The best advice: “Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am— a reluctant enthusiast … a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this much: You will outlive the bastards.”
—Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
Those words, on a large plaque, were given to me years ago by one of my sons. The plaque sits off to the side of my work desk and, to this day, I am moved by Abbey’s passion for wild places, the importance of holding onto those wild places, and why we should trek through those places.
Abbey’s reflections on “The Best Advice” came back to me after an interview with two Vermonters who deserve a great deal of credit for their work to preserve an untouched stretch of pristine land in Rutland County.
Thanks to the hard work of local people, everyday Vermonters who love the land and, in particular, Annette Smith and Justin Lindholm, two people who worked like hell, we have a huge parcel of prime property in which to “ramble,” a large chunk of land that, if those people “hypnotized” by profits had their way, the mountain tops of that wild land would forever be marked by the languid swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of 60 giant windmills.
Instead, the forested tract of land that totals about 2,870 acres has been designated by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources as a rare and irreplaceable natural area. Fortunately, it is connected to the Bird Mountain Wildlife Management Area, about 770 acres, to bring the new, yet unnamed WMA to more than 3,640 acres.
In all, the land that makes up the new WMA encompasses three Rutland County towns – Ira, Poultney and Castleton.
Smith, the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said that, in order to preserve the values and purposes of the wildlife management area, no residential, commercial, industrial or mining activities will ever be permitted. “This is a valuable gem of a property to be held for the public in perpetuity,” Smith said.
Smith said that after the VCE worked with community members to save the land from development, it was conserved through the efforts of the Conservation Fund (Nancy Bell) and Vermont Fish & Wildlife (commissioners Patrick Berry and Louis Porter), along with donations from individuals and the federal Pittman-Roberson Act fund. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Vermont Land Trust are also participants in the purchase of the land.
So, what is the moral to this tale, this story about how people stood up to preserve what Lindholm, a Mendon resident who serves on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board, has described as a precious tract of land that is both “fragile and wild?” Paraphrasing a quote from Margaret Mead, Smith said in an interview, “Never underestimate the impact one person can have. One person can make a difference.” She went on to say, “The one thing that Vermonters have in common is they love their mountains.”
While both Smith and Lindholm each praised the other for the long hours of work they put into saving the property from windmills, Smith said this: “Justin’s contribution was enormous. It made a huge difference.”
How significant was Smith’s role? She rallied homeowners and landowners to attend meetings, get involved and, ultimately, to get the town of Ira to vote down, by a 4-1 margin, the windmill proposal.
She was so instrumental in preventing a series of ridgelines in Rutland Country from becoming littered with windmills that the Burlington Free Press, in January of this year, named Smith its “2016 Vermonter of the Year.”
The newspaper’s editorial board wrote: “As executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, the Danby resident has organized communities, testified before government boards and advised residents who felt powerless in the face of state bureaucracies and big business … A common thread among those who have sought out Smith is that she helps better the odds against a wealthier, more knowledgeable and better funded adversary.”
In 1974, Lindholm purchased 132 acres of Birdseye Mountain and later sold the parcel to Vermont Fish & Wildlife, making it part of what is today called the Bird Mountain Wildlife Management Area. “I owned most of the cliffs and the top of the (Birdseye) mountain,” Lindholm said. “I consider this, now, to be our No. 1 wildlife management area in the state because of the diversity of the plant and animal life.”
Lindholm and Smith teamed up early on because both of them had been involved in the proposed large-scale wind turbine project in Lowell. Today, 21 wind turbines, each 459-feet tall, have sprouted from the ridgeline of the Lowell Mountains.
“We learned from Lowell,” Smith said According to Lindholm, Smith does her homework and then goes after a cause with a fierce determination.
“When they wanted to put up those wind turbines, she gave them a voice,” Lindholm said of the landowners and property owners in Ira, Middletown Springs, Poultney, Castleton, Tinmouth, Clarendon and West Rutland who were affected by the wind turbine proposals. “She gives them a voice in the process, the whole process of figuring out whether they ought to be there. She finds weaknesses in the opposition. She becomes informative. Information is power, and that’s what she specializes in. She organizes. She organizes the town, informing the people. She puts everything on the table so that informed decisions can be made.”
I asked Smith to evaluate the fact that this tract of land has been preserved. She said, “Even after I’m gone, this land is going to be accessible to the public in perpetuity and, to me, that is something I never had as a goal. At the end of the day, when you look at what is success, to be effective in the work of environmental protection, that is the gold standard.”
Sometime soon, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department will officially open the new wildlife management area, one of the largest in the state.
So, at some time in the future, if you hear a lusty tom turkey gobbling up there on a rocky ridge, if you’re taking in a spectacular sunset or if you marvel at the sight of a peregrine falcon winging overhead at this expanded wildlife management area, you might want to stop, pause and give thanks to two Vermonters who did most of the work to make it all happen – Annette Smith and Justin Lindholm.
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