Environmental Groups Honor Patrick Leahy’s Contributions to Vermont’s Natural Landscape

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U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who is retiring at the end of his term, is honored for his environmental work by the Vermont Natural Resources Council during an event at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne on Thursday, October 6. Photo by Glenn Russell/ VTDigger

SHELBURNE — In front of a crowd of about 400 conservationists, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., recalled how he upsets Midwestern senators when he slipped Lake Champlain onto the list of Great Lakes, a designation that lasted less than a month.

The crowd laughed and cheered.

“I’ve had grief from other people across the country,” he said.

Speakers at the event — held to honor the outgoing senior senator’s contributions to the environment — praised Leahy’s willingness to bring outsized dollars and ideas to his small home state and to bring the ideas of Vermonters to Washington. Leahy is expected to retire in January, after 48 years in office.

Banners hung behind the podium, each with individual sheets of paper listing areas that had been conserved or laws that had been passed with Leahy’s help – the Green River Reservoir, Glastonbury Wilderness Area, the Vermont Wilderness Act of 2006, the Upper Connecticut River Partnership Act.

The country’s national organic program was initially rejected by the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who told the Vermont senator, “It’s a crunchy granola thing,” Leahy recounted.

After the president retired, Leahy took over “and we adopted him,” he said. “This crunchy granola program is a $60 billion industry.”

US Senator Patrick Leahy receives a hug from former staffer Maggie Gendron. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“To list the many significant places that have been protected through funding or legislation initiated by Senator Leahy would take longer than even you have the stamina to listen,” Gaye Symington, a former president of Vermont House.

She named two that she considered particularly impactful: the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park, home to the Conservation Institute, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program, which awarded more than $8 million in 1 300 local grants and funded over 80 research and demonstration projects. since 1992, she says.

Candace Page, veteran journalist for the Burlington Free Press and today consulting editor for Seven dayssaid she met Leahy before she became a journalist and he became a senator.

First a Chittenden County prosecutor, Leahy wasn’t always known for his environmental work, Page said.

“Vermonters knew Pat as the guy who prosecuted murders, fought drug crimes, and made national headlines with his memo to Vermont police departments on the ugly problem of what to do with hippies. skinny that offended the tender sensibilities of some Vermonters,” she said. “He told them to find a better way to spend their time.”

As a reporter, she said, she and Leahy approached “with a degree of wariness and skepticism.”

“Today I am here, as I believe you are, to extend my sincerest thanks to the senator, not only on behalf of the state I love, but on behalf of the planet,” said she declared.

Leahy said he took ideas born in Vermont to Washington, like the Forest Legacy Program and the Community forestry program.

“The idea came from all of you here in Vermont, and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to bring these ideas to the rest of the country,” he said.

He concluded his speech by saying that he and his wife, Marcelle, are looking forward to stationing themselves permanently in Vermont, and said he would be there to help the next group of leaders.

“And that is a big lake,” he said.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy speaks as he is honored for his environmental work by the Vermont Natural Resources Council during an event at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne on Thursday, October 6. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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