Wood turtles have been a part of Vermont's diverse wildlife for the past ten thousand years. These moderately sized turtles with reddish-orange skin and roughly textured shells may live 60 years. But despite their long history, concern for this species is on the rise in the northeast due to the turtles' region-wide decline. Humans are the main cause of this. As more housing and commercial development takes place near streams, rivers and wetlands, turtles loose habitat. The building of roads through turtle corridors creates a dangerous situation for the creatures. In addition, wood turtles have been removed from the wild and kept as pets by individuals unaware that they were seriously impacting the turtle population. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department monitors wood turtle populations by tagging selected turtles with radio transmitters in an effort to learn more about how they adapt to the changing landscape. We venture out into the field with Steve Parren, chief of the department's Nongame and Natural Heritage Program (NNHP) to track tagged wood turtles.
Whitewater rafting is one of the biggest thrill rides nature has to offer. The Kennebec River in Maine is one of the most popular rivers in New England to raft. It ranges from a gentle flow to a pulse-pounding class-four whitewater. A number of companies along the Kennebec offer daylong whitewater adventures. In addition to outfitting you, they give you paddling instruction, take you to the put-in spot, guide you down the river, prepare you a streamside lunch and pick you up at the end of the day. A daily dam release ensures that there are always great whitewater conditions on the Kennebec, meaning that you can go on rafting adventures all summer and into September. Host Marianne Eaton travels to The Forks, Maine, home of Northern Outdoors Adventures to take on a wet and wild twelve-mile stretch of the Kennebec River.
As the end of September rolls around, the Northeast Kingdom is usually the first place in Vermont to see the beginning of the fall foliage show of color. While many people view this display by car or bike, a canoe trip gives you an amazing perspective you can't get from the pavement. Paddling slows you down, forcing you to appreciate the moment and enjoy your surroundings. You feel the power of the blade on the water and after a while, you don't even have to think too much about it as you serenely make your way downriver. There are a number of companies in Vermont that feature paddling adventures. They range from barebones day trips to multi-day, fully guided excursions with lunch prepared for you right on the river and nights at spent at Vermont country inns. Host Marianne Eaton puts in on the White and the Connecticut rivers with Battenkill Canoe on their Vermont River Sampler tour.
Competitive shooting is a highly demanding activity that carries dreams of college scholarships, national championships and even Olympic Medals. Reaching that level, however, requires a tremendous amount of discipline, dedication, and precision. And it can be tough for young people to find a school or club that provides them with an opportunity to sharpen their shooting skills. The Burlington Rifle and Pistol Club offers Junior marksmanship programs. We spend time with Katie Benjamin, one of Vermont's top youth shooters at the indoor range of the National Guard Armory in Winooski where the club practices. We then spend a day at Camp Johnson where some of the country's top shooters attend a summer camp for marksmanship.
There's nothing like calling in a big gobbler during the spring wild turkey season. But fall turkey hunts can be every bit as exciting. The tactics and calling are quite different, however, as the birds are more interested in food than mating. Mature male turkeys most likely won't respond to a hen call in the fall. What they will respond to is the call of other members of the flock that have been separated from the main group. This is where the dogs come in. In Vermont, dogs may be used in fall hunts to flush birds and break up the flock. The dog must also be concealed and remain calm during the calling, which adds yet another challenge level to the day. All of these factors make coming home with a Thanksgiving gobbler a rare event. But with good scouting, breakup by the dog and excellent calling skills, it can go a long way toward putting a wild turkey on the table. Host Lawrence Pyne goes fall turkey hunting with Marc Brown, Steve Hickoff and his turkey dog Midge.
n the Atlantic Flyway almost as many Canada geese are bagged as all duck species combined. There are basically two kinds of Canada geese — migratory birds, which are the birds that fly north in the spring and nest on the tundra, and resident Canada geese, which nest all through the Atlantic Flyway and only migrate as much as they have to when they're forced south by winter weather. There are no distinguishing features between a resident and migrant Canada goose. In addition to banding operations, researchers have taken to the skies over the nesting grounds in northern Quebec on the Ungava Peninsula to determine migratory populations. Data from these operations can help determine how goose hunting seasons are established. In Vermont there is a September season that is specifically targeted at resident birds, while migrant goose season usually begins around the third week in October. In the fall of 2003 the first reciprocal license existed between Vermont and New Hampshire for waterfowl hunting along the Connecticut River zones. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Rob Harvey, a Vermont native and one of the top goose biologists in the country, for a day hunting migratory Canada geese on the Connecticut River.
According to surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the average age of hunters has increased from 35 in 1980 to 42 in 2001. The best way to get young people interested in hunting is to make sure that they have a positive hunting experience the first time around. The Lake Hortonia Country Store in Hubbardton holds a "Youth Hunting Weekend" during Vermont's annual youth deer season in an effort to foster an interest in preserving Vermont's hunting heritage for kids. It was first held in 1999 and has become a big community event, attracting upwards of 300 kids interested in celebrating our hunting heritage. The event was founded on the idea that hunting is not just about bagging game, but quality time spent with those you hunt with. It also strives to promote the ethical aspects of hunting and stresses the importance of sportsmanship to new hunters. Though the highlight of the weekend is the drawing of lifetime hunting licenses for a few lucky kids, the real reward comes from introducing them to the joys of quality time spent in the woods.
Lake Hortonia Country Store
Exploring Vermont's back roads on a bike trip is a terrific way to discover places you didn't know existed. A bike trip slows the pace of travel down. You see things that most people don't see. You get a feel for the terrain you're traveling on. You get a lot of exercise during the day, and you sleep really well at night. A bike tour also offers you the opportunity to meet new people who share your interest in cycling. Friendships can take hold as you peddle through the countryside. You find yourself sharing moments together that people in cars never have. Taking a bike tour with an established tour company can not only take a lot of the guess work out of planning your route, it can offer invaluable things such as roadside repairs, or even a ride if you get little tired. Host Marianne Eaton joins Vermont Bicycle Tours on their Champlain Valley Tour for a little inn-to-inn biking through the Champlain Valley.
Solving problems in a group can be especially gratifying as you work to overcome an obstacle that looks impossible. A team-building exercise like a ropes course can not only get a group outside for an afternoon, it can help them understand more about those they live and work with as they solve problems to reach a goal. There are many types of challenges on a ropes course. "Low Elements" happen close to the ground and consist of challenges like getting your entire group from one point to another. During the course of the exercise, the group must work together using their individual strengths and personality traits to get through the obstacles. In the "High Elements," people face individual challenges up to 40 feet off the ground. These can involve such things as walking rope bridges, walking a tightrope and jumping from the top of a telephone pole to grab a trapeze bar. Though the participants are harnessed and on belay lines for safety purposes, it is still a challenge to for them to force themselves to make it through and surpass the goals put out in front of them on this course. Host Marianne Eaton joins Olympian Doug Lewis of Eliteam and members of the VPT staff for a challenging and insightful day on the ropes in Waitsfield.
Woodcock are beloved by bird hunters and bird watchers alike, but these fascinating little migrants are nonetheless faring poorly. Human development and maturing forests are steadily eating away the thick, brushy habitat that woodcock require, and their numbers are likewise declining. In the last three decades, there has been a two to three percent decline each year in the number of American Woodcock in the East. One area where woodcock are doing surprisingly well is the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Vermont, where biologists are capturing and banding woodcock in order to better understand their habitat needs. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Scott Williamson from the Wildlife Management Institute on a nighttime woodcock banding operation at the firing range in Jericho.