opportunities. On the part of MFFC, this is a step forward that is deeply grounded in the continuing of our mission to inspire love, curiosity and responsibility for natural and working lands through innovative partnership and the delivery of cutting-edge place-based education. Having a presence literally in the backyard of the organization’s community school will overcome one of the most significant barriers that educators face when considering how to harness the power of the outdoors—access. MFFC is excited to support teachers, students, and community members as they explore outdoor learning in a landscape that is so accessible. Among potential programmatic possibilities are opportunities to train teachers from throughout the region in place-based, nature focused curriculum as well as ongoing academic and recreational opportunities for MCS students. The land’s proximity to the school also means that there will be educational programming and outreach offered by our staff during a time of year when programming is otherwise limited or nonexistent, because winter access to Merck Forest & Farmland Center can be difficult for school transportation vehicles. As our rural landscape and demographics change, MFFC recognizes that, more than ever, it is critical for healthy community focused organizations to collaborate to ensure that all of our youth have opportunities to experience what MFFC considers to be our region’s greatest asset: access to the natural world. All of us here at MFFC are grateful for the partnerships that brought about this satellite campus project, and excited about what the acquisition of this property will mean for expansion of MFFC to deliver its mission and while deepening its relationship with the community. As we explore what can be possible through this exciting new initiative, we hope that you’ll stay tuned for updates! Of course, for anyone out there interested in learning how to support this effort, don’t hesitate to reach out, this is an initiative grounded in partnership and collective action, and we support encouragement in any form.
Remembering What’s Possible by Rob Terry, Executive Director Land management is a complex endeavor. It’s not unusual for today’s best practice to become tomorrow’s folly. The rise and fall of multiflora rose offers a classic example. First introduced as an ornamental in the mid eighteen-hundreds, multiflora rose proliferated in the 1930s when the US Soil Conservation Service began promoting its use for a variety of agricultural purposes: living hedgerow, erosion control, natural fencing, and livestock containment. Today, multiflora rose is considered an insidious invasive, a non-native plant that once introduced outcompetes local flora, chocking competitors off at the ground and limiting the biodiversity critical for healthy habitat. Where the US Soil Conservation Service once funded the planting of multiflora rose, the National Resource Conservation Service now provides funding to eradicate it--with improved knowledge comes improved practice. The choices that land managers make often have unintended consequences. In the mid-twentieth century, mosquito born illnesses were a grave concern. Subsequently, mosquito eradication was a top priority. This led to a host of management practices that have had unintended, and at times counter-productive, consequences (for example the draining of coastal marshland). Among the most devastating unintended consequence of mosquito eradication in the mid-twentieth century was the impact of DDT on a host of species. The bald eagle, charismatic symbol of the nation, was one such species. Largely as a result of feeding on fish contaminated by the pesticide, bald eagle populations plummeted, hitting a low point around 1963 with only 487 nesting pairs in the US. At this point, the species, among others, was at the brink of extinction while a powerful pesticide lobby, and limited awareness amongst the general population, made recovery unlikely. In spite of this, in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list and by 2009 is was estimated that there were nearly 10,000 breeding pairs in the US. In the face of such drastic decline, and against such seemingly insurmountable barriers, how is it that the eagle recovered? It was largely due to the advocacy of a single person—Rachel Carson. Carson, a marine biologist by profession, had transitioned to a full-time conservationist and writer in the 1950s. In 1962, she captured the attention of the nation with her book Silent Spring, in which she described, among other things, the plight of the bald eagle and its connection to DDT. Through her work and advocacy, Carson is credited with leading the charge on the recovery of the species, inspiring the reversal of a national policy leading to the elimination of the use of DDT, and spawning a grassroots environmental movement that led to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the face of real and immediate challenges, Rachel Carson took action and through that action, she had an