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By Jessie Forand/ECHO  Robert Fischer, Water Quality Superintendent for the South Burlington W...

Water Quality Day 2016

By Jessie Forand/ECHO 

Robert Fischer, Water Quality Superintendent for the South Burlington Water Quality Department, holds samples of water taken before (right) and after entering the Airport Parkway treatment facility. (Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO) 

As he walked local leaders through his facility, Bob Fischer, superintendent of the City of South Burlington Water Quality Department on Airport Parkway said, “This is the most expensive thing in town.”

Despite the fact water treatment is the greatest expense for a South Burlington resident, many have never visited the facility to really see what happens.

Fischer’s group tour was part of the Water Quality Day celebration Friday in Vermont, as declared by Governor Peter Shumlin earlier this year. A few dozen third graders were set to stop by later for an inside look.

The Airport Parkway Water Quality Facility in South Burlington was one of 10 facilities of its kind to lead tours.

Fischer offered information as they about a dozen tour-goers followed him through the expansive facility. For example, the water put out at Airport Parkway is in fact much cleaner than that of the Winooski River, which flows nearby.

“We are the boots-on-the-ground environmentalists,” Fischer said, a dedicated crew who takes clean water and the health of Vermont that stems from it very seriously.

Robert Fischer shows off bio solids created at the Airport Parkway Water Quality Facility.
(Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO) 
While Fischer explained that water treatment is one of the most energy-intensive elements of any municipality, the South Burlington plant goes to great lengths to keep usage down.  While on the tour, the digester building was actually producing an incredible 40 kilowatts of energy.

A methane-powered turbine and a $28 million upgrade in 2011 has helped significantly and the facility now spends less on its operating budget as a result. Class A bio solids are captured, meaning those materials can be used by local agriculture partners instead of ending up in the Coventry landfill.

As he walked through rooms containing “a lot of very expensive things,” Fischer explained 99.8 percent of materials flowing in to the plant are simply water – from showers, homes’ use, and so on.

Once the water has arrived, the solids are separated and bacteria, aerobic and anaerobic, goes to work in the live facility; it’s really an ecosystem in itself.

Fischer imparted some important lessons during his tour – included a tale of baby wipes that didn’t end well. Long story short… don’t do it. Ever. Baby wipes and other cleaning wipes are not intended to be flushed and doing so causes environmental problems and backups, plus could plug a house’s septic system and prove costly.

“When it doubt, toss it out,” he said.

Tours of the facility are available to the public. To learn more about what is happening in your community, contact Robert Fischer in South Burlington or your local water quality department.  

A plane flies overhead during a tour of the Airport Parkway Water Quality Facility in South Burlington Friday, May 27. (Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO)

By Jessie Forand/ECHO On Wednesday ECHO STEM Education Coordinator Chris Whitaker and a group...

Photo Essay - A trip to Conant Metal and Light

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

On Wednesday ECHO STEM Education Coordinator Chris Whitaker and a group of students from Burlington High School ventured to Burlington's South End to Conant Metal and Light.

The well-known maker space is the starting point for custom works of all sizes, repairs, and more. A giant rhinoceros seeming to have poked its head through the wall marks the spot.

This particular journey allowed the students, in greats 9-12 continue their work with Whitaker for an end-of-the-year project, in which they too will become "makers." Conant and Tyler Vendituoli, a custom designer and maker at the store, explained how inspiration strikes and the ways in which they create tangible pieces from abstract ideas.

 Follow along on the trip, with photos from ECHO's Jessie Forand:

By Bianca Roa           At ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, don’t expect to fin...

A Day in the Life of Animal Care

By Bianca Roa


At ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, don’t expect to find Jennifer Dean easily. She could be anywhere in the building. Running from one task to another, helping volunteers, talking to guests about the animals in her care.  

Dean has been a big part of the animal care team for the last couple of years. Her title as an Environmental Exhibit Specialist does not come close to encompassing the full extent of her contributions to ECHO. The list of tasks she keeps on any given day spans from turning on the facility's technology elements to moving ten-foot driftwood for the animals’ “furniture.” Among the most important is educating visitors of all ages about the animals.

Daily public programs allow Dean to give individual animals their time to shine. Among her favorites for these demonstrations are Winston the black rat snake and Elizabeth the American eel. She connects with these animals because they have big personalities. They don’t talk to her, but they tell her things with their behavior.


