By PHYL NEWBECK
When Kate Kelly returned to Vermont three years ago, she didn’t waste any time getting back to work helping the en-vironment. Kelly reunited with Jim Andrews at the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, joined the Hinesburg Con-servation Commission, and last fall was hired as the Program Coordinator for the Lewis Creek Association.
Kelly spent time working with Andrews while she was getting a degree in biology from Middlebury College. She left Vermont, got a masters in fisheries and wildlife at Virginia Tech, and worked for several years in Missouri. In 2016, she and her family moved to Hinesburg and she immediately rejoined Andrews, spending at least one day a week working for the Atlas, a project she describes as her passion.
“Reptiles and amphibians are a great vehicle for getting people involved,” she said. “You can get your hands on them and they have interesting habitat requirements. They need surrounding upland forests in addition to ponds or vernal pools.”
The Lewis Creek Association (LCA) is a non-profit that does sustainability and conservation work in towns including Charlotte, Hinesburg, and Shelburne.
“It’s really neat to be part of a group like this that is involved with so many different and important things including wa-ter quality and habitat conservation,” Kelly said. “It’s neat for me to branch out beyond my world of herpetology.”
Kelly is currently overseeing two programs. One is the South Chittenden River Watch, which does invasive species re-moval and monitors water quality at Town Farm Bay in Charlotte and Shelburne Bay. “We administer that group and train and coordinate volunteers,” Kelly said.
The second program is known as Head of the Storm.
“We try to get groups to have optimal conservation practices for stormwater management,” Kelly explained. “We want to get that managed in a way that will deal with future issues like climate change.”
LCA has been awarded two grants to do training for both board members and the greater community on the im-portance of storm water retention areas. The hope is that this will result in educational programs, particularly at Champlain Valley Union High School and Shelburne Community School. The LCA will improve the swale which is off the north parking lot at the high school and plant vegetation at the Shelburne parking lot to filter stormwater before it goes into the river.
“It will be interesting to get a lot of people aware of what is happening,” Kelly said.
In addition to the major projects, there are ongoing discussions about other educational events like a recent screening of the movie “Toxic Puzzle,” which discusses the health effects of blue-green algae. Kelly is hoping LCA will sponsor more presentations and is more than willing to lend her expertise.
Kelly, 39, also serves on the Hinesburg Conservation Commission, which recently applied for a grant to do a natural resources inventory that would be followed by a boots-on-the-ground effort. Kelly is hoping her enthusiasm will rub off on other community members who are interested in helping with that work and with invasive species removal.
“I love the work I do, getting outside and raising awareness of our little-known creatures,” she said. “I hope Vermont-ers who share my desire to protect the environment will reach out to learn more about what they can do in their own towns to protect natural habitats and water quality.”