A Relationship Between Land and Humankind: The History of the Intervale

Throughout modern history, the land of the Intervale has been the most fertile land in Burlington and the surrounding area. Native American tribes such as the Abenaki grew their corn on the beds of the Winooski river where the Intervale now lies. In the late 1700s, Ethan Allen and his family established a homestead on the Intervale, and nearly 100 years later the Vermont Railroad would lay a track through that same land. In 1900 the Calkins, the Arns, and the LaCasse families established a dairy farm that would operate for less than 30 years. A devastating flood would come through in 1927, not only to the Intervale but to all of Vermont. In 1944 a municipal dump was established at the intervale, which would remain in operation throughout the 1970’s until it would eventually be outlawed. In 1977 VT Rt. 127 was built through the Intervale, greatly disrupting the land and the wildlife there. People would continue to dump their trash at the Intervale until the 1980s, when Will Raap founded the Gardener’s Supply Company, and the city of Burlington rezoned the Intervale to exclude it from industrial and residential growth. Then finally, in 1988, the Intervale Foundation was established. That foundation would grow into the Intervale Center that exists today.

Evidence of this history can be observed throughout my location. Old car parts and pipes can be seen peeking up from within the grass, and the train bridge that crosses the Winooski is still in operation. The trail on which my phenology spot is on is called the Calkin Loop, named after the family that owned a dairy farm on the Intervale. The relationship between the Intervale and humans has been a long a complicated one, but as time has gone on, it has become a healthier and kinder relationship that has benefitted the land as well as the humans who use it.


Thanksgiving Phonology Location: My Backyard and Beyond


Description as Leopold:

I am thankful to have had this single acre of land to explore throughout my youth. It was shared between my brother and I, and all of our friends throughout our school years. It wasn’t always fenced off from the acres and acres of farm land and forest that lays adjacent to my house. In years past my family and I would always do a survey of the land throughout each season, which ended with us running up the most picturesque hill that overlooked my entire town. During our winter hike we’d be sure to grab a sled for the hill. This land we used to explore was fenced off from us when an apple grower came in and bought it. Only a fence hop away, our favorite seasonal walk is still accessible to us, though it has lost that element of wildness, that it may never get back now that is has been touched by civilization. Birches, oaks, maples, and pines surround my backyard, and give me a sense of familiarity wherever I encounter them. Pileated woodpeckers, morning doves, chickadees, and the Autumn crow have greeted me with the songs each morning for the past 15 years in this home, and will forever be the sound of home wherever I hear their call.

Comparison as wright:

The Intervale is a piece of land entirely dependent on humans. From the crop fields, to the incinerator, to the planes flying constantly above, humans are constantly present. In fact, my backyard and beyond doesn’t differ to much from the Intervale. Over time famers have come in and done different things with the land, first making it a corn field, then soy, and then an apple orchard. Automobiles can constantly be heard from within the neighborhood as well as from the busy Route 9 that runs on the other side of the field, opposite my backyard. Perhaps I’m drawn to these types of places, those that have a distinct mix of human and wild. The rushing waters of the Winooski river flow though my spot at the Intervale, but no bodies of water can be found in my backyard. This simple difference creates different land use intentions for each location, and attracts different wildlife too. Silver maples can be found at the intervale, but none in my backyard. Oaks and pines can be found in backyard, but not at the Intervale. Both are equally affected by the coming of winter, as leaves have fallen already, birds have flown south, and crop fields are mostly left alone for the coming months to allow the land to replenish itself.


Update: Common Species

Since my last visit, thanks to iNaturalist, I’ve been able to identify some of the common species. In addition to silver maples, who thrive next to rivers and streams, I’ve also found quite a few boxelder maples.

The lower story includes goldenrods, goutweed, and Virginia creeper. 

MISSING: Fall Foliage

Throughout my travels of VT in the past couple of weeks, the colors of fall have been most prominent, and even starting to disappear in the past few days. I was very surprised to walk into my trail at the Intervale to be greeted by green leaves, still tightly on the branches they belong to. There were, however, leaves scattered around the path and river bank.


The water level of the Winooski looked a bit lower than my last visit, which is what usually happens in the fall.

A Not-So-Perfect Habitat

As it turns out, the trails at the Intervale don’t house much wildlife. I heard just one lone bird call during my last visit (Which sounded like a chickadee, to my very untrained ear), which was in the afternoon of October 19th, on a beautiful 60 degree sunny day. As I was just sitting there, I noticed quite a lot of noise pollution. Evidence of the road that leads to the Intervale was quite prominent, as was the train bridge located about 400m downstream of my location. Planes were both visible and audible, which is enough to deter most humans, let alone birds and other wildlife. I didn’t see any animal tracks either, or any evidence of life from the river.

A Bird’s-Eye View

If you were a Canadian goose flying over the Intervale on your way down south for the winter, this is what you might see. The Calkin Loop trail follows the Winooski river, and there’s a small island with some tree debris in the middle of the river.

Common Species

The dominant woody species found here are silver maples and other maple varieties. One won’t find any pines in this part of the Intervale trails, and will notice the lack of a midstory. There is a stark difference from the tall canopy to the very low growing ground species. All of the plants on the Calkin trail serve as a riparian buffer for the Winooski River, which is very important for the protection of the Intervale farm fields, as well as a for the health of the river.


On my visit today I said hello to a family of ducks and a lone Mr. toad, who proved quite difficult to catch. I also saw evidence in the sand of a mammal that had visited my spot not too long before I. (this mysterious mammal was most likely a very friendly lab or golden retriever 😉 )