“One of the great things about working with these animals is that they are here to be appreciated,” says Dean. The guests love interacting with the hundreds of animals on site. However that means she must care for them and also advocate for them. She stressed that the animals for may be entertaining, but they aren’t here purely for our entertainment.

During the day, Dean recalled advice from her grandmother, who owned a Morgan horse farm. “You work with animals, you don’t make them do what you want them to do,” she says. Its obvious how this guides the work that she does with ECHO’s animals.

Her grandmother and the rest of her big family shaped her passion for this industry. They lived the farm lifestyle and everyone had animals of some kind. 

So why did she choose marine science?

Her parents unintentionally steered her towards the creatures of the ocean. Dean credited her career to their numerous Florida trips. For several years Dean’s family would make the trek for her parents’ anniversary. There she and her brother fished, snorkeled, and scuba dived. She fell in love with the water and everything in it.


Dean’s dedication and passion for animal care is abundantly clear. She is an animal lover through and through, and the list of her animals at home proves it. Beaumont the 12-year-old Boston Terrier that she’s had since he was a puppy. Two sugar gliders she has rescued. A stray cat and her new litter of kittens, not to mentioned the other strays that she regularly feeds.

Despite all the effort that goes into caring for these animals, Dean wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels incredibly rewarding to her. 

“They don’t have a bad day and take it out on people,” she explains. “They seem to have an overall good day and good attitude.” 

And it goes even farther than that for Dean - animals connect her and everyone else they encounter with nature. “Animals give people a reason to appreciate and care,” she says.


All of those passions come together perfectly on her favorite day of the year: the spiny softshell turtle release. That sense of community is infectious. She appreciates how “ECHO employees, guests, and the Fish and Wildlife rally together for these little turtles.”

These turtles hatch so late in the year that many wouldn’t have survived. The program is close to her heart because it gives them a chance they might not of had otherwise.”It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end,” Dean said. She even jokes that if it were a movie, “It would be one of those feel-good movies on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel.”

Jokes aside, Dean believes in the work she is doing. She admitted that working in the field of animal care can be hard, but their efforts allow animals that cannot go back into the wild a purpose. Through education programs and relocation exclusively between science centers

“What is nice about this industry is that we do a lot of swapping, that way animals that cannot go back into the wild can still have a life that does education," she said. "We also don’t sell them so we can guarantee that the animals will have a good life.” With that attitude, the animals are in good hands.

By Jessie Forand/ECHO Joshua Benes, a research technician for the  UVM Rubenstein School ,  U...

Seeing Mercury in Transit

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

Joshua Benes, a research technician for the UVM Rubenstein SchoolUniversity of Vermont, set up camp in Hoehl Park on May 9, 2016, to watch as Mercury made a rare transit around the sun. The planet makes this move just 13 times per century, Benes said.
With a picnic blanket laid out, offering cake to the about 20 curious passersby who stopped to inquire, Benes gazed into his telescope every few minutes, patiently waiting in between looks for clouds to pass.

Benes began his dive into the astronomy world in 2003, when he got his telescope and witnessed the transit of Venus in 2004. When Venus made the journey again in 2012, he organized a watch event.
Seeing these incredible sights puts the size of the universe into perspective, Benes said, and gets him thinking about the larger makeup of the solar system.

By Brendon Johnson/ECHO Spring camp season kicked off at ECHO last week with Wild Weather, pro...

A Day at Wild Weather Camp

By Brendon Johnson/ECHO

Spring camp season kicked off at ECHO last week with Wild Weather, proving to be one of the science center’s most exciting times of the year. Each day children tackled a different hands-on activities that explored the wacky world of weather.

The five days of camp brought unique themes to participants, including Monday’s “On Cloud 9,” an exploration of what clouds are made of and how they are made. Tuesday featured “Make it Rain,” where students created rain sticks and learned about the rain cycle while experimenting with ECHO’s stream table. Wednesday was all about one of the prettiest parts of weather “Over the Rainbow” an exploration of the science of rainbows and color. Thursday was  “Kick Up a Storm,” a lesson about how storms are created. The week wrapped up with “Tornado Alley,” an investigation into the awesome, powerful, and magnificent forces of nature.

