Audubon to laud Ripton’s Warren King
RIPTON — Longtime Otter Creek Audubon Society (OCAS) member Warren King helped establish the group’s “Silver Feather Award” in 1995, bestowed each year to a county resident exhibiting “notable devotion, dedication, and untiring effort on behalf of the preservation and appreciation of the birds, other wildlife and natural communities of Addison County.”
King has fit that definition to a ‘T,’ but has been more than content to see the Silver Feather wing its way to such local environmental luminaries as Steve Parren, director of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program; former Middlebury Area Land Trust Executive Director Gioia Kuss; and Heidi Willis, president of the Addison County Riverwatch Collaborative Board.
Well, this is the year that King is finally going to receive the award he so richly deserves.
“I expected to receive it at some point in my life, and I wasn’t keen to receive it posthumously,” King, 79, said with his trademark gentle smile. “I am the ‘keeper of the Silver Feather,’ so it isn’t as if I have never seen one. I’m going to have to polish it. ”
Anyone who knows Warren King and his contributions to local, state and national environmental causes realizes that he’s an outstanding choice for the award that will be presented to him on Thursday, Nov. 10, in Middlebury. The Ripton resident’s resume is replete with evidence of his dedication. As a sampling, King:
• Has served on the Ripton Planning Commission since 1993, presiding as its chairman since 2002.
• Created the Ripton Conservation Commission in 1994, serving as its chair since this past summer.
• Started Ripton’s recycling program in 1990, serving as its coordinator ever since.
• Served as a Moosalamoo Association board member from its inception through 2004.
• Served as Ripton’s Green-Up Day coordinator since 1989 and its energy coordinator since 2008.
• Served as an Otter Creek River Watch water quality monitor since 1996.
• Conducted ruffed grouse and barred owl surveys for the U.S. Forest Service in Ripton and Goshen between 2000 and 2007.
• Served as a board member of the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy from 1996 to 2003 and 2010 to 2014.
• Has served as a plant conservation volunteer and rare plant monitor for the New England Wildflower Society since 2005.
• Continues to lead nature walks for Audubon and the Vermont Nature Conservancy.
King also participated on the Vermont Nature Conservancy Invasive Exotics SWAT Team, and had a brief career as a racecar driver, during which he won the 1961 Grand Prix of the Yukon, in Whitehorse in that Canadian province.
Current OCAS board President Ron Payne called King the “heart and soul” of the organization.
“I didn’t know who Warren was until I joined the board six years ago,” Payne said. “Meeting him and learning from him has probably been the best thing about joining. He’s a great educator. You’re always learning something from him.”
King moved to Vermont in 1989, but his familiarity with the state goes back much further. He joined the staff at Camp Keewaydin off Lake Dunmore in 1962, where his future spouse, Barry (Schultz), was working as a nurse. They both would become big parts of Keewaydin’s Environmental Education Center, which has helped generations of Addison County kids learn about nature and all its wonders.
Warren also organized and led — with the help of a Cree Indian guide — lengthy summer canoe trips from Lake Dunmore, into Quebec.
“I was just a kid, and he had more faith in me than I had in myself,” he said of former Keewaydin Associate Director Abbott Fenn, who authorized the canoe trips.
Fifty-two years later, those Keewaydin canoe trips are still a hit among campers. Those who rubbed shoulders with King at Keewaydin’s education center or on one of the canoe trips received a complete tutorial on the flora and fauna of the region, as well as memories to last a lifetime.
King has also made national contributions to environmental causes.
He served as executive assistant of the Smithsonian’s Institution’s International Council for Bird Preservation from 1971-1976, and chaired the U.S. section of the council from 1976-1985. During that time, he was in charge of drafting a second edition in 1981 of the council’s Bird Red Data Book, which inventoried the world’s endangered bird species.
His Smithsonian duties often took him far away from an office desk.
“I started out with (the Smithsonian) working on a seabird ecology project in the tropical Pacific,” King recalled. “I didn’t have anything better to do with my life and thought, ‘This is going to be great.’ I went to a lot of islands you can’t get to. It was among the most memorable times of my life.”
It at times meant stepping onto spits of land less than a mile long that nonetheless hosted hundreds of thousands of birds. King and his colleagues banded examples of the species they encountered. They’d creep up at night wearing head lamps to snag the birds, tag them, and release them.
But he spent most of his time doing studies of birds at sea, which meant getting up on the bridge of a ship and making observations from dawn until dark, every day. He and his mates canvassed the waters around Hawaii, south to Phoenix Island and Christmas Island.
“I’ve always been intrigued by rarity, especially with birds, but in the last 12 years, with plants,” King said. “I’ve worked as a plant conservation volunteer, and have enjoyed that immensely. The nice thing for me is that you can do it in your own time and in your own community.”
He has been tracking two rare species for the New England Wildflower Society. The first is a crop of Jacob’s Ladder, a plant that produces cup-shaped, lavender-colored or white flowers. King has found examples of Jacob’s Ladder growing in parts of Ripton, Lincoln and South Starksboro. The other rare species he is monitoring, in Salisbury, is Large Whorled Pagonia. It is an orchid, with yellowish-green flowers.
King makes regular jaunts to check on the health and spread of his horticultural charges, and reports on their progress.
He’s happy to be taking on environmental assignments in his own backyard.
“As my life has moved on, I’ve gotten more and more local in my involvements,” King said. “When I started, it was the world. Year by year, the world has shrunk down to Vermont, then Addison County and, to a large extent, Ripton.”
He gives credit to his colleagues on the OCAS board for being dedicated to their collective mission.
“I’m terribly impressed with the Otter Creek Audubon board, as it is presently,” King said. “I have never been on a board that is as productive and so willing to agree to do things.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].