VINS celebrates 40 years of conservation
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | December 02,2012
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
A red tail hawk flies out of employee Katie Christman’s hands during a raptor environmental educational demonstration at the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences on Friday.
QUECHEE — An Upper Valley landmark known for conservation efforts marked a major milestone this fall.
The Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences in Quechee celebrated 40 years of successful wildlife preservation and environmental education programs. VINS is a renowned environmental organization and its work has impacted the local community, the state and beyond. VINS’ success can be traced back to its origins when local residents took action to protect local habitat from industrial pollution.
The Ottauquechee River is a critical water source for the Upper Valley. It starts high up in the Green Mountains and meanders east until it joins the Connecticut River.
The Ottauquechee was heavily polluted in the early 1970s, when mills were dumping waste upstream. A group of Woodstock citizens got together, cleaned up the river and stopped the mills from causing further harm.
“So that was the start,” VINS President John Dolan said. “They became successful pretty quickly. So then they thought ‘OK, what do we do now?’”
VINS began as an organization in 1972 and operated out of a Woodstock storefront. They moved into a old farm building on Church Hill Road in Woodstock in the late 1970s and began new programs.
VINS conducted ornithological research and the rehabilitation of avian wildlife. The work was prompted by VINS co-founders Sally and David Laughlin, Richard Farrar, June McKnight and Jenepher Lingelbach, Dolan said.
“The staff initially took in injured raptors because nobody else knew where to bring them,” Dolan said. “(Sally) took care of injured birds in her backyard and had a number of enclosures with injured owls, hawks and falcons that were brought to her for treatment. It really evolved into a professional rehabilitation operation.”
As VINS settled in, a new program was established, Environmental Learning for the Future, an award-winning environmental education program for elementary-age children.
ELF is designed to give children an understanding of and appreciation for the natural world and increase scientific and environmental literacy. The ELF curriculum includes a textbook called “Hands On Nature” and is used throughout New England schools.
As VINS grew in the 1990s, so did its programs, and a new facility was needed. VINS moved to a new location near the Quechee Gorge in 2004 and built a new nature center that includes a rehabilitation and release center, exhibits, nature trails and more.
VINS established an in-house ornithological research group that studied native birds of Vermont. According to Dolan, the group was instrumental in removing the Bicknell’s Thrush, a songbird, and the Vermont Loon from the endangered species list.
“The nature center was a significant development for VINS. It became a destination, it drew a lot of people from across the country and raised our profile,” Dolan said.
The final and perhaps the most influential contribution to VINS’ success is the support from volunteers, donors, researchers and conservationists who shared a concern for wildlife and local habitat.
“A lot of what you see at the center comes from tens of thousands of volunteers that helped us out over the last 40 years,” Dolan said. “I’ve been with VINS for six years but I can see from where I sit the very rich legacy that staff, donors and volunteers left behind: a tremendous knowledge of natural sciences and reputation for quality programing in environmental education. VINS has always maintained high standards of quality in everything it’s done.”
To learn more, visit www.vinsweb.org.