A message from Friends' Board President, Kinny Perot
A few decades ago, when I was serving in the Vermont Legislature, a fellow state representative said to me, “Vermonters are the most generous people in the world – as long as you don’t force them to be.”
That seems to be true with all of us humans. We don’t like to be forced into doing something or behaving in any particular way, period. And yet, we are all connected just as the waters of this Valley, this watershed, are. If you do something on the ridges, it can, and usually does, flow downstream to the river. Certainly, the coronavirus has shown us that we are all intimately connected across the globe. What one of us does, can affect all of us.
And, while no one likes to be told they aren’t behaving, it seems we should sometimes speak up to be sure people understand that their actions are affecting us all. So, here I go, as a board member of Friends of the Mad River and as a member of the community, I am hearing more and more complaints about the condition of the swim hole access areas, about the use and abuse of them and how it has become too much for too many – landowners and users alike.
When the Friends of the Mad River published a conservation plan in 1995, it was clear that protecting the beloved variety of swim holes was of paramount importance to many community members. Nevertheless, a landowner had just closed access to a favorite site in Moretown, and many realized they had taken for granted that it was their right to use that land. Then the parcel was sold and a house was built, leaving the land unavailable to the public. Since then, Friends of the Mad River has worked hard to secure public access and, when possible, to ensure the swim hole areas dear to people are in public ownership. Take Warren Falls, for example. It took years of work to protect Warren Falls from development as a site for many houses. Now it is U.S. Forest Service property available to be loved and enjoyed by everyone. Unfortunately, it is being loved to death. There’s a lot of trash and noise, and the forest floor is trampled.
Other swim holes where Friends of the Mad River used to do water quality testing under the Mad River Watch program have been closed to the public for one reason or another. Owners have asked Friends of the Mad River to stop reporting the water quality results thinking, perhaps accurately, that seeing those sites listed in The Valley Reporter and on the FMR website was giving the public the impression they were advertised as spots to visit. Some landowners have closed access to dogs because of dog owners not cleaning up after their pets. Some sites are closed because visitors are leaving their trash behind, like dirty diapers, beer cans, glass and general garbage. Others are closed because some feel so entitled to use these spots that they build fire rings and start fires, or even set up tents and camp for the night, even on private property. Some visitors simply make too much noise for the nearby homeowners. Ultimately, land becomes posted when we mistreat it.
This summer has been unusually hot from my perspective, and I have never seen The Valley so packed or the swim holes so crowded. People are trying to stay cool and vacation closer to home, and it makes sense. But, the lack of care for these special places makes me, for the first time in my 41 years of living here, think of moving.
However, this is a community I love: I love the people, the forests, the streams, the river, the wild animals, the way of life. I even love the government here, both locally and statewide. I will never forget my first Town Meeting when two people vociferously spoke out on a topic, completely disagreeing and contradicting each other. I was stunned and found it rude, but later these two sat down to lunch together and were laughing. It opened my eyes to a different way of being. We can, with our different life experiences and varied solutions to problems, air our thoughts transparently. We can relate with one another not only with tolerance, but with respect. Let’s bring this spirit of community and comity to preserving our precious access to the river.
Can we instill this culture of tolerance or even go so far as to model respect – respect for the generosity of landowners who have allowed their community to use their land, respect for the other users of public or private swim holes by cleaning up after ourselves, giving others the space they need, deferring to those who got there first, or being sure to take turns? Maybe, and especially in these times, we could even go beyond basic kindnesses to express gratitude to those who make these treasured places available for our enjoyment and enlightenment. Maybe we could all get involved and help steward these favorite swim holes.
Perhaps the corollary to Vermonters’ being the most generous if not forced is that Vermont landowners are the most welcoming if their land is treated responsibly, with respect and the kindnesses of a guest.
“Freedom and Unity” is Vermont’s official motto. My vision is that we are all free to enjoy this place in our different ways and yet, we join together as one in our care and stewardship for it.
Originally Published August 13th, 2020 in the Valley Reporter Photo Credit: Friends of the Mad River