April 22, 2019

Guest Column: Becoming involved

By Rachel King

This summer, I returned to Costa Rica to work on a project I had been involved with two years ago, conserving the sea turtle population and their threatened habitat. During my two-week stay at a base camp in Punta Mala in the Playa Hermosa National Refugee, a group of fellow high school-aged students worked day and night. In the hatchery, where nests of eggs are kept to protect them from poachers and environmental elements, we sifted the sand to clean and oxygenate it, so hatched turtles could easily navigate to the surface and have the best conditions to develop. We cleaned debris and weeds from the beach that posed hazards to turtles. At night, we would patrol the beach for miles in search of turtles coming onto the beach to lay eggs. Because it was still early in the season, however, I only saw around five turtles. On my previous trip, I saw hundreds. It was a time in the laying season called “arribada,” when hundred of turtles make their way to beaches to lay their eggs. When we did come across a turtle, we let it dig a hole and lay its eggs—anywhere from 60 to 160—while simultaneously collecting data including the exact species and shell measurements/distinctive shell features. We tagged the turtle so it could be identified again. After the laying was finished and the turtle returned to the ocean, we collected the eggs from the nest and move them into the hatchery, where their safety was greatly increased. Last year, around 7,000 eggs were saved and hatched because of our efforts.

In just the past 100 years, demand for turtle meat, eggs, skin and shells has diminished turtle populations. Destruction of feeding and nesting habitats and pollution of the world’s oceans are severely damaging turtle populations. Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of the few animals that eat sea grass. The sea grass needs to be constantly cut to be healthy and grow across the sea floor. The decline of these sea grass beds over the past few decades has been connected to the lower numbers of sea turtles. Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without them, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species being lost and eventually impacting humans. One species does indeed affect other species around it drastically.

It is important to be aware of not only local, but global environmental issues. As large as an issue may seem, anyone can make a difference. A small effort goes a long way. One does not have to travel to the source of the problem as I have done, but even by simply educating yourself and raising awareness of an issue you feel strongly about does make an impact and can help create a more healthy and positive world. I am very fond of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” We cannot lose sight of how to become a global citizen and how our actions positively and negatively impact our planet. If you feel like something is wrong, then there is no reason you cannot create the change you wish to see. My passion for animals and our environment has allowed me to invest my time into something significant in the effort to create a better planet. I encourage everyone to look for these opportunities, even in your own community and become involved. For more information about sea turtle conservation efforts and how you can become involved, please visit www.conserveturtles.org.

Rachel King lives in Williston and is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School. 

New teachers ready for school year

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Summer officially ends in the Northern Hemisphere on Sept. 22 at 10:49 a.m. EDT, but for Williston School District and Champlain Valley Union High School students, it ended this week with the start of the 2012-2013 school year.

For students, the start of school usually means a new set of clothes, new school supplies, perhaps a fresh haircut.

For more than 20 local educators, the first school bell of the year meant the start of a new job.

New faces at Allen Brook School this year include teachers Rebecca Ashford and Peter Lake, as well as Jennifer Tumilowicz, who replaces guidance counselor Aili Beeli.

Williston Central School welcomes educators Linsay Bloxham, Lauren Wesnak, Courtney Sherman and Ashley Sutton, along with new Spanish teacher Reina Guarnaccia, who joins an expanded WCS world language program that includes fifth grade students.

WCS Principal Jackie Parks told the Observer in an email that offering French and Spanish language classes beginning in fifth grade is an idea the school board has been considering for several years.

“The 5th grade World Language program was something we have talked about for years,” Parks wrote. “I think it is wonderful that Williston can provide language instruction beginning in 5th grade.”

According to a letter sent by WSD administrators to parents, 90 out of 115 eligible fifth grade students have signed up for the world language program.


Ten educators have joined the CVU faculty for the 2012-2013 school year: special educators Anna Couperthwait, Mary Cotton and Jennifer Stevens; science teachers Laurel Billingsley, Michael Anne Kirschner and Jessica Lemieux; English teacher Sabrina Case; world language teacher Sara Molina; wellness teacher Anthony Spagnola; and social studies teacher Lezlee Sprenger.

Although she’s a 10-year CVU veteran, social studies teacher Katherine Riley will change hats this year and take over as Snelling House director in the stead of Adam Bunting, who accepted the principal position at Montpelier High School in May.

