Vermont ECO AmeriCorps continues education approach to conservation

Getting outdoors has been a major part of the pandemic, but while there are more people outdoors using public lands, there have to be people taking care of it
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 8:16 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont ECO AmeriCorps has 24 young environmental leaders all over Vermont, focusing on water quality, soil health, community science and climate resiliency. And that hasn’t been easy this year.

With more people out using the world around them for refuge from the pandemic, education is crucial.

“It’s meeting the challenge of the moment, which is climate resiliency,” said Dustin Bowman, the supervisor of ECO AmeriCorps.

Bowman says his roughly 24 members are learning while also helping.

They offer their hands to small environmental organizations that otherwise might not have the capacity to tackle large conservation efforts and a large part of that this year, education and outreach.

“And with more people getting outside and enjoying the amazing natural resources we have here in Vermont, that education and outreach is more critical than ever,” said Bowman.

ECO AmeriCorps attracts many recent graduates.

Members say they walk away with real hands-on experience to carry forward, while also tackling projects in a field they love, exactly what one recent Middlebury grad is doing.

“I wanted to get back to Vermont as soon as possible, it’s amazing here,” said Naomi Cutler, the lands, trail and education coordinator for the Middlebury Area Land Trust.

It was working on the Long Trail that brought Cutler back but ECO AmeriCorps that placed her in a dream position for the next few months.

Cutler says she is pursuing an idea she believes will launch a career.

“Just figuring out this connection between humans and the environment is what I am interested in long term,” said Cutler.

Whether it be educational programs with kids or chatting directly with people using the trail around Middlebury, she says she is learning that a healthy environment is only great, when people can use it.

“That to me is the most wonderful thing you can hear as someone that cares about the outdoors is that it has provided a space for people to find joy and feel community,” said Cutler.

While she is learning, Cutler says she is early in her environmental conservation journey. Yet, she understands the challenges that will have to be met in the future. She says it’s experiences like this one that will shape her as an environmental leader down the line.

“Gaining knowledge and just storing it in a bank that will be useful further on. We can use those to apply in our future,” said Cutler.

Bowman says it’s the work they do that he hopes will push more Vermonters to lend a hand in taking care of the land that has been so crucial in making it through the pandemic.

“They’re taking part in sustainability planning, they are planting trees, managing conservation easements, they are educating the public, reducing our waste and increasing our compost capability. So all of these things they are doing should be inspiring to everyone and they should be an example to every generation of Vermonter,” said Bowman.

Bowman says all of his members spread out throughout the state provide pillars of support for the small organizations they are working with. He says it’s watching the work that he supervises that gives him hope for the future.

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