As we moved along the edge of a slight ridge, the flash of brown movement, fluttering along the floor of the forest, caught my eye.
I thought it might be a chipmunk, but I never really got a good look at it. But Justin Lindholm, my fellow hiker, called it for what it was – a small, brown, ground-nesting bird, skittering across the leaves as if it were injured.
You have to marvel at what lengths a tiny bird would go through, just to distract a huge predator, if only to preserve her young. We found her nest, with five tiny eggs, on the ground, took a few photographs and quickly left the area.
We were on the way back from an early-morning stroll through a gorgeous stretch of woods, bordering Pittsford and Hubbardton. I had asked Lindholm, a 58-year-old Mendon resident, to accompany me.
My interest in the hike was purely personal. Some years back, while hunting fall turkeys with longtime pal Jim Lynch of Castleton, I shot a 20-pound, mature tom turkey with Grandpa’s Knob looming just above me. I’ve been back since, hiking or turkey hunting.
As a Castleton resident for more than 33 years, I and a sizeable number of my neighbors are concerned about the impact of a proposal to erect 20 wind turbines on the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline that encompasses four towns – West Rutland, Castleton, Hubbardton and Pittsford.
The main purpose of our venture was to climb up to where these turbines would, in all likelihood, be erected and to survey what they offered before these very ridges and hilltops are altered forever – smashed by explosives and reshaped by earth movers – for a proposed wind farm.
Lindholm, who in my opinion is something of an authority on wind turbines and their impact on mountains unaltered since the great glacier period, said he believes that the proposal to install 15 to 20 turbines nearly 500 feet tall “doesn’t make sense.”
Lindholm said he opposes the plan for several reasons.
“One, it is a rare, travelled corridor for wildlife going north, south, east and west,” he said.
Lindholm noted that the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is also opposing the project, on environmental grounds.
“Their biggest beef against this is that it’s going to disrupt this travel corridor and it’s going to disrupt a contiguous block of undisturbed forest area.”
Lindholm said that Vermont had passed Act 250 with big ridges, like the one we were standing on, in mind.
“We have Act 250 as a result of us realizing that higher elevation ridgelines are rare and fragile areas, ecologically,” he said. “And this is where these wind turbines and being sited, in our rare and fragile areas.”
Early into the hike, with the sun climbing up above Killington, we paused and took some photographs of Biddie Knob, just to our north. Lindholm points to the place as a likely spot for a wind turbine.
We move on, passing through stands of large pines, oaks, beech trees and hemlocks. A barred owl returns my owl hoots, then flies and roosts in a nearby pine tree. Plant life blooms everywhere, even on the steepest ridges.
This was tough climbing, up one steep ridge and down another. At one point, we paused in a small valley and Lindholm pointed to two ridges, one off to our left, the other to our right. Right here, he said, would be a likely place to erect a turbine. But if you returned here, while the project was underway or afterward, you wouldn’t even recognize the place, he said.
In Lempster, N.H., where a wind turbine project has gone up, the landscape was altered to the tune of one million pounds of explosives, according to Lindholm. Then Lindholm referred to Lowell, in northern Vermont, where 21 turbines are under construction.
“In Lowell, I know they had to use a lot more but they’re too embarrassed to tell us,” he said. “That place sure looks different today.”
Then, Lindholm talked about the Grandpa Knob proposal. He said he believed that far more than one million pounds of explosives would be required to transform 6 or 7 miles of ridgeline into a $100 million wind project.
“This brings up the topographical issue. Mr. Eisenberg (Steve Eisenberg, the managing director for Reunion Power) mentioned that this particular ridge, Grandpa’s Knob, has ‘topographical issues,’” Lindholm said. “I would say that that is a fancy way of saying there has to be a lot of blasting to get the roads built and the turbine sites built.”
This is massive, heavy, destructive work, according to Lindholm.
“The size of the parts and the weight of parts requires a very rugged road. It has to be wide and has to be made of crushed rock. They get their crushed rock, on site, through blasting,” he said.
Still, Lindholm isn’t all that convinced that Reunion Power’s plans for Grandpa’s Knob will become a reality.
“I don’t think it’s going to fly,” he said. “There are too many people against it from around the four towns.”
Lindholm’s position on how the people affected by the wind project are reacting sounded as if it was right on the mark.
At a public meeting in Castleton, held a few weeks ago, a standing-room-only crowd turned out to hear Eisenberg outline the project.
Everyone who stood and spoke was opposed to the project.
Days later, another public meeting was held, this one in Pittsford. Eisenberg got even more flack about his wind farm, with one resident after the next voicing opposition.
As we hiked back down the mountain, back to Lindholm’s vehicle, I paused and considered that little brown bird that showed us so much courage.
Will she or her offspring be nesting here, in this place, a few years from now? Will the black bears that travel these corridors, stuffing themselves on the abundance of beech nuts from the beech trees that populate these big ridges be here as well?
I can’t answer these questions, of course, but I would sure like to hike back up here, a few years from now, maybe even with my grandchildren, and find this place, untouched and unspoiled, once more.
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