Riley said that while she won’t initially do any direct instruction of students, she hopes to keep a hand in teaching.

“I won’t have my own class this year, but I’m working closely with the five Snelling Core (ninth grade) teachers,” Riley said. “Hopefully, as the year goes on, we’ll do some team teaching.”

But as Riley told the Observer on Tuesday, just seeing the students back in school is a good feeling.

“I’m looking forward to the students getting back,” she said. “The kids are what bring the school alive.”

Filmmaker revisits Williston’s past and living history

Green Mountain Video owner Jim Heltz shoots footage for his upcoming documentary ‘Williston Revisited: A Community Portrait’ at the July 3 Town Band concert and ice cream social. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

A lot has changed in Williston in the past 20 years.

Two decades ago, Maple Tree Place was farmland. Wal-Mart hadn’t been built. Allen Brook School didn’t exist.

In 1990, Williston had a population of less than 5,000. In 2010, it was more than 8,000.

Green Mountain Video owner Jim Heltz moved to Williston in 1990, just prior to its development boom and population explosion.

“When I moved to Williston, back in 1990, there was no supermarket, there was no pharmacy,” Heltz said. “You’d have to either go to Hinesburg or you’d have to go to Essex Junction or South Burlington to go to a supermarket or find a pharmacy.”

In 1991, Heltz began filming “Williston: A Community Portrait.” The resulting documentary, which packed two-plus centuries of Williston history into a 26-minute runtime, won awards from the Vermont Historical Society and American Association for State and Local History.

A few years ago, Heltz developed an itch to update the history of his adopted hometown.

“I wanted to show the change in Williston over the past 20 years,” he said. “When I found out that the town was having the anniversary of the chartering, I wanted to do the project again. It was time. There was a good 20 years between the first one and the one I want to do.”

Heltz, who is collaborating with local photographer and journalist Steve Mease on the film’s screenplay, said the updated documentary will examine the role technology plays in the modern-day conception of community.

“We do want to ask about the other sense of community, the electronic version of community, which is Facebook and Twitter and Williston Front Porch Forum,” Heltz said. “I think with some of the community it doesn’t really change anything for them, and for some others it really has a big impact.”

The town of Williston was chartered June 7, 1763—exactly 250 years prior to Heltz’s self-imposed deadline for “Williston Revisited: A Community Portrait.”

June 7, incidentally, is also the birthday of Ginger Isham, whom Heltz interviewed in the first installment of Williston’s filmic history. Heltz observed that the adaptation of the Isham family’s farming methods is emblematic of Williston’s evolution as a whole.

“Their story is very similar to Williston’s development, how they’ve changed in that 20 years,” Heltz said of the Isham Farm, which today produces maple syrup, corn, sunflowers and berry products. “In the last video, the Isham Farm was a dairy farm with Jersey cows. There’s one calf on the premises now. So they’ve diversified how they’re farming. It’s farming, but it’s not usually what you’d think of when you think of a Vermont farm.”

Like the Ishams, Heltz has adapted to changing times.

The first Williston community portrait was made for $10,000 on Betacam SP, then the industry standard for video production. The updated documentary, which has a projected budget of $20,000, will be filmed in widescreen high-definition digital.

Heltz will also largely dispense with voiceover narration in favor of on-camera interviews and visual montages set to music.

“One thing I would like is for Williston musicians, if they have some music that they think might be appropriate for this film, to send it to me,” Heltz said. “I’d be more than happy to put it in and give them a credit, because there are going to be certain sections where it would be great to have some local music.”

Heltz added that he’s open to feedback from any Willistonian, whether musically inclined or not.

“If you have some stories, let us know,” Heltz said. “We’d be happy to chat.”

Visit williston-revisited. blogspot.com for more information about “Williston Revisited: A Community Portrait,” or to make a donation toward its production costs.

Finney Crossing surges forward

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

As construction of an apartment complex in Phase 1-A of the Finney Crossing subdivision plodded on by day, the evening of Aug. 28 found project developer Chris Snyder in the Development Review Board hot seat, pitching a plan to increase the residential units of the building from 43 to 45.

Snyder, of the eponymous Snyder Homes, put the project in historical perspective for the benefit of the newer DRB members.

“It’s a project in action and movement, so that’s a great thing for us. We’ve been working on it for 12 years, so we’re excited about where we are today,” Snyder said.

