Workshops will reveal town

First of three sessions to be held Sept. 26

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston’s recent history is a well-worn tale of retail and residential development and the upheaval that comes with rapid growth. But when you start digging, it turns out the town has a far richer, more complex story.

Residents can learn more about their town’s untold human and natural history during a three-part series of workshops starting next week.

Called “Williston Geographic,” the workshops are part of program called PLACE, short for Place-based Landscape Analysis and Community Education. Conducted by the University of Vermont in conjunction with Shelburne Farms, PLACE’s mission is to educate residents about their towns.

“They will be fun, informative, eye-opening and interactive,” wrote Jesse Fleisher, a UVM graduate student who will lead the workshops, in an e-mail. “Our hope is that people will leave knowing more about Williston than they ever did before, that they we will want to learn even more on their own or with each other, and that by sharing knowledge and experience in a public forum we can facilitate an ongoing community dialogue about the current and future stewardship of Williston’s unique cultural and natural heritage.”

All three workshops will be held 7-9 p.m. at Williston Central School’s auditorium. Each presentation will be followed by a field trip on the subsequent Saturday, with the place and time to be announced at each workshop. The schedule:

Wednesday, Sept. 26. “Forests, Fields and Rocks: The Natural Landscape of Williston.” The workshop will include an overview of Williston’s landscape and place it within the larger geographic context of the Champlain Valley and the entire state, Fleisher said. He will also give a timeline of the town’s human history and sketch Williston’s natural history.

Wednesday, Oct. 25. “People and the Williston Landscape: A History of Change.” Fleisher said the session focus on where inhabitants came from and how they shaped the landscape. It will cover Native American settlements, the Thomas Chittenden era and modern times.

Thursday, Nov. 14. “Soil, Water and Wildlife: The Landscape Ecology and Fauna of Williston.” As the title indicates, the final presentation will spotlight Williston’s wildlife. Fleisher said he will discuss how wildlife changed as Williston’s landscape evolved. The presentation will also “try to bring past, present and future together as we wrap up the series,” he said.

Walter Poleman, PLACE director and senior lecturer with UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, emphasized the collaborative nature of the program.

He said the presentations grew out of a semester-long effort by graduate students working with Williston’s Conservation Commission. They inventoried the town’s natural features and looked at how humans impacted the landscape.

In addition, Poleman said eight Williston teachers participated in professional development sessions on the PLACE program, working with Shelburne Farms to learn more about the town’s natural and human history. The idea is to pass the information down to students.

The workshops are not lectures, Poleman said. They will include an interpretive slide show and an opportunity for discussion.

The idea is to encourage an ongoing dialogue that could help shape the town’s future, Fleisher said. He hopes residents will share their knowledge of Williston with each other during the workshops and “maybe fill in the blanks with some interesting pieces (of information) they weren’t aware of or hadn’t thought of before.”