West Rutland Marsh
PLACES OF INTEREST > WEST RUTLAND MARSH
Why Visit the West Rutland Marsh?
Marv Elliott, Co-president, Rutland County Audubon
When it comes to finding things to do, especially outdoor adventure, Vermont has plenty of great choices. Lakes, quiet ponds, rivers, mountains, ski slopes, hiking trails – you name it, Vermont has it. But West Rutland Marsh has some unique qualities, not often found in the rest of the state.
The marsh was actually formed by the actions of man. It is located adjacent to the area where a great deal of our nation’s marble was cut and finished for market. That process required the use of sand, lots of it. Sand has the abrasive quality needed for the marble production, but, once used, it was discarded. Since there were tons and tons of it, large quantities eventually blocked up the Castleton River. As a result of the marble industry, the West Rutland Marsh became one of the largest cattail marshes in the state. As water backed up, plants, such as cattails and sedges, moved in. Birds and mammals feed on the marsh plants and nest in this habitat. Special plants are found in the marsh habitat. Just by its size it provides an area big enough to protect some special species such as the Least Bittern. Vermont’s avid birders visit cattail marshes and West Rutland Marsh is a good place to look for this secretive species. There are over 100 other reasons to visit – 137 to be exact. Rutland County Audubon has recorded that many species of birds in the marsh. Many we are familiar with, such as Red-winged Blackbirds. Others, such as Virginia Rail and Sora are a little trickier to find.
The best reason to visit the marsh is to see the birds and since the Least Bittern is rarely found in Vermont, it attracts birders from all over. To further verify the marsh’s credentials, Birder’s World magazine listed the West Rutland Marsh in its October 2008 edition as one of the birding hotspots that can be found in the United States. As a Vermonter it makes me feel proud that West Rutland Marsh appeared in the magazine opposite a page listing a birding area in Los Angeles, California!
Are there other good reasons why you will love the marsh? Yes! The marsh is the perfect place for quiet recreation and contemplation. The main marsh is surrounded by dirt roads that are used primarily by others looking for respite from a busy world. Cyclists, walkers, runners and horseback riders, as well as birders, use the marsh. The wind in the cattails and the backdrop of rolling hills is just the place for getting away.
Rutland County Audubon has worked with the Town of West Rutland to help keep this marsh special. The biggest projects so far area a long boardwalk that extends into the heart of the marsh and an interpretive trail. This is the perfect place to bring a child. If you visit in early spring there will be plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds setting up territories and singing to attract mates. By late spring, the rattling song of the Marsh Wrens will be everywhere. Swamp Sparrows will be sitting on top of grasses or bushes with their heads back proclaiming “what a great day!” The secretive Virginia Rails will be calling. Sometimes they will dash across the boardwalk. When you see them disappear into the cattails, you’ll know where the expression “thin as a rail” comes from. By the end of June it becomes evident that marsh is an important breeding area as fledglings appear and adult birds search frantically to feed their new families. Fall provides the opportunity to see birds not always found in the marsh as migrants make their way south, stopping to rest and feed on the ripened berries and seeds.
Recently, the Town of West Rutland and the Rutland County Audubon Society entered into an agreement to provide long-term protection to the marsh. This is a valuable wetland that helps keep our water clean and provides habitat for many unique species of birds, mammals and plants. We want to be sure this space continues to give us this quiet enjoyment in the future while continuing its role as a purifier of water.
The Audubon Society hosts monthly bird monitoring walks. To date over 900 participants have tallied 136 species from American bittern to northern shrike. To check for the next scheduled walk check www.rutlandcountyaudubon.org.