Protecting Our Rivers

Barnard Brook Stabilization Project

By Jenevra Wetmore

For several years the bank behind Sustainable Woodstock’s Community Garden at Billings Farm has been eroding and slumping into Barnard Brook. This area, like the rest of Woodstock, was hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene, which only intensified the erosion. The bank is now being “undercut” by Barnard Brook; as the bottom of the bank erodes during high water events, the unsupported upper slope continues to collapse into the brook. (The garden is across from Billings Farm, down past the overflow parking lot on the left as you drive out of Woodstock on Old River Road.)

As the bank moves further and further back, losing soil as it goes, it has begun to encroach on the garden. If nothing is done, additional erosion and movement of the bank is a certainty, and we will lose an entire corner of the garden. The erosion would likely continue past the garden and to the bridge crossing the brook further down on Old River Road. The soil erosion is also causing nitrogen and sediment pollution of Barnard Brook, which is classified as “stressed” due to streambank erosion and loss of riparian vegetation. As a result of the bank erosion, there are high levels of sediment in the brook, which raise water temperature and negatively impact plants, insects, fish and other forms of aquatic life.

This summer Sustainable Woodstock took action to prevent water pollution and preserve the garden. With the support of the Woodstock Corporation, which owns the land, we applied for and were awarded a Design and Implementation Block Grant, funded by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Clean Water Initiative Program and administered by Watersheds United Vermont. We used this funding to work with contractors Ripple LCC and Bear Creek Environmental, who developed an alternatives analysis and 30% engineering design to address water quality concerns.

Ultimately, Ripple LLC and Bear Creek Environmental recommended bioengineered streambank stabilization. This will entail stabilizing the streambank by shifting the bank line to its original location and constructing a new slope with root wads (the ball of a tree root and dirt that is pulled from the ground when a tree is uprooted) and then coir-wrapped soil lifts (soil wrapped in coconut fiber mats). These natural materials will hold the bank in place while shrubs and other planted vegetation becomes established. “Rip rap”—the loose stone we often see lining river and streambanks—is not funded by the Clean Water Initiative Program. This is because rip rap tends to increase the speed of water, accelerating erosion downstream and simply pushing the problem to another location. Natural “bioengineered” materials are much better for the environment. 

The next stage of this process will involve applying for a second Design and Implementation Block Grant to fund a final 100% design of the bank stabilization. This will not only enhance stream habitat and reduce sediment and nutrient pollution, but will result in benefits for the larger Woodstock community. The eroding bank is beginning to consume the northeastern corner of the Billings Community Garden, managed by Sustainable Woodstock. This garden provides many benefits to the residents of Woodstock and surrounding towns, including plots dedicated to growing fresh local produce for the Woodstock Community Food Shelf as well as an open public space for outdoor education and recreation. Additionally, the garden partners with Zack’s Place, which offers inclusive enrichment programs to people with special needs, residents of Woodstock Terrace, an assisted living community, and many other local families and individuals who grow fresh produce at the garden. 

The Barnard Brook bank erosion also poses a serious safety concern to community members who use the garden. Every summer Sustainable Woodstock hosts multiple events at the garden, including educational workshops, hands-on learning opportunities, community work days, and Grow Your Own Garden—an annual distribution of seeds and plants to local residents who would not otherwise have the means to create a garden. 

Sustainable Woodstock is grateful to our partners for helping us accomplish the first step of this process. Many thanks to Billings Farm, who manages the property, and the Woodstock Corporation. Thank you to Ripple LLC and Bear Creek Environmental for their excellent engineering work, and to Watershed Coordinator Marie Caduto for her advice. Our gratitude also for this funding. which was made possible by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s (VT DEC) Clean Water Initiative Program (CWIP), and administered by Watersheds United Vermont. 

Image caption & map credit:  “This topographic map shows the riparian location of Sustainable Woodstock’s Community Garden at Billings Farm. One corner of the garden borders the steep bank of Barnard Brook which is being undermined by severe erosion and slumping—a legacy of Tropical Storm Irene (August 2021). Map Credit: Basemap by Bear Creek Environmental 2022.” 


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