indescribable impact on the health of the planet and its flora and fauna. Still, system-wide challenges remain. The term “Anthropocene” refers to a proposed geological epoch, defined by the dominance of human impact on the earth’s geology and ecosystems, including its climate. The epoch is not yet officially recognized by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) or the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). However, this may soon change as the ICS has commissioned a study group to bring forward a proposal for formal recognition. For this to take place, the study group will have to determine a starting point for the epoch, possible world altering events under consideration include: the dawn of the agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago, the beginning of the industrial revolution ca. 1780, and the detonation of the first atomic bomb in the 1950s. Considering that scientists estimate the age of the earth to be approximately 4.45 billion years, it is easy to understand how the development of such human driven changes with the power to reform the planet in such a relatively short period of geological time might be worthy of designation. Unfortunately, one of the defining characteristics of the Antropocene is a dramatic decline in biodiversity. The spread of agriculture, a warming climate, and the dramatic expansion of the built and heavily managed landscape all have a profound impact on wildlife. At present, it is believed that species are declining worldwide somewhere between 100 and 1000 times the background rate (the standard established rate of extinction looking across the history of life on earth). Many experts share concern that human impact on the planet’s ecosystems has initiated what may become Earth’s 6th great extinction. In this context, it would be easy to give up, to let despair take the wheel and await the inevitable. When today’s challenges bring us low, it is critical to hold on to hope. Today’s conservationists stand on the shoulders of countless women and men from every cultural background and every walk-of-life who, in the face of overwhelming odds, chose optimism and action. In the spirit of Rachel Carson, and those like her who continued to work harder as the darkness descended, we must use every day that we have to do everything that we can to address these challenges. 9
Flipping through this and other recent issues of the Ridgeline, it is apparent that all 3,200 acres of Merck Forest and Farmland Center are actively used and maintained. This requires time and expertise from our farm and field crews as well as the specialists we bring in from time to time to tackle field and forest management issues as they arise. Please consider directing a contribution to support our efforts in: Habitat enhancements in the sugarbush Early stage trail design for bird and butterfly walks Logging and clearing at the Stone Lot Road Trail clearing and storm damage repairs Ability to offer onsite volunteer trainings A recent grant from the Folke H. Peterson Foundation will allow us to make strides in our wildlife protection protocols. Please feel free to join them in supporting our habitat enhancement efforts as well.
Meet the Merck Canine (and Feline) Crew! by Chris Hubbard, Education Director
Dogs are always welcome at Merck Forest. For your dog’s safety when visiting, please leash your dog while in the parking lot and around the Visitor Center, as well as at the Farm and in the vicinity of pastures. When beyond the pastures, your dog may be off leash. Be aware that porcupines, bears, foxes, and coyotes are not uncommon at Merck Forest. You are heading into their habitat. Please keep your dog under control at all times to avoid encounters with forest creatures and other dogs and dispose of bagged dog waste in the parking lot dumpster allocated for garbage.
You’ll often see our staff accompanied by their canine companions as well. Meet our furry friends! ELLIE, our Maine Coon cat (featured on back cover) can often be found curled up in front of the fire at the Visitor Center (VC) or out and about on the trails, joining campers as they hike to their cabins. After spending the night, she makes her own way back to the VC to one of her favorite spots for a catnap. Ellie has been here for about 8 years, and she earns her keep as our champion mouser. Marybeth’s and Darla’s HONEYBEE, a 3-year-old Miniature Dachshund, loves to entertain visitors with her repertoire of tricks. She cheers on her favorite sports team, the New England Patriots, as she enthusiastically barks and jumps up and down. Honeybee also loves to hunt for chipmunks in the VC woodpile, but hasn’t caught one yet! (Ellie’s caught them all!) MAISIE, Chris’s 9-year-old Border Collie, makes it her job to greet visitors at the VC with a frisbee or ball in mouth and an invitation to play. She loves to play fetch and can be very insistent that humans play with her. Snow shovels have a certain appeal to Maisie, much to the amusement and frustration to those trying to shovel.
