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Below The Surface

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Leaving Water for Elephants

It has been nine years since I started at ECHO. It is the longest I have ever stayed at one institution. The work has been perhaps the most challenging, but it has been for an institution with a mission I believe in, I am passionate about and I will miss. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to make the Basin my home for the past nine years and ECHO my place of employment.

It's interesting to reflect on my tenure here.

George Little was here when I came on board. His presence was inspirational in terms of mission and integrity. George made us feel good about what we did. I admired and miss George. Sarah Muyskens was here in the beginning. Sarah made you feel like it all made sense and though perhaps your task seemed difficult, she knew you’d get it done, and you did. Buzz Hoehr was here in the beginning. His dedication to ECHO’s mission and the Lake was and still is contagious.



George Little with Sequoia Young who sold paper she made to raise money for ECHO


A few years later,
to impress upon our guests that our environmental impact wasn’t just in the Basin, it was global, we began exhibiting exotic frogs. We discovered few institutions kept Surinam toads because they are a difficult species to keep in captivity. We researched and developed a successful husbandry protocol. We brought in a dart frog that carried chytrid fungus into the collection. We learned how to treat and we eradicated the fungus. We developed husbandry protocols for Mossy Frogs and propagated them before many AZA zoos or aquariums were able to do so.





Young Vietnamese Mossy Frog.


On the facilities side, we learned about the world of weather studios and chromakey walls. We buried a beluga skeleton. We made a café guests could think about. We installed Native American artifacts throughout the building. In the world of temporary exhibits, ECHO invariably wowed exhibit owners by consistently demonstrating that two people in Burlington, Vermont could do the work of four or six in half the time. Thank you, Ben.

In the maintenance world at ECHO, there were enumerable projects that lead to dead ends for either Ben or myself, yet when we put our heads together, we were able to resolve what we individually could not. It was an amazing symbiosis that I can only hope to again encounter where next I go.

At ECHO, we created an animal care program that was a resource for the state and many other museums and science centers in New England. It stemmed from a belief that the stewardship responsibility we have for the Basin is the same responsibility we have for the captive collection. We owed it to the animal ambassadors we took out of the wild, to our guests, our volunteers and our staff. Those animal care staff I leave behind and those that have come and gone have done outstanding work. I will never forget the image of Tessa and Brian laboring to dropper feed tenths of milliliters of antibiotics to 38 baby softshell turtles: that’s dedication to animal care! Thank you Brian, Tessa, Q, Wyn, Stephanie, Rosie and Josh.

I will miss many of the animal ambassadors here at ECHO. When I first came on board, the fish collection lived in an 18’ diameter pool in the Moran plant. The pool needed a partition and it had to be built in the pool. I was snorkeling in the pool, zip tying partitions together. I turned my head to the side to look around and found the muskie inches from my mask. He looked at me. I looked at him. Neither of us moved so I went back to zip tying and he went back to watching me work. He became one of my favorite animals that day.

I came here to share stewardship. The softshell turtle head start program was the pinnacle of stewardship for the animal care department. I enjoyed sharing the program with our guests in daily demos. I had fun looking for and finding a spark of appreciation for wildlife that some folks had never thought much about before.

I have learned a lot about myself during my time at ECHO. It has helped me grow in ways I wanted to grow and in ways I was not aware of but needed to grow. It has had other benefits as well. Many years ago, before we were even on the waterfront, a woman, well versed in herpetology, applied for an animal care job when we were looking to hire a fish person. Later, after someone else left, we interviewed that same woman again. We had a fish person, we needed a herper. We offered her the job. She turned it down. I kept in touch with her through a little unknown ECHO kayaking club that was composed of a few folks including this woman. A few years later, I married her. Thank you ECHO and thank you Erin for our past and our future.

An opportunity has come up at an institution I have admired since its inception in 1995. It is an opportunity to go back to working with animals I have loved working with at four different institutions. I have accepted an offer to fill the position of Director of Elephant Husbandry at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. I was not looking for jobs, content as I was at ECHO, but Erin, my wonderful wife, my better half, said they needed me there when they posted job openings for a Director of Elephant Husbandry and a Director of Facilities Maintenance. The sanctuary provides a home for fourteen elephants on 2700 acres. They manage elephants in the type of environment where elephants should be kept and they care for elephants the way elephants should be cared for in captivity.

