Monday, November 17, 2008

UVLT Volunteers Recognized for their Commitment

Pip Richens of Hanover, NH and Claude Phipps of Newbury, VT were recognized at the Upper Valley Land Trust’s Volunteer Appreciation Open House on November 13th. Both Richens and Phipps received awards from the land trust for their dedication to their work as stewardship volunteers. In addition to giving UVLT the opportunity to recognize standout volunteers, the event gave volunteers, staff and trustees a chance to share a meal of chili and cornbread as they discussed experiences from out in the field. (Photo L-R: Pete Helm, UVLT Vice President Stewardship; Monica Erhart, UVLT Stewardship Coordinator; John Hall, UVLT Volunteer)

The event was motivated by an effort to recognize the organization’s 30+ stewardship volunteers, who assist in activities such as trail maintenance, campsite upkeep, and conservation easement monitoring across the 44 towns that comprise the Upper Valley Land Trust’s region. In addition to the time and energy that stewardship volunteers donate, dozens of volunteers assist UVLT with events, advocacy, various committees, photography and a variety of in-kind donations.

UVLT president Jeanie McIntyre notes, “Our land conservancy has been recognized nationally for its accomplishments and our volunteers should be proud of their contributions. We are able to get a great deal done with a very lean budget because people roll up their sleeves and pitch in.”

For example, as a volunteer stewardship easement monitor with the UVLT, Pip Richens has visited thousands of acres of conserved land in the Upper Valley. Averaging at least one monitoring visit per month, she has likely spent around 60-70 volunteer hours in the past year, hiking around the woods, following old barbed wire boundaries, counting her paces, and taking compass bearings through local forests. Even in the winter, Richens continues her volunteering, monitoring land by snowshoe. Richens’ friend Betty Ward often joins her, and together the two women have traveled throughout the Upper Valley for UVLT monitoring visits. Richens approaches her volunteer duties with such enthusiasm and enjoyment that she has inspired several acquaintances to volunteer with UVLT as well.

When private land is conserved under a conservation easement, landowners agree to work with UVLT to ensure that their land is protected in perpetuity. The agreement includes annual communication between the landowner and a UVLT staff member, followed by a monitoring visit to the property, often conducted by a volunteer. Monitors document natural and human-induced changes to the property, including notable erosion or invasive species, dumping, building within a restricted area, new land management practices, third-party encroachments, and any other significant changes that may have occurred on a property over the course of the year. In exchange for their time and energy, easement monitors earn the opportunity to go for walks in the forests, fields, and along waterways on conserved land in the Upper Valley.

UVLT monitors often have the opportunity to meet the landowners of the properties they visit and occasionally landowners accompany volunteers on their walk around the property. Virginia and Ted Taylor, who have conserved their land in Hartford, Vermont, recall a visit with Pip Richens and Betty Ward fondly. “They visited on a terrible day” Ted Taylor remembers. “It was wet, stormy, and windy, but it didn’t faze them at all. They just pretended they were dry.” He added that Pip was a “stalwart soul” and “unflappable,” as his wife chimed in with her observations of Richens’ keen interest and admiration for the land. Even during the storm, Virginia Taylor remembers, Richens’ focus was on the natural world, commenting on signs of wildlife and unique plants.

Claude Phipps is a UVLT campsite steward and trail volunteer. He maintains the Vaughan Meadows campsite and mows the several miles of Sleepers Meadow trails, both near his Newbury home. UVLT learned to fully appreciate the time and effort Phipps has given to his work over the years, when in the summer of 2008 an injury prevented Phipps from making his regular visits to the campsite or trails. Suddenly, UVLT staff members found themselves spending many hours traveling to Newbury from their office in Hanover to mow the ever-growing grass in the field trails and to dig privy holes at the campsite. With each trip, UVLT staff gained additional respect for the hard work and long hours Phipps has provided to the land trust for several years.

Luckily for everyone, Phipps recovered from his injury quickly, returning to his volunteer work as soon as he was physically able. Shortly after his recovery, Phipps led an effort to build a staircase at the Vaughan Meadows campsite to prevent further erosion of the river access trail. He created the plans, found the materials, and organized a work day to build the stairs. Monica Erhart, UVLT’s Stewardship Coordinator, notes that it’s unlikely that the project would have been completed this year without Phipps’ enthusiasm and steadfast determination. “When Claude sees that something needs to be done, he steps right in and makes it happen,” Erhart says.

In order to join the Upper Valley Land Trust as a conservation easement monitor, campsite steward, or trail volunteer, please contact Stewardship Coordinator, Monica Erhart at (603) 643-6626 ext. 110 or Spring monitor training dates will be posted at in early 2009.