RODEO is living the dog’s life at Merck Forest. A 10-year old black lab/golden retriever mix, she’s Tim’s best field assistant. She can often be seen sporting her orange safety vest as she joins him out in the field, riding the RTV or hiking in the woods. She loves people and is always excited to come to work in the morning, making sure she greets everyone she sees. You’ll often find VIOLET, a sweet natured and friendly 7-year-old black lab, lounging on her pillow in Liz’s office. She loves to greet visitors and takes her job very seriously. She also loves to get out for walks, and her favorite trails to date are the Discovery Trail and the Farm Trail. One of her goals for 2020 is to hike to all the trails and summits at Merck Forest. Occasionally you’ll see DOTTY joining Kim in the Visitor Center on weekends. A spunky, 6 ½ pound long-haired Chihuahua, Dotty is a library volunteer at the Rupert Kittay Library and has a loyal following at Pets Etc. in Manchester. Coming from the same farm as Maisie, Chris’s 10-month-old LYRA is Maisie’s niece. Full of puppy energy and mischief and Border Collie drive, she’s still learning her manners, so she’s an occasional visitor at the VC. Lyra loves playing in the snow and making snow angels. OTTO, a 3 ½-year-old black German Shepard, loves to join Kathryn for hikes at Merck Forest. He also loves to play ball, but getting him to drop it can test your patience! Otto is quite chatty and very enthusiastic, so he only occasionally joins Kathryn at the VC. REN, Kristian’s sidekick, is a 4 ½ year-old Icelandic Sheepdog. Icelandic Sheepdogs were bred to protect newborn lambs from predatory birds, and Ren is happiest when he’s working to keep his flock of 50 sheep together and guarding against any bird that dare show itself near his flock. WILBUR and LOW-KEY, Rob’s canine side-kicks, also make occasional appearances at Merck Forest. Wilbur, a slightly timid 2-year-old Labradoodle, is full of love, making him a 70 lb. lap dog. He loves to play fetch and is happiest when his pack is all together. Low-key is 13 lb. of Jack Russel Terrier energy, and at 10, is 100% the boss of her much bigger, much younger brother. Squeaky toys don’t stand a chance with her, as she loves to eviscerate them. We are saddened to share that CROOKSHANKS, aka “Crookie”, disappeared this past fall, not to return to the warmth of the VC. Named for Hermione Granger’s cat from the Harry Potter series, Crookie arrived at Merck Forest over 10 years ago as a feral cat, was tamed by Nic Travers, a former assistant farm manager, and lived on the farm until several years ago, when she took up residence at the VC. We all miss her ornery nature.
Green Time Over Screen Time by Chris Hubbard, Education Director Our mission of fostering curiosity, love, and responsibilities for natural and working lands often leads us to conversations about getting children out into the natural world and helping them connect to nature. Research shows the benefits of getting children outside, of reducing “screen time” in favor of “green time.” Studies show that time spent in the natural world and being active outdoors is highly beneficial to the physical and mental health of children and helps to improve their resiliency, academic performance and social skills. There are plenty lot of opportunities to give your kids (and yourself!) “green time” at Merck Forest, no matter what time of year. Join us for a Second Saturday hike on trails around the farm and Visitor Center. Come on up for a kid-friendly program focused on maple sugaring, dying eggs, or felting wool (with an opportunity to meet our chickens and sheep). Help out with our ever-popular Farm Chores, or join in on Sunday afternoons with “Meet and Feed,” a chance to help with feeding our furry friends up at the farm. Camps are a great way to connect kids with nature. Our “Winter in the Woods” and “Spring on the Farm” school vacation camps allow kids to get out into the landscape and explore. Our summer Forest Camps (for Grades 1 – 3) and Wilderness Camp (for Grades 4 – 6) let kids spend a week exploring, learning, and playing as they connect to nature. What if you can’t tear your child away from the screen? Downloadable apps can allow your child to be engaged with the natural world. iNaturalist helps them identify and document the plants and animals they find and allows them to engage as citizen scientists when their findings go into a database that can be accessed for scientific research. Apps such as AllTrails allows your child to search for nearby trails, and then track their progress as they hike them. Star gazing apps can open up the skies for your child as they identify constellations, spot planets, and track overhead satellites. Give your child, and yourself, some green time. Come on up and join us for a hike, a workshop, or a presentation. Or, come and spend time on your own. We welcome you and your family for some green time away from screen time.