I am not eager to leave ECHO. I have great memories here. I will miss all of the wonderful people who worked here in the past and who work here now. A special thanks to Phelan for putting faith in me and allowing me an incredible amount of freedom to do what I thought needed to be done to manage the collection and the building.

I leave behind a great group of people with a wealth of knowledge and expertise; a group that strives to constantly do better, better this wonderful place known as ECHO, better ECHO’s efforts to better the Basin. Whoever comes on board as the new Director of Animal Care and Facilities will have a tremendous advantage by virtue of the incredibly proficient team they are inheriting.

On many occasions, on many evenings, at the end of the workday, I have been the last person to leave, and as I walked through the building in silence and solitude, I admired the building, the institution, it’s mission, it’s people, and the work and products those people created. I felt very fortunate, very proud to have been a part of it all. When I leave for the last time, the last night, it will be a very sad moment. My thanks to all the support I have always gotten from all the incredible staff at ECHO, from the dedicated and supportive board members, and my wife, Erin, for allowing me to dive into an aquatic life at ECHO and soon a mammoth life with pachyderms.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ECHO Summer 2011 Smart Grid Interns Say Goodbye!

As the Smart Grid Outreach Education interns, we have been working for the past few months to develop programs that build awareness about smart grid technology across Vermont. Although we would like to think our work has helped spread complete awareness about this topic to the boarders of Vermont and beyond, we realize that is a lot of work for one summer. So if you were wondering, the smart grid is the 21st century upgrade of the electrical grid. It utilizes digital communications technology to relay information between various parts of the grid. The smart grid communication network will enable better outage management and reduce the potential for large-scale blackouts. ‘Smart meters’ are part of the smart grid communication network and will replace your current electricity meters. These new meters can take power measurements and send them securely to you and your utility company. You can use the information collected by your smart meter to better manage and understand your electric use. Smart grid technology will also allow for better integration of solar, wind and other renewable resources into the electrical grid.

Wrapping up our time at ECHO, we hope that our guests have enjoyed the products of our work. We developed a display with informational panels about the smart grid as well as fun and interactive programs about peak power, the history of the electric grid, smart buildings, renewable energy, and power consumption, all in regards to the smart grid. We have had a wonderful time collaborating with the eEnergy Vermont Communications Working Group, Vermont’s utilities & transmission companies, renewable energy companies, consulting agencies, educational outreach programs, government agencies, technology companies and our guests. To all of our collaborators, sponsors and guests, we thank you. Your continued support, guidance and feedback made this project possible. We look forward to following the development and implementation of Smart Grid technology. Our display will remain present at ECHO for a few more weeks, so if you haven’t had the opportunity to make it down, we hope that you will have that chance before ECHOs next exciting exhibit comes alive.

Remember, you can have an impact. Smarter decisions regarding our electrical use will affect our future.

Very Sincerely,

Brianna Baker & Kristofor Sellstrom

(Photo left: Brianna, Linda Bowden & Kristofor. Photo right: Kristofor & Brianna)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Coming Home

It's so very nice to be back in BTV! After a number of years away from home, the most recent decade spent in Bennington, I've returned to the historic family farmstead in Williston. My wife and two young children are settled in nicely and enjoying the wonders of country living. I look forward to bringing my love for the Lake Champlain basin and my experience with strategic thinking and non-profit management to my role as Director of Development and Community Relations of ECHO.

Generations of my family have called Vermont home - most of them living within the Lake Champlain Basin. My grandparents' camp on Malletts Bay transformed the summers of my youth into one big lake adventure. Now my children are experiencing that same wonder. In preparing for our move from Bennington to Williston I found a pond yacht made by my grandfather at age 10. Over the winter I hope to restore the yacht so that we can return it to Lake Champlain in the spring.

This landscape - this lake - this basin, are intertwined with all of our lives and define what it means to live here. I am very happy to have a hand in supporting ECHO, this wonderful institution that is the voice, the educational gateway, to Lake Champlain.