Craig Smith sat down to share his perspective on conservation in Burlington on a day that puddles on the ground and swelling buds on the Silver Maples were just hinting at spring.
He reflected on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 this year.
“You have to stay at big things for a long time with a lot of perseverance,” said Craig as he talked about becoming part of the environmental movement in high school. Craig met Episcopal priest, forester and future Secretary of the Agency of Environmental Conservation, Brendan Whittaker, and credits him with awakening his interest in conservation and concrete actions. Along with other leaders, Brendan has been a prime example of “thinking globally and acting locally.” Some big topics of that time for activists were organic farming, the creation of Act 250, Cooperatives, Zero Population Growth, the impact of pesticides on raptors like Peregrine Falcons, and Green Up days to clean the public commons. In the mid-70’s Craig served as a lobbyist for VPIRG, advocating for safe and clean alternatives to nuclear energy.
“In my early years from my birth Rock Point was our family home all summer. My parents directed conferences during the height of the civil rights movement. I was free to wander and to experience the magic and spirit of Rock Point,” said Craig. “My practiced faith helped me with that. I would move from singing Psalm 95 in the chapel —“In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land”–to Canoe Landing where I caught loads of rock bass while crows cawed. I learned the Celtic Christian teaching of two scriptures–Creation and The Bible. My parents loved to identify plants and called attention to the differences of leaf or petal size—and not just to help me stay out of the poison ivy! They modeled paying attention and invited me to drink it all in, to get lost in wonder and awe. I grew up worshiping at Rock Point and walking the land side by each.”
“Later my parents were focused on gardening and growing food in harmony with nature,” Craig said. “That drew me in. Our neighbors were old-time farmers who had always done it that way—chicken manure, fish and a rich compost pile. They were generous teachers. Embracing things we think of as waste as part of the life-cycle is a good spiritual metaphor for faith.” Craig talked about how shaping things to allow farming to have another expression in Vermont is still a top concern, refining practical models that will help those working the land make a living wage and those with food insecurity enjoy growing and eating food they have helped produce.
When asked about his long view for Burlington, Craig said, “My hope is tied to what we are doing together in (Burlington) Wildways—looking at what we share together for open spaces across property lines as a Commons. If we can work together to develop a common conservation ethic and help people fall in love with the land, then what might have been an “ought to” chore becomes an “of course” enjoyment.” The recent return of the falcons to Rock Point is one hopeful sign of the impacts we can have as we change the way we live and interact with nature,” said Craig. The public-private partnership between Burlington Parks Foundation and the City has provided a taste of the possibilities for building an interconnected network of trails.
Current conservation initiatives at Rock Point he would celebrate include the work underway to transform the solar farm into a pollinator meadow with Bee the Change, rebuilding the trails to provide public access through the help of a Coalition Campaign for Rock Point and Arms Forest and the creation of a land use plan that includes hands on environmental actions, educational programs and volunteers programs such as Trail Stewards and Pollinator Meadow Docents. Partnerships have been a vital part of these steps: the Coalition Campaign included the Episcopal Church in Vermont, the City of Burlington, the Burlington Parks Foundation, Lake Champlain Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The major fruit of this effort is an easement that conserves 94 acres of Rock Point in perpetuity. Other significant recent steps include the founding of the Rock Point Intentional Community and the Rock Point Wisdom School and the creation of a new business plan for the Rock Point Commons which is critical to helping to fund the various conservation and maintenance efforts.
“This signifies the commitment to beliefs we have long held as stewards of this property. We humans are part of this landscape and plant and animal communities have made a home here long before us and have a prior claim,” Craig said. “Our kiosks read: ‘Welcome to Rock Point: A Sanctuary in the Heart of Burlington.’ That is our vision and practice. What a delight it is to see with my eyes (and the help of trail cameras) fishers and otters, elusive and mysterious, fox and deer, criss-crossing paths, wild ginger, columbine, harsh sunflower and trillium, splashing color, birders watching nesting peregrines, cliff cedars declaring tenacity, school groups visiting the Thrust fault, campers living in community. All these proclaim the rich diversity that makes for healthy community. All have a place where they can find sanctuary and be a part of providing sanctuary, participating in the holy.”