News from the Farm and Field Crew Check out MFFC’s new tractor forwarder! 250,000 board feet were recently pulled out of the Larch plantation for sale to a local business. The Field Crew is also getting ready for maple season- lines are getting checked and cleaned, the evaporator is getting serviced and the Sap House is getting prepped. Merck Forest produced over 900 gallons of three grades of syrup in 2019. See you in a few months at Pancake Breakfast! March 21 and 22!
New Faces at Merck Forest & Farmland Center Stephanie Breed is delighted to join the Merck Forest family. She grew up in Dorset and, along with her brother and sister, spent the majority of her childhood outside. She has been involved in greenhouse management and environmental education in Louisiana, Massachusetts and Vermont. She is grateful to be working in the Visitor Center, named after her Godmother, Joy Green. Melanie Mislo is a senior studying chemistry and environmental science at Bennington College. She wanted to work at MFFC this winter as it offers her a unique opportunity to bring together education and environmental science and gives her an opportunity to be involved with the Vermont communities she’s been a part of for the past four years. KC Osofsky is a Freshman at Bennington College, not yet majoring in anything, but deeply interested in the intersections between science, art, education, and helping people. The opportunity to intern at MFFC appealed to her as a way to get varied and hands-on experience with some of those intersections and to experience the beauty of the natural world at the same time. Eli Truehart, a senior from Salem Central High School, is interning at Merck Forest this year. He is assisting with resource management projects under the supervision of Conservation Manager Tim Duclos.
Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind, by Lyall Watson by Chris Hubbard, Education Director
Summer’s soft breezes and cool temperatures make Merck Forest a delight while the surrounding valleys are hot and humid. But now, the wind howls through the trees and roars across the mountain tops. Rain from slate-gray skies coat tree branches with a glazed icing, and the winds send the ice crashing to the ground. A winter storm warning is in effect. The wind is a constant presence at Merck Forest. Our shortened highbush blueberries and east-leaning trees give testament to that ever-present force. “…pines keep the shape of the wind, even when the wind has fled and is no longer there” (Watson, p. 170).
Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind (1984) was written by Lyall Watson, who earned degrees in geology, botany, zoology, chemistry, marine biology, ecology, and anthropology, as well as a doctorate in ethology. Watson explores this unseen force we all experience through his multitude of lenses. He presents a fascinating read where he explores how wind has formed, transformed, and affected nature, history, and humanity from the beginning of time in sections titled “Earth,” “Time,” “Life,” “Body,” and “Mind.” Watson explores wind with a focus that spans from physics and geography to psychology and perception. Watson first delves into the topic by exploring space wind. He describes the seasonal Martian dust storms in which winds pick up the fine surface sand and spread it across the planet, turning it red as the storm spreads across the face of Mars. He explores how spiders take flight on the winds and are observed by hot air balloonists over Texas seeing the arachnids at altitudes of 1000 meters. The book closes with universal stories, including the ancient Greek mythology of Aeolus, warden of winds and son of Poseidon, who “kept the wrestling winds and soaring tempests chained in a cave.” Those familiar with the landscape of the northern Taconic Range will recognize the name in Dorset’s Mt. Aeolus. My one regret with this book is that as science continues to inform us about our world, it has not been updated to reflect current understanding, as more than 30 years have passed since the original publication. But this should not stop you from reading it. There is much to be gleaned and much that is timeless in this gem. It will heighten your awareness and pique your curiosity of that ever-present force that affects us all.
