BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Conservation Commission wants to put the town's bodies of water on the map. And into a federal database. And into the public consciousness.
The Rockingham Selectboard on Tuesday gave the commission approval to start the public-outreach process and seek input on names to give several brooks and other water bodies that lack them. According to the commission, some bodies of water have watersheds of up to 3,500 acres -- which is considered fairly large -- but are not yet named on maps or databases.
Commission member Peter Bergstrom went before the Selectboard Tuesday to explain the agency's intentions. He said this is a mission of public awareness and he led a similar project in Maryland from 2001-2005 before moving to Vermont. He told the Selectboard that people tend to care more about aspects of nature and fight to protect them if they have names.
Bergstrom said the conservation commission has a particular interest in 20 brooks and coves. Though nine of them have names, they are not registered in federal databases. The commission will attempt to name the other 11 brooks. Bergstrom said the commission will research any "missing" names by studying old maps and by asking local residents and state and local environmental staff members if they are aware of any official names certain bodies of water may have once had. If no historical names can be found, new ones will be proposed and go before the Selectboard for approval.
"And all along the way we're going to seek public input, keep the Selectboard informed and once the local community agrees on names, then the state has to approve it, and then there's a federal body that has to approve the name," he said, adding that names are examined to ensure they are not derogatory or inappropriate. "That's why it takes so long. It takes (three to four) years."
The commission requested approval from the Selectboard in April because the commission's members would like to start the public-outreach process at the Herricks Cove Wildlife Festival on May 4 (as well as Saxtons River's Fourth of July celebrations and Rockingham Old Home Days) and publicly display one or more poster-sized maps showing the brooks that lack names. No town expenses are expected for the project.
According a draft proposal from the conservation commission, brooks and ponds were typically named for the closest major landowner, who was usually the person who created the body of water by building a dam. Some brooks have functional or descriptive names -- there are four Mill brooks and two Roaring brooks in Windham County. Duplicate names often occur when the descriptive name gives no clue to the water body's location. Many of Vermont's famous hills have names and they could provide an identity to the brooks that start near them.
If the conservation commissions in other towns are interested, the project can be expanded, according the draft proposal. Westminster shares some brooks with Rockingham.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.