Lemon Fair River

Addison County River Watch Collaborative

Lemon Fair River in Cornwall, Vermont. Photo by Matt Witten


Lemon Fair River Watershed

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Despite its reputation for good pike, bass, and bullhead fishing, the Lemon Fair is a bit of the black sheep of the family of rivers in Addison County. It is slow and silty, and seems to attract many more bugs than boaters, anglers or swimmers. Unlike nearby rivers such as the Middlebury and New Haven, the Lemon Fair does not drain mountainous areas, but only low, flat land. In its floodplain, the river is often adjacent to farm fields and marsh.

The Lemon Fair serves as habitat for many forms of wildlife and is worthy of attention as are all bodies of water. A State-threatened freshwater mussel, the giant floater (Latin name), occurs in the Lemon Fair River, and the rare four-toed salamander (Latin name), may be found at the state Wildlife Management Area, along with more common salamanders such as spotted, northern dusky, red-backed and northern two-lined salamanders.

Water Quality

During the 2012-2013 sampling seasons, the Lemon Fair was a “focus watershed” for the Addison County River Watch Collaborative (ACRWC). This means the Collaborative intensified its monitoring in this area to try to make a more diagnostic assessment of where pollution problems occur and what the causes might be.

A pattern that ACRWC has observed since 2003, and that was confirmed during these two more recent years of intensified monitoring, is that some reaches of the Lemon Fair chronically exceed water quality standards. Unacceptable levels of turbidity, phosphorus and E.coli, especially in the middle stretch of the river in Bridport and Shoreham (at ACRWC sampling stations LFR6.7, LFR12, and LFR15.8) suggest the need to focus on improved land management practices in that area.

ACRWC has considered urging the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation officially list the middle reaches of the Lemon Fair as “impaired” for phosphorus and E. coli. Such a listing (under the 303d provision of the Clean Water Act) could prompt remedial action, such as bank stabilization projects or reducing runoff from agricultural fields.

The jury is still out, though, on the validity of such as listing because significant waterfowl and wild mammal activity, from animals such as geese and beaver, can also add pathogens and nutrients such as phosphorus to this watershed. Barring official listing as an impaired waterway, there are still remedial avenues to pursue, largely with the help of funding and expertise from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and related agencies.

In addition to ACRWC sampling stations along the main stem of the Lemon Fair in Bridport and Shoreham, the upper Beaver Brook station (LFBS1-0.9) in Cornwall has also shown E.coli counts frequently above the state water quality standard of 77 MPN/100mL, and often above the federal health-based standard of 235 MPN/100 mL.


Small tributary to the Lemon Fair River in Cornwall (sample station LFBS1-0.9). Photo by Matt Witten



At stations along the main stem in Shoreham, Cornwall, and Weybridge, turbidity levels were chronically above the state water quality standard of 25 NTUs; and phosphorus levels were particularly elevated, consistent with the pattern for turbidity. Based on these results, River Watch sees the need to focus on improved land management practices in the middle stretch of the Lemon Fair River between sampling stations in Bridport and Shoreham.


Some canoers and anglers value the Lemon Fair River for its wildlife and remoteness in certain sections. One can put in a small boat in West Cornwall and paddle the river to its confluence with Otter Creek, a trip of about 12 miles, and reportedly see an abundance of different species of turtles, waterfowl, mammals, and jumping fish. There are also two public launch points near the covered bridge in Shoreham, where the water is deepest and widest due to a dam. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department lists several fishes in the Lemon Fair: yellow perch, northern pike, smallmouth bass, crappie, bullhead and panfish.


The origin of the name “Lemon Fair” is a mystery. One story says an early settler, dragging himself and his family through the infamous Addison County clay (geology link?), surrounded by swarms of mosquitos, came upon a stagnant, murky channel of water blocking the path. “What a lamentable affair,” cried the frustrated person, and in time that exclamation morphed into “Lemon Fair”, thus applying to the offending stream. Or maybe a Yankee was trying to pronounce the French word for Green Mountains, “les Monts Verts”. Others speculate that the name comes from the French phrase for making mud, “Limon Faire.”

The Lemon Fair floodplains were probably originally covered with Champlain Valley clayplain forest, now a rare habitat due to clearing and development pressure. According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, after European-American settlers cleared the Lemon Fair floodplain for agriculture, some of the fields along the stream were used as “marsh hayfields” and were harvested communally.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife has only relatively recently had a presence on the Lemon Fair, starting its purchase of land adjacent to the river in 2000 to create a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Bridport and Cornwall. That first parcel was from Leo and Cheryll Conner, whose farm is called Morgan Hill Farm because it was a famous Morgan horse-breeding farm in the mid-19th century, according to Fish & Wildlife. Black Hawk, whose blood runs in many present-day Morgans, was bred there. Black Hawk’s skeleton is on display at the UVM Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge.

Future Plans

In current and upcoming years, the Addison County River Watch Collaborative will rotate the Lemon Fair watershed back to a reduced frequency of monitoring at two sentinel stations, LFR6.7 and LFR12. We will sample for total and dissolved phosphorus, total nitrogen, total dissolved solids, turbidity, and E.coli.

Kathy Morse, former ACRWC watershed coordinator for the Lemon Fair water quality sampling efforts, said that “The Bridport-Cornwall section of the river calls for attention.” She reiterated that there is a possibility that this river reach may be listed by the state as impaired if research can differentiate between nutrient inputs from wildlife and those from human development or agricultural practices. “I would hope we will clarify what is leading to the pollution and then use the monitoring data to come up with a remediation plan,” said Morse. “I see people fishing on the Lemon Fair all the time and I want to be sure that’s safe. We want to address water quality issues with an eye toward Otter Creek and Lake Champlain.”

In the meantime, ACRWC is discussing with local landowners measures they have already taken to improve water quality in the Lemon Fair watershed, and possibly expanding and further improving stewardship in this area.

ACRWC Contact

For more information, contact the Lemon Fair interim sampling coordinator: Barb Otsuka, 388-6829



Addison County Regional Planning Commission | 14 Seminary Street Middlebury, VT 05753 | 802.388.3141 |

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