A Visit Home

While Vermont was covered in a thin layer of snow as my plane took off last Friday morning, there was no sign of winter in Washington DC where I landed a mere hour and a half later. In fact, both the temperature and copious amounts of vibrant leaves still situated on the trees suggested that winter would not be arriving for quite some time. As we drove past the Potomac River, DC looked almost untouched from when I left it three months ago. The bridges and monuments were still covered with scaffoldings, and, as we drove through Georgetown, the houses and storefronts remained unaltered, save for a few new wreathes placed here and there in preparations for the coming holiday season. I was not expecting much to change in my short time away, because, to be honest, nothing changes quickly in DC. City council members and neighborhood associations alike take pride in the historical aesthetic of most neighborhoods in my area, and as such put in place hundreds of permits and restrictions which keep any real changes from occuring. Every once and a while a store will move down a block and a new one will take its place, but the structure of the building will always remain the same. Growing up this somewhat bothered me, but now I find it oddly comforting. No matter how many times my life changes, I can always drive through these old cobblestone streets and see the same houses I did as a child and know that in fifty years I can do the exact same.

However, the change of seasons does bring some welcomed change to the area. This change is most evident down on the waterfront, where in the summer months you can normally find kids playing in the fountain at all hours of the day. Runners and bikers constantly pass by you on their way down the Crescent Trail, and shoppers complain of the sweltering heat instead of the extreme cold. On Friday, the fountain was turned off, most likely since the first week of October when the temperature finally dipped below 80˚, and only a handful of runners could be seen. Instead, most people were up the street, hurrying across the busy Georgetown streets with loaded bags trying to get ahead of the holiday rush. At the local high schools, mine included, sports teams were beginning their annual Christmas tree sales, and young kids traded in corner lemonade stands for hot chocolate and apple cider stands. While the lawyers, business men and women, and – yes – politicians were busy typing away in their downtown offices not even ten blocks away, Georgetown seems to be taken straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie this time of year. Thanksgiving was still a few days away, but as you walked through the bustling sidewalks you could swear to hear the faint melody of Christmas carols floating out of a nearby store. This is one of my favorite things about DC. The leaves are still on the trees and the forecast does call for snow for at least four more weeks, yet people here do not care. The Christmas spirit flows through the air and infects everyone who walks through it.

My house was a nice mixture of both the permanence of Georgetown buildings and excitement of the holiday season. The tree in our front yard remained unchanged, but my front door now sported a brand new wreath my parents bought from the local farmers market. Inside my house, new decorations glittered, but it still felt the same. Walking in, I imagined it to feel different now coming from college, but it felt as if nothing had changed. It seemed like everything there had taken a pause the last few months and someone finally pressed play. My parents informed me about a few changes in the neighborhood, a German diplomat moved in across the street and the Tuckers finally fixed their broken garage door, but besides that everything remained just as I left it. With all of the uncertainty and unpredictability of college life, it was relaxing to know that home will always be a stable place to return to and recharge.

A Sense of Place

The Winooski Bridge has undergone quite a few changes over the years. And, currently it is going through even more changes with the seasons and the new restoration projects. Here at the Winooksi River Bridge you cannot observe many changes enacted by the construction taking place further down the trail, but the seasons are in full swing. Just last week, leaves littered the ground and squirrels scurried across the path in search of the perfect acorn. Now, snow covers the small path and the lining trees. With the addition of almost a foot of snow, the path has become increasingly less and less populated. Without friendly faces passing you as you bike down the path or look out onto the water, the bridge seems lonelier. The wind whips through the river delta carrying with it the smells of winter. A holiday feel floats through the air as well as you pass the small houses just below the bike path which have slowly started to set up Christmas decorations.

Something which caught my eye this visit was a small sign posted on the board just left of the trail. It detailed the importance of Lake Sturgeon and their scarcity. The poster reminded me of something the Melosira captain talked about when I toured the boat over parents’ weekend. He said that Lake Trout, while not Lake Sturgeon but still a pivotal species within Lake Champlain, are starting to be tagged for research purposes. This tagging process has become tricky when dealing with an increase of fishing in the Burlington area. Now, a large handful of Lake Trout tagged is ending up at the end of some hook instead of relaying key data back to the researchers. As I watched a man cast what was likely his last line of the season, I thought of how the increase in fishing has changed the physical makeup of the lake over the years. Not even 100 years ago, the Winooski delta probably played host to countless species of fish, including Lake Sturgeon, but with the increased emphasis in fishing during the early half of the nineteenth century the fish populations began to decrease. Since all ecosystems are interconnected, a loss of fish species in one could have caused a rippling effect in the plant species, giving the landscape surrounding the bridge a completely different look than what it once was.

Furthermore, the addition of houses, residential, and recreational land has affected the landscape. Before the bike path and the houses, the only thing which cut through this land was an old train path. To keep the train stable, the land on either side of the tracks was dug down so the train could be elevated. Once the city of Burlington retired the train track, residential parties took advantage of the dugout flat lands around the path to build their homes. This furthered the human impact imposed on the land, and while the Christman decorations add a special joy to my weekly bike rides now, it is interesting to imagine what the land once looked like without homes, bikes, train tracks, or even the bridge itself.

