Land and Legacy

Every place is shaped by natural forces, as recent as a fallen tree and as ancient as the formation of our bedrock. But human hands have also shaped the land, and as BCL9 discovered, these transformations are evident–especially where the land meets the water. 

On the Waterfront and in the Intervale, layers of history can be read on the land itself. Sometimes, the story they tell is neutral. Often, especially in the recent industrial era, human land use has left a legacy we are still recovering from. It turns out that history is not in the past. In many cases, past choices constrain the present, and limit future choices. As we walked the landscape, and as we floated on the water and looked back, we imagined future Burlington residents reflecting on our choices today. How will today’s decisions impact a future we can’t imagine? What will our legacy be? 

At the water’s edge, City Naturalist, Alicia Daniel took us on a 500 million year tour of the Champlain Basin.

While at the Sailing Center we talked about how the land around us formed and how it is unique to Vermont. It was super informative and I think I learned more in those couple of hours about Vermont’s geology than I have during years of school.We also talked about how our actions have an effect of the land and what this means… We each chose one rock in the general area of the Sailing Center to bring to the group and we talked about where all the rocks came from and each rock’s story. Each rock came from different places and it made me wonder about how each rock got to where it was .The idea that each rock has a story is a big perspective shift especially because there are SO many rocks. Thinking about how every rock is unique and has a complex history brings up more curiosity for me. Should rocks be left to sit untouched or are the meant to be picked up, thrown, rolled, stacked, or skipped?

– Kai

During the BCL program there was this day where we were talking about what the land provides for us and what we provide for the land. And when we were going around answering the question I noticed that many people in our group said land provides us with: Food, Shelter, Life

I asked myself, why does the land provide us with so much, but we treat it poorly? If land was a person and we had treated it the way we treat it right now, it could have been tired and left. So we need to treat land like the way we would treat another person. 

– Damascene
BCL9 explored how we can read human industrial history on the landscape of the Urban Reserve… 
…including the 1861 train tunnel that revolutionized Burlington’s development. 
Waterfront Superintendent and Harbormaster, Erin Moreau, helped us understand how the Waterfront’s past impacts–and limits–its future. 

In my journal I drew a picture of Burlington today and how it’s very beautiful, filled with community, and thriving. I drew the waterfront and all the way from the New North End to the Surf Club. When thinking about the past I thought about factories and how the waterfront and lake shore was not somewhere people want to live or even be. Now, lakefront properties are highly coveted. This shows us how much change can happen from past to present. Now I was left to think about what changes could happen between the present and future. What will Burlington look like in 50 years? Personally, I think it will become more modernized and developed. That seems to be what happens to most cities. New buildings, updated features on pre-existing architecture. It will be very different, but I hope we’ll still be able to recognize our beautiful city. Thinking this far in the future is very interesting to me…to see how much has changed in the previous 50 years and then think about what will change in the next 50 years.

– Sara

This last week we spent a lot of time at the Waterfront and learning about its past. One highlighted quote in my journal is “Many of Burlington’s past decisions they have made when building have greatly impacted their building today.” Over the years, Burlington has gone through many phases. All of these industries required buildings on the waterfront and harbors. Most of these buildings are gone or filled in now but the space is still empty. These buildings polluted the ground and even the water around them so much that they were unusable unless the city spent millions and millions of dollars.

The Barge Canal in the south end is an example of a space burlington just never dealt with and is now unusable. The canal had so much stuff dumped into it that it was and still is very toxic and cannot be used and all the land around it is unsafe to build on. There are many other places like this in Burlington, and my thought is how can we stay away from making mistakes like this in the present and future? And what can we do so that the way we use our land now won’t impact the way we will and want to use our land in the years to come?

– Reid
On a satellite image, we could see underwater train tracks – an invisible barrier to Waterfront development.
There aren’t any easy answers about the future of the Boathouse. The most iconic building in the city is six years past being viable–and will either be reimagined, or sink. 

The Boathouse itself is publicly accessible but the people using it generally have enough money to own a boat… The 1990 Burlington Waterfront Revitalization Plan was meant to “ensure public use and enjoyment of the area”. But unless you live downtown, which is expensive, walking isn’t a great option. You have to pay for parking… It requires time and resources to enjoy the area. Once again, it’s another place in Burlington I visit maybe once a year. I wrote in my journal “I think it’s interesting how I’ve lived in Burlington for my entire life and never knew that the boathouse is public property. Because I don’t have a boat it didn’t seem like it was for me. That also makes me think about how a lot of the city feels like it’s for the tourists and the rich but not for me.”

– Scout
Our comfortable classroom at the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center…
…and the traditional BCL “elevator selfie.” 
Sailing Center Director Owen Milne helped us understand the mission and impact of his organization…
…and then took us out on the water! 

How should water be used and how should we value it? In the video about how the Abenaki view and know water it is made clear that they believe that water is the most essential part of life and that “Water is what connects us all” and having clean water is crucial to everyone. This brings up a lot of questions for me, especially since access to using the water is privatized in some cases and water is also available to be bought in stores. I wonder about how there can be such an abundance of clean water in some places and yet a lack in others as well as the ethicality of monetizing water and the use of water? Since water is such an important part of life and survival as well as pleasure does that mean it should be assigned value or does that mean it should be treated like a shared natural resource?

– Kai

To answer the question, “Should the lake be public or private?”, I wrote in my journal “I think it should be public. The lake itself cannot be owned, so neither should the access.” This led to a conversation about public vs. private land and a lot of ideas I hadn’t thought about before changed my thinking. Management of the surrounding lands plays a big part in keeping the lake healthy. It’s really hard to take care of public places and access points because it’s not clear who is responsible for keeping them clean and managing them. Whereas private places may have less of an impact on the lake because the responsibility is very clear and it’s not over used or trashed. But there can also be another side of that. Public places can sometimes be wild and natural as nobody is grooming them. Whereas private places, the owner can decide to do whatever they want… I think both private and public land surrounding the lake is important although often complicated.

– Rosie
Somehow, the weather held…
…and allowed us to experience a different side of Burlington.
Early morning light frames a conversation with Judy Dow, whose ancestors have lived here for 10,000 years.
Judy’s family were the last tenant farmers on what we now call the Ethan Allen Homestead.
“Nothing is new,” Judy said. History is a spiral. 

In Acknowledging Our Land, by Judy Dow, she explains that it is very important to realize what the land gives us and we should take out time and get to know the land and be grateful for all that it provides for us. She wrote that some people saw acknowledging that land to be “politically correct”, or some people just feel that the land is theirs and they don’t have to be grateful for what it provides for them….Some people see the land as something they own and don’t have to respect or give back to. Judy Dow is showing that the relationship between you and the land should be a fair and equal collaboration. The land gives back and so should you. I think that this idea of a relationship is so important to understand because when you understand that the land and you are collaborating it will give you a sense of gratitude for the earth and all that she provides for us. 

I think that everyone should take the time and the care to really pay attention to the place that they are in. I think that this connects to a theme that we worked on in BCL and that’s paying attention to place. When people are preparing to perform a land acknowledgment they should pay careful attention to the place and the resources that the land provides and also the people that lived in that place before as well… 

– Lilia

One highlight from my journal was when we went to the Ethan Allen Homestead. It was when Amiee and Judy were talking about sterilization and eugenics. That was the first time I had learned of the word eugenics, even though it was a very important event. Then another question came to my head: Why isn’t this taught at school more often? [Maybe] whoever is in charge of the school system doesn’t want to teach us kids bad things about the United States’ past.That brings up a bigger question, how much of history is fabricated and hidden? 

– Yacin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s