Spirit in Nature to honor conservation ecologist Marc Lapin

MIDDLEBURY — On Sunday, Feb. 19, at 4 p.m. the local nonprofit group, Spirit in Nature, will hold its annual meeting in the downstairs conference room at Ilsley Library. All are welcome. Refreshments will be served.
Spirit in Nature maintains a series of forest paths along Goshen Road in Ripton with quotations on trees that highlight how different and diverse religions and spiritual traditions converge around their view of nature.
The project was conceived in 1997 following the Dalai Lama’s visit to Middlebury College, where he gave the keynote speech at a conference titled “Spirit and Nature.” A group of local folk who attended the conference were inspired to take some action and the Spirit in Nature project was the result.
Spirit in Nature is located on land belonging to Middlebury College. The volunteer organizers of the project — with the help of local faith groups — developed the series of trails (paths) on both sides of Goshen Road. There are Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Unitarian, Quaker, Islam, Druid paths and more.
Eight of the paths are off the parking lot on the east side of Goshen Road, with five more paths on the west side along Goshen Brook. The South Branch of the Middlebury River and Beaver Brook also run through the path network. An “Interfaith/Peace” Path runs around the perimeter of the east side-trails and the eastern boundary of the project abuts the Robert Frost Trails accessed off Highway 125.
Many locals regularly use the paths and the welcome book in the kiosk off the parking lot records visits from all over the world. Many people see the signs along the Highway 125 — “Spirit in Nature: Interfaith Nature Paths, 0.4 mi.” — and turn up Goshen Road to discover what that might be! The Spirit in Nature Board maintains the trails and ongoing expenses for the project — printing brochures, insurance, plowing, etc. — are met by donations, either in the ‘honesty box’ at the trailhead or sent in by mail.
Each year at the annual meeting, Spirit in Nature presents its Eco-Spirit Award to someone who has made a major contribution to caring for our planet. Bill McKibben was the first recipient in 2001. Last year, for the first time, the award went to an organization, not an individual: the “Sunday Night Group” from Middlebury College that has taken many actions over it’s ten year history including pressuring the College to pledge to become carbon neutral.
A special posthumous award was also given last year to Alexandra Wylie, who though her work at the Vermont Land Trust conserved several hundred farms and hundreds of thousands of agricultural acres in Vermont.
This year the award will go to Conservation Ecologist Marc Lapin, Middlebury College Associate in Science Instruction in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. Lapin’s major interest is human interaction with nature and how various approaches or views of nature affect the ecology. Most of his teaching is outside at onsite locations and he stresses the practical applications of the students’ learning. He inquires of his students how they know nature and how they would treat it.
Lapin also consults as a conservation ecologist with such groups as Vermont Family Forests, The Watershed Center Middlebury College and private individuals wanting to be better stewards of their land. David Brynn, 2012 Eco-Spirit Award winner, will introduce Lapin and present the award. Brynn is a former Addison County Forester and currently an instructor at the Rubinstein School of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. Lapin will offer brief remarks.

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