Cultural History of Vermont

Adapted from: The Story of Vermont: a Natural and Cultural History of the Green Mountain State, by Christopher McGrory Klyza and Stephen C. Trombulak, 1999.

To begin to understand the natural history of Addison County, it is first important to learn about the cultural history of the area.  For the land that we may now call Green Mountain National Forest was not always so.  The lands described in this guidebook were largely unmanaged until the arrival of the first European in 1609, French explorer Samuel de Champlain.  Until this time, the indigenous Abenaki were the only humans to use this area.  After Champlain’s explorations, the land was shared by the Native Americans and the trappers of the fur trade.  Trappers from Vermont were quite prosperous during the 17th century as beaver, fisher, lynx, marten, mink, moose, muskrat, river otter, and raccoon pelts were sold to Europe and bear, deer, and wolf pelts were traded at the local colonial markets.  Eventually it became unprofitable as these mammals began to disappear from the countryside, due to unsustainable methods of trapping.  By 1800 bear, deer, elk, and lynx had disappeared from the region.

In 1763 the Treaty of Paris ended the war between Great Britain and France for the rights to the area.  After this time, large numbers of British began to colonize the region.  This was disastrous for the Abenaki as diseases from the Europeans wiped out the native populations.  The land of the Champlain Valley was no longer in the hands of the mobile Abenaki.  It now rested with British settlers whose agricultural lifestyle would be a large impact upon Vermont’s forests.

In order to supply fuel, fields for agriculture, and fields for grazing livestock, the forests of the Champlain Valley were clear-cut.  White pines were reserved under the Broad Arrow Policy for the ship masts of the British Navy.  Northern white cedar and white oak were used for construction, and hickory for firewood.  An absence of forests caused an increase in flooding and erosion following the massive logging.  To combat this, the Green Mountain National Forest was set aside for control by the state government in the 1920s.

As the conservation movement gained momentum in the middle of the twentieth century, programs to manage the uses of the state’s forests were established which actively aided the return of forests to the region.  Farming declined due to economic reasons at this time, further increasing the growth of forests as they gradually encroached upon old farmlands left vacant by the increase in urbanization.  These events set the stage for the land today.  The forests of Addison County are now a valuable resource because of the draw of tourism to the area.  The Champlain Valley is presently a hot spot for recreation in the summer, fall, and winter months (the spring season is known as “mud season”).  The future of this land will continue to be shaped by our culture.  It is important that we realize this impact and strive to maintain a healthy natural community for enjoyment into the twenty-first century and beyond.