Finney Crossing is a mixed-use residential and commercial subdivision that, when completed, will encompass most of a 107-acre parcel of land north of Maple Tree Place that formerly served as a horse farm.

While the DRB approved a holistic concept plan for Finney Crossing in April 2007, specific phases of the project are individually subject to subsequent DRB approval. As Snyder explained, that phased approach has been both a blessing and a curse from a development perspective.

“The phasing was set up early on, because it was based on growth management allocation,” Snyder said. “The recession has hurt us and helped us, in that we actually have lots of allocation that’s available, and we need to start chewing it up at a faster rate than what we have been. Otherwise, we will have the potential of losing it, like we did in 2011.”

Besides the increase in residential units to the apartment complex currently under construction (aka Building M3), Snyder also requested discretionary permit approval for a proposed 57-unit complex to be built during the project’s second phase. In addition, he sought pre-application approval for two additional 57-unit buildings, as part of the third and fourth phases of the project.

Snyder, who revealed that the anticipated occupancy of Building M3 is March 1, 2013, also acknowledged that the completion of Phase 1-B of the project is likely a two-year plan, and that the extension of Zephyr Road to U.S. 2 will be completed as part of the project’s second phase.

Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton, who stopped by the meeting to provide a fire safety opinion on the Finney Crossing project, also spoke of Zephyr Road.

“Although I wouldn’t be inclined to travel through Zephyr to go further out on Route 2A … for the folks who live in this Finney development, as well as possibly the backside of The Hamlet, (the Fire Department) will use Zephyr Road. So I think it’s really critical that we have Zephyr completed as soon as possible through your phasing and your approvals.”

Marion Cushner, a resident of the Chelsea Commons townhouse community immediately north of the Finney Crossing build-out, offered a different take on the project during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“The sketches may look fine, but I tell you, in reality these buildings are truly monstrous looking, and to me, totally out of synch with the look and feel of the town of Williston,” Cushner said.

DRB Vice Chairman John Bendzunas responded that the Finney Crossing development is in the town’s Designated Growth Center, which is intended to promote population density.

“Taft Corners is a growth center. This is where we want to have development, so the idea is to kind of create a dynamic place that brings commercial development with residential development,” Bendzunas said.

Williston Senior Planner Matt Boulanger told the Observer on Wednesday that the DRB, after emerging from executive session, approved Snyder’s request to modify the layout of Building M3 to accommodate the two additional dwelling units.

The DRB also approved the discretionary permit for the 57-unit building of the project’s second phase.

In addition, the DRB approved the pre-application of the two 57-unit complexes to be built during phases three and four. While Snyder will need to receive discretionary permit approval for the buildings prior to construction, the pre-application approval will allow him to apply for the 46 residential growth management allocations needed to see the project through to completion.

Low voter turnout at Williston polls

St. George resident Micaela Wallace, a special education para-educator at Williston Central School, shows her primary day support for her older brother, incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston has 7,741 registered voters.

Just 969 of them cast ballots in Tuesday’s Vermont primary election.

“I opened the polls at 7 and there wasn’t a soul out there,” said Williston Town Clerk Deb Beckett. “I don’t think that’s ever happened.”

By comparison, 1,770 Willistonians cast votes in the 2010 primaries.

Election official Herb Goodrich speculated that voter apathy, combined with people still on August vacations, contributed to the low turnout.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” Goodrich said. “In foreign countries, this place would be packed.”

Beckett surmised that unlike 2010, when Peter Shumlin won a close gubernatorial primary contest, there was a comparative lack of primary day drama to draw voters to the polls.

“There’s three parties, but there’s only really races in one,” Beckett said, referring to the Democratic Primary. “There’s not that energy and enthusiasm that we’ve seen in the past.”

The most contentious race in the Democratic Primary was between incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, who assumed office in 1997, and challenger T.J. Donovan, who serves as Chittenden County State’s Attorney.

Williston resident Nancy Donnelly explained her support for Sorrell after casting her vote at the Williston Armory.

“I’m very satisfied with him,” Donnelly said. “I really do respect his work. Those are hard decisions he has to make, and I feel he’s been balanced.”

Felicia Kornbluh told the Observer outside the polling booths that she voted for Donovan.

“I know that he’s strong on alternatives to incarceration, and that’s an important issue to me,” Kornbluh said. “I think he’s very smart about how the criminal justice system works, and I really respect that.”

