A Picnic with SCA’s Founder

3 SCA Vermont State Park Interns Enjoy an Inspiring Lunch with Liz Titus Putnam

On a beautiful fall morning, Liz Putnam, her husband Bruce, colleague Gary King and I drive to Lake St. Catherine State Park in Poultney, VT to rendezvous with three SCA interns.  Vermont is Liz’s home state, the relationship with Vermont state parks is brand new, and Liz loves to hang with SCAs under any circumstance.

As we approach the town of Dorset (population: 2,031), we stop at a tiny country store to reload on caffeine.  A young guy spots the logo on my vest.  “Do you work for SCA?” he asks.  “As a matter of fact, I do,” I reply, “but you might prefer speaking with the woman who started the whole thing.”

He pivots comprehendingly to Liz and blurts “That’s you?  I just got back from my crew at Rocky Mountain National Park and it was the best summer of my life!”

For the next several minutes, shiny new SCA alumnus James Chandler and Liz exchange stories, impressions and, eventually, email addresses.  Only in Vermont.  Only with Liz.  She carries a bottomless jug of Grade A Karma everywhere she goes.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrive at Lake St. Catherine.  The park, like all other Vermont state parks, is closed for the season.  But interpretive interns Catherine “Cat” Cook, Nate Howard and Maura Lowrie are open for business, building relationships with local schools and communities from Lake St. Catherine, Lake Shaftsbury (in Liz’s hometown; see earlier karma reference) and DAR State Parks, respectively.

The interns, along with Maria Mayer and Rebecca Roy of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, are waiting and we quickly settle into a couple of adjoining picnic tables.  Cat, a Pennsylvania native, jokes that when she described the idyllic conditions of her park to her parents, they warned it must be a scam.  Nate shares details of some previous volunteer activities, stretching from Plum Island, MA to Panama.  Maura notes she segued into her current position from a long hitch with SCA’s Massachusetts AmeriCorps program.  Then the small talk gets big.

Liz discusses the launch of SCA – from Bernard DeVoto’s “Let’s Close the National Parks” to the Vassar senior thesis in which she originally envisioned an SCA and the first crews at Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in 1957 – before turning to climate change and other contemporary topics.  Liz’s passion is humming like a power plant and the interns waste no time in plugging in.

As environmental educators, Nate says “we have to build an ideology and pass it on.”  Maura states they have the ability to shape young lives, still astounded that “two kindergarteners wanted to interview me for a school project on community helpers.”

The conversation then turns to Vermont’s heroin epidemic as Cat notes so many young children have addicts as role models.  “One girl in my class proclaimed she wanted to be a scientist,” she says.  “I don’t know which kids will become the future scientists and which may fall into drug abuse, but that’s the exciting part.  We can provide important early direction!”

Suddenly, a loud splash comes from the lake.  All heads turn as an osprey makes off with an early lunch.  The talk resumes briefly until Rebecca points and says “he’ll have to compete with that bald eagle,” now in hot pursuit.

As the interns detail their outreach strategies – community service projects, informational brochures, natural history presentations – they turn to the many fairs coming up on the autumn calendar and realize they can get more bang for the efforts by joining forces rather than acting independently.  “Teamwork,” Liz stresses, “is the best way to accomplish anything!”

The clock strikes 12:00 and it’s time to go.  Lots of smiles, hugs and promises to stay in touch.  Liz, Bruce, Gary and I get back in the car.  As we turn south on Route 31, Liz says “Wouldn’t it be great to bring them all down to our place for lunch one weekend” and the rest of the drive consists of comparing calendars and weighing menus.