Sitting down to shadow a day of this camp was an incredible scientific journey. The day’s lesson was “Over the Rainbow” and it started like all days do, with a group circle. The lesson was led by ECHO’s STEM Education Coordinator Chris Whitaker, who brought his pure sense of dedication and love of science to this group of about ten students in grades K-5.  

In group circle Whitaker spoke about the colors of the rainbow and how humans see color. Music was incorporated into the lesson in the form of “ROY G. BIV,” a song by alternative rockers They Might Be Giants. This song captured the campers’ attention and focused their energy on learning and discussing color and rainbows.

After a brief lesson by Whitaker it was time to move to something more hands-on, and the lights in the room flipped off. The kids were given used CDs, and flashlights were passed around. They were about to examine how white light reflects into the colors seen in a rainbow. The room was illuminated with color as campers reflected their lights around the room. Whitaker then posed the question to students: now that they saw light turn into color, is it possible to turn it back?

This was the introduction into the morning's first activity, the creation of color wheels, which,  when spun, would make the rainbow circles on them appear as white again. This involved campers coloring the colors of the rainbow on white plates and attaching them to a string. As they manually started to spin them they could see the changes start to occur, not quite to the effect that Whitaker intended.

Whitaker brought the activity one step further. Not quite satisfied with only “kind of” being able to see the color wheels turn to white as they spun, he broke out his drill. With a little bit of tape, sticks, and creativity he rigged it onto his drill to really be able to show the kids the transformation for the colors as it spun on the automated motor of the drill.

Between science activities, the students had the chance to burn some pent-up energy with outdoor activities in the park before they returned to ECHO for an exploration of the museum itself.

When the second science activity rolled around, Whitaker set out to uncover why the colors seen in rainbows were muted. Whitaker tasked the kids with engaging some of their engineering skills to make their own bubble wands using straws, connectors, and pipe cleaners. They were challenged to use their creativity and create a wand that was more than the traditional circle wand or even one that could create multiple bubbles. After about 15 minutes, there was a huge spectrum of different bubble wants of different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs that were created. It was time to finally put them to the test.

The campers all lined up and headed outside once again, bubble wands in hand ready to test their new creations. The testing took place at Hoehl Park and one by one the kids dipped their bubble wand in the secret bubble solution. It was a windy day so half of the work was done for them. As soon as they lifted their bubble wands the wind took the almost instantly filled the park with bubbles of varying shapes and sizes. After each child got to try out their bubble wand it started to become a game of who could pop the most bubbles after they were created.
As soon as the bubble activity was over, it was time to burn off some of that extra energy before the end of the day by playing some lawn games. Campers began to play dodgeball in the park while others took a more quiet choice of reading about some of the naval history of Lake Champlain on some the monument at Hoehl Park. Another busy day at camp has come to a close.

By Bianca Roa/ECHO The annual migration of amphibians has just begun! Every year around the en...

Watch Out! Amphibians On the Move!

By Bianca Roa/ECHO

The annual migration of amphibians has just begun! Every year around the end of March through April, amphibians like the yellow spotted salamander and the wood frog move from land to water systems. For millions of years the spring-breeding animals make the journey to wetlands in order to lay their eggs.

According to National Park Service, most stay close to ponds and swamps going only as far as a half-mile to make the commute back in the spring shorter. Unfortunately however some of those paths back to water require these little guys to cross roads. Though they travel under the cover of night and there is less traffic, the long stretch of asphalt can be daunting to the small creatures!

In Addison County, there have been volunteer efforts that have created bridges for these migrating amphibians to move safely across the Monkton Road. Hundreds of salamanders and frogs now have a higher chance of survival, as opposed to the 50% mortality rate estimated by Vermont amphibian expert Jim Andrews of Salisbury. Bridges like these are making a significant impact on keeping these animals from disappearing from the area.

So please keep an eye out, ECHO community, and help these amphibians make their journey safely! If you would like to read more about the Monkton bridges, check out this article from the Addison Independent. Or you can check out the University of Connecticut's Amphibian Tracker to know if you live near any prime migration areas.

Brendon Johnson/ECHO As we mentioned in our podcast this week (check it out below) there have been...

Amazing Keva Plank Creations

Brendon Johnson/ECHO

As we mentioned in our podcast this week (check it out below) there have been some pretty amazing creations from Keva Blocks here at ECHO. Below are just a few of the amazing ones that we have seen. Want to try your hand at building something amazing? Stop by ECHO and make sure to share your creation with us, we would love to see them!

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