Vermont: A Green State or Just Green Mountains?

Vermont is known by its nickname, The Green Mountain State. (Really, it’s on our license plates.) And we are a green state. We Vermonters recycle just about everything. People are active and love the outdoors, have urban chickens or large rural, gardens. Reusable plastic bags are commonplace. People live off-grid and have solar powered houses. Living machines clean water at the rest area on I-89 in Sharon. There is a huge focus on local food and local businesses.  It’s an entirely different culture than I’ve lived in before. Sometimes the organic, granola, hippie image fits.

Yet, our towns and villages are spread far apart and many people live down winding roads, far from neighbors. Vermont is not immune to sprawl, poor development. Perhaps our population of just over 600,000 keeps it from being as noticeable as it is in other places. Vermont is not known for its public transit. Rural environments are beautiful, but it means that people often drive for every errand or outing. Small towns lack basic amenities because there is not enough population to support it. For all of the fuel-efficient cars out there, just as many or more drive larger, gas-guzzling vehicles. Vermonters drive a lot because they have to.

Overall, that doesn’t sound very green, does it? An interesting Environment 360 article from a few years back (2009) argues that New York City is the greenest place on earth, not Vermont, which is what most people think (read below).

…Vermont, in many important ways, sets a poor environmental example. Spreading people thinly across the countryside, Vermont-style, may make them look and feel green, but it actually increases the damage they do to the environment while also making that damage harder to see and to address. In the categories that matter the most, Vermont ranks low in comparison with many other American places. It has no truly significant public transit system (other than its school bus routes), and, because its population is so dispersed, it is one of the most heavily automobile-dependent states in the country. A typical Vermonter consumes 545 gallons of gasoline per year — almost a hundred gallons more than the national average.

Fast forward to 2014 (5 years after the above article), and Vermont does have public transit. It’s not significant, but it’s improving and is used by many commuters. For my own experiments, I’ve been attempting to take the bus to/from work (Burlington – Montpelier) because it actually is cheaper than driving, and it uses my time more efficiently. It’s easy enough to do a few per week, but could I get along without a car. It would be a lifestyle change. Living in Burlington or Montpelier is easier than other places if you’re trying to live car-free. Some crazy, intrepid folks bike to work year-round! And with the Burlington-based CarShareVT (similar to Zipcar), more and more people are learning to live car-free or one-car-per-household. Of course, some lifestyles do not allow this. Students are often able to do this, but those of us in the working and commuting world have a more difficult time.

Lately, I’m pondering how life would be without a car in Vermont. I like to think of it as going urban: living downtown, getting around on bike or bus, staying local, traveling by plane for greater distances. It’s not something I’m immediately ready or able to do, but it’s floating around in my head. Going urban in Vermont would be a challenge, though if you’re a core downtown area with everyday services, it’s not impossible. And it would come with great benefits, but challenges, too. Perhaps the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. In some places in Vermont, it would be impossible. The question that this brings to mind is: just how urban (read: environmentally friendly) can you go? Where do you live? Can you live car-free? Would you take that jump to do so? What do you think of Vermont? Green living? Green in color?

And, is living a sustainable lifestyle connected to preservation, for you? To me, it keeps the focus on the local environment and local economy, which is most definitely affiliated with historic preservation.

Being a Tourist by Trolley

The Burlington Traction Company trolley in Burlington, VT, 1906. Photo source: UVM Landscape Change program.

The Burlington Traction Company trolley in Burlington, VT, 1906. Photo source: UVM Landscape Change program.

Eighty-four years after burning a trolley in the street, to signify the end of the streetcar era, Burlington, VT once again has trolleys rolling about the city. Maybe these aren’t electric streetcars on steel rails, but they are historic and do take people around the city.

The Historic Trolley Tours of Burlington began in summer 2012, offering historical tours of the city as well as chartered trolleys for special events. Ride onboard one of trolleys and you’ll likely have the owner, Ric Crossman, as your tour guide. He gives the tours, instructs the drivers, and his wife does the research and script writing. The couple got the idea for Burlington trolley tours after visiting places like St. Augustine, FL and enjoying the trolley tours there.

In Burlington you choose between the north tour or the south tour. A few weeks ago, I hopped on the trolley for a north tour, hoping to learn more about the city. The 1.5 hour tour did just that, taking loops through the north side of Burlington in places that I don’t often get to explore. I appreciate a good tour. This one was accomplished by making figure 8s through some areas that way you were able to see both sides of the street and hear the history, without having to look in every direction at once. The tour is given by recording, but it is keyed to the GPS location of the bus, and our tour guide was able to pause the recording, add more information and comment.

On a sunny spring afternoon, it was fun to play tourist in my own city – see some photos below. Ric Crossman hopes to add tours, improve the tours and expand operations. He’s off to a good start.  Next time, I’ll take the south tour. Any trolley tours by you?

All aboard. When not in operation, the trolleys are parked near Perkins Pier in Burlington.

All aboard. When not in operation, the trolleys are parked near Perkins Pier in Burlington.

Otherwise you can catch a ride from the bottom of College Street, at the Visitor Info building at the RR tracks (near the Echo Center).

Otherwise you can catch a ride from the bottom of College Street, at the Visitor Info building at the RR tracks (near the Echo Center).

The owner found this trolley from a company in Quebec. Keeping it local (basically).

The owner found this trolley from a company in Quebec. Keeping it local (basically).

The immaculate interior of the trolley.