At 7 p.m. on the dot, Beckett locked the doors to the Armory and tallied the results of Williston voters.

Sorrell: 479; Donovan: 363.

As of Wednesday morning, Donovan trailed Sorrell in the statewide vote by around 600 votes.

Jay Els, Donovan’s campaign spokesman, told the Observer on Wednesday that Donovan publicly conceded the race in an 11:30 a.m. speech on the Burlington waterfront. Sorrell will face Republican nominee Jack McMullen in November.

The other contested Democratic primary election saw nine hopefuls vying for six State Senate nominations in the Chittenden Senate District, including Willistonians Ginny Lyons and Debbie Ingram.

As of Observer press time on Wednesday (2 p.m.), Lyons was the second highest vote-getter, according to the Vermont Secretary of State website, with 26 of 29 precincts reporting. Ingram was sixth, by a margin of 327 votes over Peter Hunt of Essex.

Ingram told the Observer in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon that she received an “unofficial” victory handshake from Secretary of State Jim Condos at a Democratic rally earlier in the day.

POPCORN: “Hope Springs”

A Fine Romance…With no Kisses

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

So this guy who wins 300 million dollars runs into the house yelling, “Honey, we won the lottery, pack your bags.” Thrilled, his wife asks where they’re going. He replies, “I don’t know where you’re going, but pack your bags.” Kay, the romantically disappointed wife in “Hope Springs,” would politely laugh at that joke. But inside she’d be crying.

Portrayed with heartrending conviction by Meryl Streep, Kay has, in the last five years or so, been suffering in silence. Her marriage of thirty-one years to Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) is on automatic pilot, its routine status delineated by perfunctory pecks on the cheek as he leaves for work each morning. Even the small talk has been getting smaller.

Oh, they’re nice enough folks, and apparently dedicated to each other, even if Arnold never returned from the guestroom after a brief back injury prompted the prescription. And, like the majority of marrieds from Bangor to San Diego, these two Nebraskans simply don’t talk about it. But of late, the 800-lb. gorilla has begun to weigh on Kay.

Peering into the den from the kitchen where she tidies after the dinner she nightly cooks, the sight is always the same. Ensconced in his easy chair, the TV set to the Golf Channel, her sixty-something CPA has fallen asleep. It’s in her eyes. He is and he isn’t the man she married. Oh, tempus fugit. They should be running on the beach. Yeah, that kind of love.

Feasible or not, a light goes on above her head. The keeper of romance’s flame, she will no longer live a life of sexless desperation…at least not without a fight. And she’s going to do it without upsetting frugal hubby too much. Pulling her own $4,000 out of savings, she purchases plane fare and a week’s worth of couples therapy in Hope Springs, Maine.

She’s going with or without him. It’s nip and tuck right up until flight time. But, whew, he shows. Score one for the guys. Of course he carps all the way, and it doesn’t stop even after they begin sessions with the purported panacea. He is the famous Dr. Bernard Feld, recognizable from the ubiquitous book jacket photo that dots America’s store windows.

Played by Steve Carell in a rare but solid dramatic role, the calm, smiley, self-assured authority on marriage resurrection has his work cut out for him. Resentful, challenged, and doubtless hurt by the failure their presence implies, Tommy Lee Jones’s Arnold is as close-mouthed as a stubborn child. He just can’t help railing against the whole shebang.

However, propelled by Kay’s honest determination and Arnold’s desire not to upset her, the sessions continue. The layers of built-up rationalization slowly peel away like onion skin, layer by layer. Moments of discovery, oftentimes uneasy, are rivaled by even more uncomfortable setbacks…in the doc’s office, around town, and, ahem, back at the motel.

Note: This is a comedy, but in the classical sense….meaning it’s not a farce. The few laughs are the result of sad truths brought to light. Vanessa Taylor’s script is ripe with the sort of button-pushing complaints served up with tea and sympathy on afternoon TV by any number of self-help marriage gurus. But the pigeonhole analysis is cleverly wrought.

Miss Streep is as phenomenal as ever as the genteel, injured party. Her facial expressions and wonderfully subtle, Midwestern lilt are alone worth the price of admission. And while Mr. Jones is a bit slow getting out of the gate, his attempt to play curmudgeonly without becoming a total Oil Can Harry to our heroine exudes solidly professional poise.

