The Little River is hungry and doesn’t care if you think it’s pretty and want to walk alongside it.
The river has been eating into its banks for years, and its West Branch already cost $1 million to fix a few years ago. Now, a necessary fix to its North Branch has closed down the popular Stowe Recreation Path at what is likely its most popular starting point.
The town of Stowe this week closed off the path at its southern terminus in the middle of the village — right behind the iconic Stowe Community Church — in preparation for a two-month project to shore up the North Branch’s riverbanks.
The path will be closed between bridge No. 1, right at the parking lot, and bridge No. 2, about a quarter of a mile up the path.
When the path opens up again, it will likely take a different route.
“There will be a slight tweaking of the alignment” where the river has started to eat its way toward the path, said Harry Shepard, Stowe’s director of public works.
Dale E. Percy, Inc., is doing the work, having secured the job with the low bid — and only bid — of $137,000. The town originally estimated the project would cost $285,000.
Percy also did the work on the West Branch four years ago, a much larger undertaking that seems to have tamed the river near some critical pinch points between Thompson Park and Chase Park. That project cost $1.2 million, mostly paid for by state and federal funds.
This portion of the North Branch, which flows in from the north, originates in Sterling Valley and needs only about 300 linear feet of work.
Shepard said most of the riverbank stabilization will be done with rock shipped in from Percy’s quarry. This is key, because no one wants to spread the knotweed that has choked the riverbanks for the first couple of miles along the rec path, growing almost eight feet high, according to Shepard.
“We’ve got to be careful about not getting that stuff into the topsoil,” Shepard said. “Other than getting the rock work done, there’s almost no earth work.”
Percy is working on a tight timeline; the state Agency of Natural Resources has permitted crews to be in the river only until Oct. 1.
Percy’s workers will stage their equipment near the Quiet Path parking area on Cemetery Road and will have to build an access-way between there and the project site, because it will be too difficult to try and truck stone up and over the two bridges.
The month of October will be spent on land, fixing and moving the rec path, which will have to be torn up in the streambank project.
The rec path will still be accessible at numerous points along its 5.5-mile span: Wade Barn and the nearby Mayo Events Field; Thompson Park; Chase Park; and the northern terminus off Brook Road.
The parking lot will remain open to the general public. The municipal lot provides dozens of parking spaces.