East Middlebury lies on a glacial delta that formed when glacial Lake Vermont filled the Champlain Valley. The river emerges from the mountains and changes from a steep, gorge-confined river, to a meandering, slow stream as it passes through East Middlebury. In the process, it drops sediment from the mountains. Larger rocks are dropped near the gorge, gravel and sand carried further, silt deposited in slow-water areas, and clay carried out of the area (and often all the way to Lake Champlain).
Anyway, back to Irene... the storm created a historic flood that had big effects on the river. But, in the rockbound gorge, very little changed.
The river was RAGING the day after the Irene floods. I very carefully took this picture, making sure to avoid the banks of the river, which could have been eroded by the floods. If I fell into this, I'd be done for!
At the base of the mountains, the river passes through this even narrower gorge under the Highway 125 bridge:
Sometimes we go swimming here, but not today. (Note: After Irene, do NOT dive into swimming holes, even in areas that have always been safe, without checking if it is still OK first. Irene's flood moved some enormous boulders and changed where sand and gravel bars are located... previously safe areas may be deadly to divers now.)
After leaving the gorge, the river slows down a bit and passes through town. Here's the river from Grist Mill Road, looking downstream. As the name implies, there was once a mill here. You can see the features in place to protect the town from the river. They have worked well for many years, but this flood was too much for them. Upstream from here, the river jumped its banks and ran down Highway 125 for a while, flooding basements and eroding driveways. Note that the river is still rather confined by its banks and these levees.
Between Grist Mill Road and Route 7, the Middlebury River drops a lot of sediment. Its course begins to wander, and sycamores and cottonwoods, rare in Vermont, line its banks. This part of the river is very dynamic, and changed a LOT during the floods.
Both these areas are almost unrecognizable since the river has changed so much.
Trees from upstream are laying in piles everywhere. This looks like a lot of destruction, but trees in rivers provide habitats for lots of creatures, including trout and the species they eat.
Above, a side channel of the river erodes backwards towards the main stream. Eventually this channel may reach the main channel and 'steal' its water, causing the river to shift course. In this case, this happening would not endanger structures since it's in the undeveloped flood plain. The old river channel would become a wetland, then gradually fill in with cottonwood and sycamore trees. Over the thousands of years since the last Ice Age, this process has created a dynamic, diverse ecosystem along the river. The Middlebury Area Land Trust has obtained a conservation easement along part of the river in this section, which will allow the river to continue unrestrainted in its wanders.
Downstream from Highway 7, the Middlebury River has dropped most of its heavy sediment, and it slows down and meanders extensively. I didn't visit this section yesterday, because it was more heavily impacted by flooding and I didn't want to get in the way of residents dealing with flood damage. I'll visit the lower section of the river at a later date and see how it fared during the floods.
Here's a Google map of the Middlebury River at the gorge:
View Larger Map
Note: please respect private property rights and don't try to access the river through private property. There are places where you can see the river near the 125 and 7 bridges. The MALT parcel is not yet developed for public access, but may be in the future. This river is very sensitive to rainfall and rises fast during floods, so stay away from the river, especially in the gorge, during and after heavy rains!