Looking for Katie Michels? One of the best places to start is outside. When she lived in Burlington, she would run or bike along the Bike Path during her free time. She also loved watching the sun set over Lake Champlain from Oakledge Park. Now that she lives in Montpelier, the trails at the North Branch Nature Center are a good bet. Either there or at her office at the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. We caught up with her in January to talk about her new job and her experiences becoming a Vermont Master Naturalist.
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s mission is creating affordable housing and conserving agricultural and recreational lands, natural areas and historic properties. Katie’s position there is with the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program. She has been there since August of 2017. “We provide business coaching, technical assistance, and grants to farms, food businesses, forest landowners, and wood products businesses. I manage our water quality and dairy improvement grant programs, and also assist with program administration,” Katie says.
Living in Burlington and Montpelier have suited Katie well, because she likes having “lots of trails close to town. Accessibility to wild places is important to me.” Her love of nature led her to the Vermont Master Naturalist Program.
“One of my favorite things about the program was the new vocabulary I learned – to be able to better describe Burlington’s landscapes. I also liked the seasonality of it, learning different things to look for at different times of the year.”
Katie worked with Vermont Master Naturalists Elise Schadler and Mary Ann Samuels to create an Art Hop Event called Celebrating Burlington’s Wild Places. Here is the description Katie wrote for the show: “This art show celebrates the wild places of Burlington. In the summer of 2017, a trio of participants in the pilot year of the Burlington Master Naturalist Program organized a series of artistic workshops celebrating Burlington’s natural landscapes. The three workshops focused on photography, poetry, and line drawing. Participants in these workshops and other Burlington residents have created artwork about how the parks, urban wilds, and nature of Burlington inspire them. We hope their work inspires you to draw, write about, and take photos of your favorite wild places, too!” The event culminated in an afternoon of storytelling called Wild Burlington.
Janet Carscadden, the owner of Evolution Yoga and host of the events, said,
“I have been part of the Art Hop for 10 years. This is the first time I have seen so many people looking for a specific show. And people who were here to practice yoga loved having the nature art on the walls. It was such a good fit.”
“We held summer workshops teaching art techniques that don’t require special materials. We welcomed participants of all skill levels, and all ages,” Katie said. The resulting art was beautiful and varied and blended together into a rich show. The show featured botanical drawings, fabric art, poetry, photography and more.
So who should become a Master Naturalist? Katie laughs. “Everybody! It is important to have a variety of people participate, from professionals, like Elise (Urban and Community Forester), to passionate amateurs. Alicia did a great job celebrating the diversity of experience levels within the group. Those who had a lot of experience like Kate (Kruesi, New England Wildflower Society, Plant Conservation Volunteer) could teach the rest of us about rare plants. Others with less experience, like me, got the joy of learning from everybody else.”
Photo provided by Katie Michels