Green belt initiative

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(HOST)Throughout Vermont, there are conservation groups doing the good work of keeping Vermont green. Commentator Tom Slayton recently met with members of one such group near Shelburne.

(SLAYTON) Driving down Route 7 with a land-use planner can make you see things anew.

For example, Route 7 north of Shelburne is quite obviously commerceland – a busy hghway banked on both sides by strip development. You can tell you’re in Vermont by reading the road signs, but actually, you could be just about anywhere.

However, south of the busy little village of Shelburne, the landscape begins to open up. Broad green fields roll away toward distant mountains, and the sky seems somehow bigger. Then you top a hill and get a glimpse of Lake Champlain, locked between forested hills, shimmering under that big sky. Suddenly, you’re back in Vermont.

I took a ride down Route 7 last week with members of the Champlain Valley Greenbelt Alliance. It’s a conservation group that has worked for six years to preserve the open views along Route 7. Although small in numbers, they have been large in impact. Despite considerable commercial pressure, the Greenbelt Alliance has kept several key vistas open – thus preserving the character of a slice of the state along one of Vermont’s most traveled roads – more than three million vehicles per year.

Kate Lampton, Executive Director of the Greenbelt Alliance, pointed out how the character of the road changed from moment to moment as we drove south – from a forested tunnel to dramatic views, to scattered houses and suburban lots to village, and so on. The special skill of the Greenbelt Alliance is analyzing those uses, finding what makes the landscape work – and then suggesting ways to protect it.

Sometimes the preservation of one ten-acre parcel of land in the foreground can save the integrity of ten thousand acres worth of view in the background. As when the Alliance kept a small slice of roadside farmland in Charlotte undeveloped, thus leaving open a huge view of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks.

Our ride continued. The car climbed a hill south of New Haven Junction and we watched green fields roll away toward the massive blue mountains surrounding Bristol Notch. Mount Abraham rose above everything far in the distance. It’s hard to put a value on such views – easy to think of land as real estate only.

Greenbelt Alliance members do not agree: “Beauty is one of the things we have to hold onto in our busy lives,” said Eileen Growald, a founder of the organization. “It restores our souls and gives us a sense of peace,” she said.

Prosaically, scenic beauty is one of the things that make Vermont unique. It is therefore an important part of our tourist economy. But more importantly, views like those along Route 7 help define the Vermont spirit.

` Vermont’s rural landscape, one of the most beautiful in the world, has the power to soothe and heal. In a world all too often wracked by conflict and violence, the rolling fields and green hills of Vermont express the essential harmony that is at the core of nature and human life.

Which is why the fight to preserve that landscape is important, and will continue.

Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.

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