Merck Forest team welcomes Bennington College students for 5 weeks KC Osofsky, Class of 2023 and Melanie Mislo, Class of 2020 will both spend their Winter Field Work term up at Merck Forest this January and February. They will help us dive into archival materials, work on visitor experience projects, help with chores, workshops and other weekend events and get an understanding about how place-based nonprofits work. Bennington College has always championed the value of learning in action. The College was the first liberal arts institution to integrate classroom study with annual field experience, and this vital practice still thrives eighty years later. Today, students choose from a robust array of annual field work experiences offering deep learning, reflective practice, and work-based competency development. Through this annual learning lab in the working world, Bennington students acquire a resume of four progressive field experiences and a deep understanding of what they want to do. They develop a capacity to grasp and enter complex situations; the ability to work and think independently as well as to collaborate; and the confidence to be mobilized by ambiguities, trade-offs, and uncertainties–all qualities recognized by employers as essential for innovators in the emerging future of work.
FAMILY-ORIENTED ACTIVITIES TREATS FOR TWEETS WORKSHOP January 25, 2020, 1pm- 3. $10/child Learn about the birds who stay through winter, and make special treats to bring home to sustain your own feathered friends. WINTER IN THE WOODS: KIDS’ CAMP FOR WINTER VACATION February 18-20, 2020, 9am- 3pm, $50 per child per day or $125 for all three days. Come join our Winter-Break Day-Camp for second through fifth graders. We’ll explore the snowy woods, create wintry crafts and play! Merck Forest is a winter wonderland and you can come to camp for one day or all three, from 9am to 3pm each day. MAPLE MADNESS FOR CHILDREN March 14, 2020, 1pm- 3pm, $10pp Let’s find out what sugaring and maple trees are all about: This is a sap-to-syrup program with games and story-telling, a tapping demonstration, a sap house tour (if we’re very lucky and the weather conditions are just right, we may even get to watch the sugar makers at work!), and finally, a tasting to savor the sweet product of our maple trees.
Save the Date for these Special Events! SOLO WILDERNESS FIRST AID: May 2- 3 MEET THE LAMBS: May 16 MEET AND FEED: Sunday afternoons from May 24 thru October 11 SECOND SATURDAY HIKES: May 9 & June 13 GAME OF LOGGING PROGRAMS: Basic Chainsaw Safety for Beginners, May 9 Game of Logging, Levels 1 & 2, May 23 – 24 Game of Logging, Levels 3 & 4, May 30-31 EARLY MORNING BIRD WALKS: May 9 & 23, June 13 MIGRATORY BIRD ECOLOGY 101: May 9, 2020 VOLUNTEER WORK PARTIES: May 30 & June 27 FARM CHORES FOR CHILDREN: Thursday afternoons from July 2 through August 13 BIOBLITZ 2020: July 25 – 26
MAPLE CELEBRATION & PANCAKE BREAKFAST March 21 & 22, 2020, 9am- 2pm This weekend we celebrate ALL THINGS MAPLE, with our fabulous pancake breakfast (featuring our own pasture-raised pork sausage and certified-organic Maple Syrup), tractor-drawn wagon rides, and tapping & sugaring demonstrations. It is just a plain-old good time. CHICKS & EGGS FOR CHILDREN April 4, 2020, 10am to noon, $10 per child. Bring your youngsters to meet our feathered friends: Everybody will have a chance to hold a chicken, to collect some eggs, and then to dye them using natural dyes. Enrollment for this program is limited (so as not to over-tax the chickens). BAA, BAA, BLACKSHEEP April 4, 2020, 1pm- 3pm, $10 per child. Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? Bring your children to meet our fleecy flock -- and to create felt using wool from our sheep. SPRING ON THE FARM SCHOOL BREAK KIDS’ CAMP April 14, 15, 16, 9am – 3pm. $50/day or $125 for all 3 days per child. Vacation Day Camp for 2nd through 5th graders: We’ll be based out of the Visitor Center and the Yurt as we get curious and explore the farm and play in and around the woods at the Discovery Trail. We’ll meet and learn about the animals that live on our farm and in our pond, do some crafts, and go hiking and exploring.
Photo by Cori Brago
School Break Camps Merck Forest’s vacation camps for elementary school aged kids are back again this February and April. Take advantage of these wonderful opportunities to make learning fun with our program team. This summer we are adding a wilderness camp (rising 4-6 grade) to our popular forest camps (rising1-3 grade). Contact Chris Hubbard (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
HIKES & WORKSHOPS To learn more about the details of an event which interests you, please go to our website merckforest.org/ events; you may obtain complete information about our programs, and then register by clicking the link at the bottom of each event listing. For outdoor events, please dress for the weather: sturdy shoes/boots, layered clothing, snow/raingear, flashlight/headlamp, snacks and water. All outdoor events are held weather-permitting.
