NBNC Rivers
NC Trail

"I wish I could store this week in a bottle and take it out this winter to drink in the richness of this experience!”
- ECO Institute Participant, 2018

— The Wetherell Family

The Nature Connection Trail

Experiencing Nature with Your Senses


Welcome! We invite you to tune in (Chigitozida) to what you see, hear, feel, smell, and even taste, as you follow this trail and learn about the waters, ecosystems, and inhabitants of this land, past and present. 

Chigitozida means “allow ourselves to be present” in Abenaki and in this case refers to experiencing the world through your senses. There is no specific word for senses in Abenaki because the way you experience things through different body parts is incorporated into words throughout the language. 

Thank you for joining us!

Curious About Names?

By design, these panels don’t focus on identifying species. To learn more about the plants and animals you encounter along the trail, use the resources linked on each sign or borrow a field guide from us. 


The main loop trail is 0.6 miles long and fairly flat, with a mixture of grass and crushed gravel surfaces, and three benches along the way. There are two sloping sections between panels 6 and 8. The short side trails are narrower, rougher, and steeper than the main trail. Pebble Beach (at # 5) is accessed by a set of rustic stone steps.   

This trail is designed to help focus your senses - if any of the prompts don’t line up with your abilities, consider using senses you’re more comfortable with.

Translations and audio recordings are available using the QR codes.

The Traditional Stewards of This Land

NBNC resides upon the traditional and unceded home of the Western Abenaki People.  We strive to respect and honor their legacy and to support the current Indigenous residents of Vermont. Each panel features paintings by Abenaki artist Amy Hook-Therrien and Abenaki words in purple, provided by Jesse and Joseph Bruchac, citizens and language keepers of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation. Please explore the resources at the QR codes to learn more about Abenaki language and culture. 

Abenaki Glossary

Abaziak (the trees)

Akwôbial (the seasons)

Alegisgak (weather)

Alitôgwakil (sounds, literally “the way things sound”)

Alômbagw (underwater)

Asokw (the sky)

Awahôdo (an insect, literally “a wild spirit”)

Chigitozida (allow ourselves)

kinawokw awaasak (observe the wildlife)

Kita (listen)

Minkôgan (fruit)

Môwkawôgan (a community, literally “working together”)

Namasak (fish, plural) Namas (a fish)

Nebi (water)

Nikônkôgoagik (the ancestors, literally “those who have come before us”)

Ôtlokôganal (stories)

Sibo (a river, literally “it extends”)

Piwsesit (a little one)

River Dynamics

ivers are always picking up and dropping off materials. Where the river moves fast, earth is excavated away — the more powerful the current, the larger the transported material. When the current slows, material settles onto the riverbottom. Healthy rivers are always carving new channels and excavating new banks. Healthy rivers wander, regularly making new channels and overflowing their banks. The flat land beside a river, called the floodplain, reveals where water once flowed: Floodplains are flat because the river carved away the land and deposited new sediments over time. Buildings and roads in floodplains are regularly threatened by floods and erosion from rivers that are just behaving naturally.


Beavers are ecosystem engineers. Their dams slow down and oxygenate the passing river water, improving the health of the whole aquatic system. The dams also provide new habitat for fish and invertebrates. Even after the dams break and wash away, rocks piled up against the dam often remain, creating new riffles and features that improve habitat diversity. Beaver dams strain out suspended sediment and some pollutants, making them a natural filter that can improve water quality. They also store water behind them to help reduce flooding downstream.

Stormwater Problems

If storms are natural, stormwater must be too, right? Not necessarily. Rainfall in a natural setting is absorbed into the soil like water into a sponge. But when rain falls on pavement, rooftops, or compacted ground, it instead rushes quickly to a nearby stream or storm drain. The larger the impervious area, the more stormwater is created. Powerful surges cause erosion, flooding, and infrastructure damage, while picking up all sorts of stuff along the way like fertilizers, road salt, pesticides, dog poop, and vehicle fluids. Major stormwater events can overwhelm city sewers, causing sewage to discharge right into the river! As a result, water quality at river mouths or confluences can be much worse than upstream.

Cracks & Sediments

Many invertebrates rely on small spaces and cracks between rocks in the stream bottom in order to hide from predators, lay eggs, and forage for food. Rocky headwaters offer plenty of this habitat. But farther downstream (like here at the confluence), sediment settling out of the water column can plug up these spaces, destroying this important habitat and the creatures who need it. Sedimentation is a natural process that always occurs to some degree in slow, downstream sections of a watershed. Some aquatic organisms even prefer sandy substrates. But development, agriculture, and stormwater-related erosion can cause massive, unnatural pulses of sediment that quickly bury rich and diverse habitats under sand and silt.

Temperature & Oxygen

Riffles and waterfalls infuse streams with oxygen — and cold water can hold twice as much oxygen as warm water. The shaded, turbulent waters of healthy headwaters streams are fed by groundwater emanating from cracks in the cool underground bedrock. This cold, shaded, oxygen-rich environment is a fantastic place for aquatic invertebrates, and it supplies the whole downstream watershed with a clean, healthy water source. When headwaters lose their shade due to forest clearing or other development, the resulting rise in water temperature can make the stream uninhabitable to many fish and insects.

Trees & Leaves

The trees over a healthy headwaters stream provide a buffet for aquatic life. Insects falling from the treetops become food for fish. Leaves fall and decompose, becoming a nitrogen source for the aquatic ecosystem. As fallen leaves stack up against river rocks like pages of a book, they provide shelter for many organisms. And many aquatic insects need to go ashore and climb a tree to finish their life cycle as adults.

Habitat Diversity

Some rivers hold more diversity underwater than forests hold on land. Every aquatic species prefers different conditions. Some species need slow water, and some need fast water. Some need large cracks between rocks, while some need sandy bottoms. Many fish require submerged boulders and tree trunks in which to hunt or hide. Some creatures depend on colder water, and others slightly warmer. Some prefer rough water, and others prefer deeper, slow-moving pools. A healthy river system can contain all this habitat diversity in just a short stretch.


We are grateful to: our Abenaki partners, Amy, Jesse, and Joseph; designer Linda Mirabile of RavenMark Studio; the Vermont Arts Council; and NBNC’s many supporters. Wliwni (thank you)! To join the NBNC community, please click here.

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7