Northern Red Oak Leaf (upper left), Horsetail Grass (upper middle), White Oak Acorn (upper right), Eastern Grey Squirrel (bottom left), Jumping Spider (bottom middle), Ladybird Beetle (bottom right)

On this particular cloudy Wednesday afternoon, the squirrels were alive along the Burlington Bike Path. Not only did I observe numerous squirrels around the Winooski Bridge, but also all along the bike path. With the combination of all of the fallen acorns and colder weather, the squirrels here seem to be hastily preparing for winter. In addition to fallen acorns, the ground leading up to the bridge is littered with leaves of all kinds. Most of the ground leaves have already turned brown, but brief spots of bright yellow catch your eye every once in a while. Along the path, most trees are bare, their leaves having made a new home among the ants and other insects on the ground, but several young Northern Red Oaks still sport their colorful red leaves, showing that there is still some time left before the winter truly arrives. And, if you look hard enough along the edge of the path, just below the beautiful red leaves, you will see a plant which makes you look twice – horsetail grass. At first glance, these tiny grasses look just like young bamboo shoots, however, they are actually quite common around watery areas. On the bridge itself, there are no squirrels running about. If you look closely at the metal bars, you will see small spider webs covering almost every inch. Today, a jumping spider watched over the web while an unsuspecting ladybird beetle slowly made its way towards it (thankfully it flew away just before getting stuck). Without higher traffic across the bridge, and thus less people shaking and disturbing the peace along the metal bars, spiders are able to create more stable webs (and just in time for halloween might I add).

Since last week, the trees surrounding the base of the bridge have lost most, if not all, of their leaves. There are also less bird species around the bridge than was there just last week. While I heard a few birds during my ride to the bridge, the only ones I saw at my site were two Black Crows perched in a tree. Looking out over the bridge towards Lake Champlain, you can see that the water levels are lower than last week. The water clarity has increased since last week, especially closer to shore. Normally there is some soil debris in the water from the river delta bank, but since the soil is getting harder as the weather becomes colder, there is less breaking off into the water.

Map of Winooski Bridge and surrounding landscape

Field Notes taken at site:

Winooski River Bridge

Start the nearly 5 mile trek to the Winooski River Bridge on the Burlington Bike Path. This path runs along the entire waterfront, but the most popular pick-up location for the bike trail is right across from the ECHO Center and Creemee stand (quick pre-bike snack possibly). Follow this beautiful trail down passed the kids joking around at the skate park, passed the old train cabin, and passed the folks tanning on North Beach (maybe not so much anymore). Just a few pedals passed North Beach, you will reach the Ice Arena and Leddy Park. Here, you can take a small set of stairs down to a secluded beach and have a quick mid-ride snack and water break. Once refilled and back on the bike, you will head straight on the bike path, but be alert here as the path begins to cross some neighborhood roads, and cars frequently drive by. After the fourth street crossing, you will almost be to the destination. Normally, this section of the bike path is fairly quite seeing as most of the family attractions are closer to North Beach or Leddy Park.

You will know you have arrived once the trail turns from pavement to wooden planks and the tree cover gives away to a beautiful 360˚ view of Lake Champlain and the mouth of the Winooksi River. In the fall, the red rusted color of the bridge blends in perfectly with the orange, yellow, and red leaves of the surrounding foliage. Here, people move a little slower, taking more time to appreciate the surreal views all around them. Standing on top of the bridge helps you to notice everything around you that much more. Last time I visited, I watched a dog play fetch with his owner while a family paddled underneath the bridge in a small canoe and the crisp scent of fall filled the air. The place also offers a sense of community to all bikers who travel along it. The runners and casual day-walkers usually turn around before reaching this bridge, so the majority of people who cross this bridge are fellow bikers. As you stand taking in all of the views, passing bikers will slow down and give a polite wave or even a hello. Yesterday when I visited, a woman was already stopped looking out over the water. When I pulled my bike up next to her, we sparked up a conversation originally stemming from a shared love of fixie bikes, but later turned into a crazy story of how we both lived in the same neighborhood in DC.

I hope you can all get out on your bikes this fall and take a trip to this beautiful place before the weather gets too chilly. In total, I would say you should crave out a nice 3 hour chunk of time for your first visit, but normally it is a quick 1 hour and a half visit.

Field Observations:

  • fewer people are on the bike trail, and the ones that are this far out are mainly bikers
  • the trees have all started to change
  • more leaves in the water and on the ground than last time I visited
  • more animal activity, ie. squrriels constantly running around and collecting nuts
  • the weather is changing more rapidly (it was sunny and clear when I began my bike ride but quickly turned cloudy)

Hello NR001!

Hello and welcome to my phenology blog! For this blog, I will be visiting a bridge along the Burlington bike path to watch the leaves change and observe other seasonal changes. I hope you enjoy!


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