But again, these are stereotypes, albeit full of controversy, and rampant with specific situations turned into generalizations. Thus, confronted with its serious face and absent the humor the trailer led us to expect, we hope there may be wisdom forthcoming…that finally, after 35,000 years, we will be apprised of a way to end the war between the sexes.

Yet reality counsels that said wish would be a mite pretentious. Fact is we know no more about love than we do about the concept of infinity. Whether you deem yourself a hopeless romantic, the brunt of biology’s greatest joke or something in-between, you suspect the ultimate epiphany about La Difference will not be delivered at the Bijou.

Still, reason and common sense don’t deter us from developing a rooting interest in Kay and Arnold. Anticipating that director Frankel isn’t going to pull an Ingmar Bergman on us, we’d like to see them live happily ever after, partially because they seem like good people, but mostly to satisfy a human need to believe that “Hope Springs” eternal.

“Hope Springs,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by David Frankel and stars Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. Running time: 100 minutes  


PHOTOS: Digging volleyball


 Williston kids hit volleyballs during a practice drill at the free youth volleyball camp at the Williston courts on Tuesday. The camp, held Tuesday and Thursday mornings, is free and runs through the end of August. (Observer photos by Stephanie Choate)

Everyday Gourmet: Fritter frisson

By Kim Dannies

Who knew leftover corn could be sexy? Those uneaten cobs, sitting like abandoned corpses on your counter, can easily be transformed into crispy, hot, sweet corn fritters. This is fun, fast, eat-with-your-hands food that requires no practice, and will WOW your crowd in less than twenty minutes.

Don’t be shy about fritters—this recipe uses very little oil and it won’t make your kitchen smell like a rancid take-out joint. I’d go so far as to call it a healthy treat. Fritter batter is a lot like making pizza—there are a hundred ways to do it, it all tastes good and you really cannot blow it. I made my recipe ridiculously easy to remember, so that going forward fritters are never a chore. The Maple Chipotle Sauce is so alluring and addictive it could double as a dab behind the ears.

More good news: make the fritter batter 36 hours ahead and chill. This allows you to whip up small batches when desire strikes. It’s time to reignite the flame of passion for leftover local corn via golden, crunchy fritters—the produce section will be boring soon enough.


Crispy Corn Fritters

Combine 1 cup milk, 1 egg, and 1 T soft butter. Mix 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup corn meal, 1/4 teaspoon each of baking powder, curry, salt and red pepper flakes. Add 3 cups shucked corn (raw or cooked), 3 slices of cooked, chopped bacon, and 3 T freshly chopped chives.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan, add 1/4 cup vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, spoon 1 T of batter for each fritter into the pan, spacing half an inch apart. Cook over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown underneath, then turn and cook the other side for 2 minutes. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt; keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil. Yield: 32 fritters.


Maple Chipotle Sauce

In a prep bowl, combine 1.5 cups of mayo with 2 T each maple syrup and supermarket-brand chipotle sauce. Adjust for seasoning with pinches of salt.


Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France.  She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

Upcoming CVU sports scrimmages

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Now into their second week of pre-season practice, Champlain Valley Union High varsity fall sports teams have some scrimmage tests on the immediate schedule.

Coach Jim Provost’s Redhawks football team, which opens its season at home against Burlington High Sept.1, has a 10 a.m. scrimmage on Saturday against Spaulding High of Barre at the CVU gridiron.

The defending Division 1 girls soccer team of coach Brad Parker will be host to Mount Abraham Union in a 4:30 p.m. practice game on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Coach T. J. Mead’s boys soccer team will scrimmage Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans at the CVU field at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

Both boys and girls soccer teams, along with coach Kate McDonald’s field hockey team, open their season schedules after Labor Day.

Scholarships for Governor’s School grads

Students who have completed a governor’s school program and are accepted at Marlboro College in Vermont are eligible for a $5,000 scholarship toward their tuition.

“The goal of Marlboro College is to teach students to think clearly and to learn independently,” says Nicole Curvin, dean of admissions at Marlboro. “Graduates of the governor’s schools across the country are well-equipped for this kind of college experience. They have demonstrated a high potential for contributing to the vibrancy of the Marlboro academic community.”

The first governor’s school was started in 1963, when the governor of North Carolina established a residential summer program for gifted high school students. Other states, including Vermont, have followed suit with diverse programs focused on innovative, non-traditional approaches to learning.