TRACKING WORKSHOP January 25, 2020, 10am- noon, $5pp We’ll hike across snowfields and into the woods to find … whatever has come before. SUSTAINABLY MANAGING A SUGARBUSH January 26, 2020, 1:30 – 4pm, Free This discussion on sugarbush management and bird-friendly maple certification will be followed by a hike led by Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation forester Ethan Crumley. Local sugarmakers, landowners and hobbyists are welcome. FULL SNOW MOON HIKE February 8, 2020, 4pm- 5:30, $5pp Staff-guided hike/snowshoe (snow-cover-dependent) across the winter landscape. WINTER BIRD ECOLOGY 101 February 15, 2020, 4pm – 5pm, $5pp. Who, Where, How -- and most of all -- Why do resident bird species overwinter in southern Vermont’s challenging habitat? Join conservation manager Tim Duclos for a discussion of their adaptive strategies; his talk will be of interest to birders, conservationists, and even youngsters with a particular affinity for our feathered neighbors. OWL PRESENTATION & HIKE February 22, 2020, 4pm- 6, $5pp We’ll start the evening with a presentation about the owls found in our region and then we’ll hike out to find some of these magnificent birds of prey. FULL WORM MOON HIKE March 14, 2020, 4pm- 5:30, $5pp The earth is stirring beneath our feet at this time of year, but there might still be enough snow to snowshoe. This will be a moderate staff-guided hike over (potentially) moonlit trails. VERNAL POOL ECOLOGY March 28, 2020, 4pm – 5pm, $5pp. So, what exactly is a “vernal pool” and why are vernal pools important? Conservation manager Tim Duclos has the answers -- and he’ll tell you all about them in this discussion of a very specialized habitat, the species who rely on it, and what we can do to take care of them all. SECOND SATURDAY HIKE April 11, 2020, 2pm – 4pm, $5pp. This staff-guided hike is a tossup- will wintry conditions prevail, or will balmy breezes wake up the sleeping earth? Either way we’ll venture out into the landscape for a moderate jaunt to free our winter-bound spirits. Dress wisely. VOLUNTEER “HOW TO” DAY April 25, 2020, 10am – 3pm, FREE. Join the crew! We’ll start with mulching the raspberries, but there might be other tasks to tackle as well.
From The Advancement Office
Merck Forest hosts Food Shed Forums
Happy New Year! Shorter days, colder air and a slower pace during the winter months here at Merck Forest allow the Advancement Office to take a breath and spend time rebooting and refining its systems and approaches to external marketing and engagement with the institution’s constituents, supporters and partners. 2020 marks Merck Forest’s 70th year of continuous operation as Vermont’s first environmentally focused educational nonprofit institution. Founded in 1950 by George and Serena Merck, the original vision for MFFC was to offer a place where friends and family could enjoy and experience the natural world, where people could come learn about land-use practices such as farming, forestry and quality land stewardship- from the most novice to seasoned practitioners. Merck Forest became a location, a resource and a classroom where farmers and foresters alike could convene to share innovative land management practices and experience these practices in action. While the organization has evolved with the times since its inception- in both practice and constituency- this original vision remains central to MFFC’s approach today. Our continued commitment to place-based experiential learning is the driving force behind our current mission- to inspire curiosity, love and responsibility for natural and working lands- which the organization accomplishes through sustainable land management and field-based education. In addition to expanding our membership program and adding depth to our Annual Fund this past year, Merck Forest is proud of the working partnerships that we forged- in the field, in the region and beyond. From successful raffles at local shops, restaurants and destinations to our work with schools, colleges and graduate schools; from new working relationships with foundations and state agencies to enhanced reach to visitors through regional chambers and lodging establishments, we are growing our visitor base, increasing awareness about our dual roles as both educators and researchers and meeting our mission as a place-based convener and a leading destination in Southern Vermont. Thank you so much for your continued support! Make sure to share your enthusiasm for Merck Forest with a friend, neighbor, and/or colleague. And come visit us soon! Best, Elizabeth D. Ruffa, Director of Advancement
