The Ones Who Were Here Before Us


Nikônkôgoagik: ancestors (literally "the ones who were before us."


Are you curious who lived here and what this place looked like before it was the Nature Center? This land has been inhabited by humans for almost 12,000 years, starting with the ancestors (nikônkôgoagik) of today’s Abenaki people, who arrived soon after the end of the last Ice Age and have been living in this area ever since. Since the  Laurentide Ice Sheet receded, the landscape has gone through many transitions, from tundra, to forest, to farm, and now back towards forest. These illustrations show what this place likely looked like at different times in the past. 

Nikônkôgoagik means ancestors in Abenaki, or literally "the ones who were before us."

The Nature Center's History

Or check out our newsletter article about North Branch Nature Center's organizational history.

Or watch Landscape Historian Samantha Ford's presentation about the history of the NBNC property below.


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.

North Branch Nature Center

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

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