The immaculate interior of the trolley.

Trolley view of Church Street.

Trolley view of Church Street.

Funky new redevelopment in the Old North End.

Funky new redevelopment in the Old North End.

A historic firehouse.

The oldest firehouse in Burlington on Mansfield Avenue.

Crossing into Winooski, the Champlain Mill in the background.

Crossing into Winooski, the Champlain Mill in the background.

Over the Winooski River (Winooski is Burlington's neighbor). Don't look too closely at the railing.

Over the Winooski River (Winooski is Burlington’s neighbor). Don’t look too closely at the railing.

Owner, tour guide, Ric Crossman dressed to play the part.

Owner, tour guide, Ric Crossman dressed to play the part.

Preservation & Wine

What could be better than a summer day of good company, beautiful scenery, local Vermont wine – all in the name of preservation!? Look no further than the Vermont Preservation & Wine tour on Friday June 27, 2014. Only 54 tickets are available, so buy them now! If you’re interested or have any questions, let me know.

Click for a larger version of the brochure.

Click for a larger version of the brochure.

Preservation Photos #233

Fair Haven, Vermont.

Fair Haven, Vermont.

The house of last week’s Preservation Photos #232. This 1867 house was built by the A.C. Hopson and is known as one of the earliest and most outstanding examples of French Second Empire style in Vermont. It was the home of Ira Allen, a prominent Fair Haven businessman. Today the house is the Marble Mansion Inn.

Changing my Transit Ways

Happy Spring, all. If Spring has arrived in Vermont, it must have found you by now. I hope! A quick question for your Monday morning: what is your preferred mode of travel in the good weather? I’ve been calling these days the happy weather in Vermont. It’s warm, beautiful, people are out and about, everyone’s mood has lifted.

And after a refreshing weekend of barely any need for a car, I’m attempting to scale down my daily vehicle use and rely on the bus, if possible for work, and my feet and bicycle for in town trips. It’s not entirely possible or easy, but perhaps a good (affordable, healthy) challenge for the next five or six months.

Have you altered your transit? How and for what reasons? Financial? Environmental? Efficiency?

Pink dogwoods for spring.

Pink dogwoods for spring.

Island Pond Hands on Hammers

Hammers, nails, hauling old carpet, cleaning trash, moving building materials, painting, installing board and batten siding, good food, rural Vermont…and that’s just the basic outline of a very productive day in Island Pond – “Hands on Hammers.” Surprisingly the weather behaved, and by the afternoon we had warm and sunshine. The work day is a new addition to the conference, and an excellent opportunity for us preservationists to walk the walk, as opposed to only talking. The Preservation Trust of Vermont will share the work day video and summary soon, but here are a few photos of the day. Does your state conference have a work day? What else do you do in addition to sessions and receptions? We in Vermont would love to know!

Starting early in the day. Note the windows missing and siding missing.

The carpenters get to work, starting early in the day. Note the windows missing and siding missing.

Scaffolding for all of the carpentry work.

Scaffolding for all of the carpentry work.

Paint and more paint!

Paint and more paint, and sawing.

This is after cleaning. We removed junk along with heavy carpet & pad, moldy beadboard, building materials, and a piano. This looks much better!

This is after cleaning. We removed junk along with heavy carpet & pad, moldy beadboard, building materials, and a piano. This looks much better!

Back outside, many volunteers at work.

Back outside, many volunteers at work.

Fellow UVM alums and colleagues: the two (C)(K)aitlins!

Fellow UVM alums and colleagues: the two (C)(K)aitlins!

At the end of the work day. Work remains for the trained carpenters, but much has been accomplished.

At the end of the work day. Work remains for the trained carpenters, but much has been accomplished.

At the end of the conference: beautiful sunshine! Church looking great.

At the end of the conference: beautiful sunshine! Church looking great.

Christ Church overlooking Island Pond.

Christ Church overlooking Island Pond.

What have you been up to your in state?

Abandoned Vermont: Hubbardton Church

The shore of Lake Bomoseen is a popular summer camp area in Vermont. Up here, “summer camp” is like “summer cottage” or “beach house” as opposed to kids’ “summer camp”. The terminology threw me at first, since I grew up on the ocean, not a lake. Historic districts and houses line Vermont Route 30 (sitting practically on the road in some places!) and winding roads around the lake. This 1925 church appears on the map as the Hubbardton Congregational Church, but a lack of signage and unsuccessful searching gives me few answers to its fate. The church appears to be used as only storage.

View from the across the street.

View from the across the street. You can see how close it sits on the highway.

Beautiful Queen Anne windows.

Beautiful Queen Anne windows that remain in good condition.

Belfry.

Belfry.

Boarded up and not in use.

Boarded up and not in use, this is the front entrance.

Absestos siding covers shingles underneath, which would be more fitting for its Queen Anne details.

Asbestos siding covers shingles underneath, which would be more fitting for its Queen Anne details.

South elevation. View from the grass parking area.

South elevation. View from the grass parking area.

This side of the roof is in need of repair.

This side of the roof is in need of repair.

North elevation.

North elevation.

I could only see in the window by holding the camera above my head.

I could only see in the window by holding the camera above my head.

Rural Vermont is filled with small, wood-frame white churches. While some remain in service and others have been converted to alternative uses, there are many with the same fate as this Hubbardton Church. How can we help these buildings? Those of you in rural areas, what solutions have you seen?

Click images for larger files and to zoom in.