Lewis Creek in the late 1800s, East Charlotte. Photo courtesy of the Landscape Change Program, image rights reserved to Henry Sheldon Museum.
In 1989 the recently formed Hinesburg Land Trust (HLT) applied for a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) to acquire the Baldwin Land along Lewis Creek in Hinesburg. The money was granted with the stipulation that the idea of a greenway corridor be pursued.
In response, HLT member Andrea Morgante contacted people that she knew and invited them to meet and talk about the potential of a greenway for Lewis Creek. Although not a watershed resident herself, Andrea connected with the creek because her favorite swimming hole was there.
On January 11, 1990 about 50 people showed up to discuss the project. It was good timing for Charlotte participation because they had just finished a scenic road project and people were thinking about conservation issues. For Andrea, one guiding principle was the fact that natural resources planning was not receiving the attention that it needed to in the regional planning process taking place in Vermont. She was able to suggest the perspective that we begin to look at the landscape from a watershed point of view. This appeared to be a new regional way on thinking in Vermont.
A core group of people attended monthly meetings after that first one. The group spent most of the first year developing their goals and objectives, and releasing them in a brochure. The name they took was the Lewis Creek Conservation Committee (LCCC). They hoped to have strong representation from the five towns, through which the creek flows (Ferrisburgh, Monkton and Starksboro in Addison County, and Charlotte and Hinesburg in Chittenden County) by having one members from each town's conservation commission and at least one "member at large" from each town.
To get started, the group knew that funding would be important to meet their initial needs of creating a base map of the watershed and hiring someone to keep the organization running day-to-day. The LCCC secured two grants - one from the Vermont Community Foundation and the other from the Fund for Vermont's Third Century to accomplish these tasks.
By late summer of 1990, UVM graduate student Linda Henzel had heard about the Lewis Creek group and met with them regarding the project. She was in the process of creating a stream bank inventory procedure for citizens. She hoped for two outcomes: to use Lewis Creek as a study area, and that watershed residents would be interested in helping to develop her methodology. After attending a few meetings, the group asked Linda to work with them on a more regular, but part-time basis, with many tasks they needed help with, and she agreed.
One of the first tasks of the LCCC was to write to riparian (stream-side) landowners throughout the watershed. LCCC members hoped to build a base of volunteers and financial support by letting watershed residents know the group existed and giving them a copy of the brochure containing the organization's goals and objectives. About $500 of individual contributions were received the first year.
The LCCC chose to focus on data gathering and education, including information dissemination (press releases and a semi-annual newsletter), map making, workshops and school programs. Some of the topics covered were stream bank restoration, wetlands, land conservation methods, sustainable forestry practices, monitoring the water for bacteria, benthic macroinvertabrates and chemistry, wildlife tracking, beaver damage, and stream corridor analyses.
The group's purposes was to involve people in their own communities to bring lay people and professionals together for "cross-fertilization". We have also tried to foster a sense of community by supporting the efforts of local neighborhood groups and holding an annual community gathering where people come together to have fun and celebrate the watershed.
At some point, the group decided to approach each town for $500 per year towards their work. Not every town has given $500 each year, but there has been more has been more consistency in town giving in the past few years. Other methods of funding have been canoe raffles and calendar of the creek. Each of these has netted approximately $1,500.
In 1994, LCCC members decided to simplify the organization's name to the Lewis Creek Association. When trying to incorporate in Vermont in 1996, that name was not available. So, the group is now called the Lewis Creek Watershed Association dba the Lewis Creek Association.
The LCA sees itself as a group of people who are not politically motivated. We sincerely believe in the Lewis Creek watershed concept and are willing to learn about it and share our knowledge with others, especially our watershed neighbors. We are more of an ad hoc group that doesn't really represent each town, but most people, we believe, are glad to know we're here.
Our functions have been primarily information acquiring and disseminating, and these suggest our role as the caretakers of the resource. We created a computerized base map and subsequent data layers to help make the jobs of our town representatives on the conservation commissions a little easier. We also hoped that, through exposure to the maps, they would become more knowledgeable about the creek.
Structurally, many LCA board members have take responsibility for certain projects and have focused there attentions in those areas. Perhaps our most key activity is the citizen's wildlife tracking project. It has involved more than 100 residents in learning about what's happening in the landscape where they live.