Merck Forest is pleased to be hosting two forums for growers and producers in the greater Mettowee Valley this winter. Mara Hearst, principal at Levy Lamb LLC, has received support from Vermont Land Trust to do outreach in the region to explore what our regional food system’s capacity building needs are. Farmers and value-added producers will meet twice to explore distribution, sales and marketing strategies, among other topics. Several statewide nonprofits that offer business resources - including NOFA-Vermont, UVM Extension, VT Land Trust, VT Law School, VT Housing and Conservation Board, VT Farm to Plate Network, Food Connects and VT Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
Conserving Lands, Transforming Lives: A Vermonter’s View of the Student Conservation Association Speaker: Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam Tuesday, February 11, 2020; 5:30pm – 7:00 pm Manchester Community Library, Manchester $18 paid in advance; $22 at the door Registration info: greenmtnacademy.org; (802) 867-0111. More than 60 years ago, with America’s national parks in danger of being “loved to death,” the Student Conservation Association (SCA) formed to help protect overwhelmed public lands and provide young people with the benefits of hands-on service and experience. Today, as climate change poses urgent, worldwide risks and a growing segment of our youth suffer from “nature-deficit disorder,” this remarkable organization with nearly 100,000 alumni is forging powerful connections between young people and the great outdoors to ensure a new generation will value and help preserve our natural world, and to show how early stewardship can spark a constellation of individual skills leading to lifelong leadership and success. Former MFFC Trustee and friend Liz Putnam will share her thoughts and reflections on the role of the SCA six decades after she founded it.
Our popular Game of Logging and Solo Wilderness First Aid trainings fill up quickly. Both are industry recognized certification courses. Chainsaw safety coursesBasic and GOL, $190 for each course. GOL courses must be taken in consecutive order. May 2nd & May 3rd :SOLO Wilderness First Aid: a 16 hour first aid course with optional CPR component in basic backcountry emergency management skills. $200 (WFA) or $240 with CPR May 9: Basic Chainsaw Safety- A pre-Level 1 course for people who have no prior saw experience which leads into Level 1 and Level 2. GAME OF LOGGING (GOL) COURSES: May 23: Level 1 focuses on precision felling techniques. May 24: Level 2 focuses on maximizing saw performance. May 30: Level 3 focuses on Limbing, Bucking, and Difficult Trees. May 31: Level 4 focuses on Storm Damage Cleanup.
Calling all Volunteers! Merck Staff Book Shelf Here is a sampling of what the MFFC team is currently reading! Enjoy! Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingrid and Edgar Parin d”Aulaire Hunting, Butchering and Cooking Wild Game by Steven Rinella Norse Mythology by Neil Gaimon Pontus Pilate by Paul C. Maier Re-Peopling Vermont: The Paradox of Development in the 20th Century by Paul Searls Soup Night: Creating Community around a Pot of Soup by Maggie Stuckey (available in VC) The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra, Tsar by Peter Kurth The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky The Overstory by Richard Powers The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Merck Forest’s annual Maple Celebration Weekend Pancake Breakfast has grown! First offered in MFFC’s Maintenance Shop, then at the Visitor Center, and now in the Frank Hatch Sap House, this yearly two-day celebration of Merck’s “sap to syrup” operation is a happening! Over 900 people attended last year. We count on our trusted, hearty volunteers to help pull off this feat. If interested in volunteering, please contact Kathryn Lawrence in the VC. See you March 21 and 22!
PRESORTED STD US POSTAGE PAID MANCHESTER, VT 05254 PERMIT No. 3
3270 Route 315 Rupert, VT 05768
Merck Forest & Farmland Center is on a mission to inspire curiosity, love and responsibility for natural and working lands 20