2016 NRCM People’s Choice Award
We want to thank all of you who nominated someone for this year’s NRCM’s People’s Choice Award. We received more than 20 nominations, and narrowing the list down to five was not easy. We want to thank all of the nominees for their dedication and hard work to protect Maine’s air, land, water, and wildlife. You all are doing such great things to keep Maine special.
Below is the list of the 2016 People’s Choice Award finalists. We announced the People’s Choice Award winner and present her with this very special award for extraordinary service at our Conservation Leadership Awards event on Wednesday, September 14.
People’s Choice Finalists (alphabetical order):
Penny Asherman, Cumberland Center
Nominated by Eileen Wyatt
Penny was the driving force for the Town of Cumberland’s access to Knight’s Pond and the Payson Access off Route 88. Penny, President of the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust, led the Land Trust in outlining what the residents of Cumberland needed to do to maintain these two properties for future generations to enjoy. One of the roadblocks in the Knight’s Pond access was Governor LePage’s refusal to release Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) bond money that Maine voters had overwhelmingly approved, money that was to be used to finalize purchase of these parcels. Penny spoke out at news conferences on more than one occasion to call on the governor to release the funds so that the Knight’s Pond property could be purchased rather than being put on the market and potentially sold for development. Last fall, the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust, under Penny’s leadership, along with the Royal River Conservation Trust, worked to finalize protection of the Knight’s Pond parcel so that this land will be available for everyone to enjoy for generations to come.
Gary Friedmann, Bar Harbor
Nominated by Ruth Poland and Jennifer Albee
Gary is leading efforts on Mount Desert Island to reach the goal of energy independence for Mount Dessert Island (MDI) by 2030. He helped create a new grassroots organization, A Climate To Thrive (ACTT), in January 2016, with more than 200 residents of the island in attendance at their kick-off event. Their summer event in July included a keynote address by Senator Angus King. Gary is very involved in A Climate To Thrive’s six initiatives, and pushed ACTT to hire two part-time staff members. Gary was able to fundraise for both positions through grants, sponsorships, and a crowdfunding campaign that exceeded the goal, showing strong local support for continued efforts on climate change. Recently, Gary also helped Bar Harbor create a municipal solar farm—the first-ever community solar farm on town property. He was Chair of the Bar Harbor Conservation Commission for 12 years, and he is currently the Treasurer of Friends of Baxter State Park. Gary has taught a course focused on Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, through Acadia Senior College, and has been involved in the SolarizeMDI campaign. Gary’s unstoppable energy is moving MDI toward a brighter future.
Peter Garrett, Winslow
Nominated by Linda Woods and Richard Flanagan
It is widely known among people in the Waterville area that Peter Garrett is responsible for the area’s wonderful hiking trails. Prior to Peter’s leadership in the creation of the Kennebec Messalonskee trails, there were no walking trails in the area. Now there are 40 miles of trails, with more coming once the Confluence Trail is complete. “It is an exemplary effort, bringing people into natural settings in or near their communities.” Peter also spent 10 years negotiating with landowners to get their permission for the Benton Connector Trail. Peter is an avid biker and strong advocate for bike/pedestrian safety; he was involved in drafting a Complete Streets policy for the City of Waterville. Peter is a member of the Active Communities Environment Team, a volunteer with Sustain MidMaine’s energy team, including their Solarize MidMaine Project, and he manages their WindowDressers campaign to help people reduce energy loss through old, drafty windows in their homes. Peter testifies on climate change legislation at the state level, and he has made several trips to Washington, DC, to present petitions and letters to Maine’s Congressional delegation as the area’s leader for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Leda Beth Gray, Blue Hill
Nominated by Anne Smallidge
Leda Beth was drawn to a life of environmental action by her great love of science and bird watching. As her interest and skill as a birder grew, she became acutely aware of the loss of wildlife habitat that was associated with rapid, poorly planned development and uninformed land use. When she moved to Blue Hill, she immediately became an active member of the Downeast Audubon chapter, NRCM, and Blue Hill Heritage Trust, and supports the Island Heritage Trust. She conducts bird surveys at Acadia National Park, and also does an annual breeding bird survey in Eastbrook there for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, gathering critical data that allows scientists to track the health of many local bird species. Some favorite annual activities in which Leda Beth participates include the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, helping salamanders cross the road in the spring, and bumblebee surveys for the Maine Bumblebee Atlas. She manages a large bluebird nest box array in Sedgwick; more than 100 swallows and bluebirds have fledged from the 13 boxes she monitors—she has likely photographed each one! Leda Beth is very concerned about the threats to natural ecosystems caused by climate-changing pollution. She does her part to reduce carbon emissions by purchasing local and recycled products, local foods (following a strict vegan lifestyle), not using a clothes dryer, and she and her husband installed a large solar array on her garage roof. She also drives a hybrid car. “Leda Beth is a conservationist who practices what she preaches, stays up on the latest science, supports environmental organizations that provide a strong voice for wildlife, and, for the most part, has a great time doing it all.”
The Larouche family of Old Town was this year’s People’s Choice Award recipient
Nominated by Dick Andren, Dixmont
Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Old Town consists of more than 2,400 acres of conserved open space acquired parcel by parcel over many years by the late Oliver Larouche. Originally a three-acre camp on Pushaw Stream purchased by Oliver’s parents, the parcel has since blossomed into one of the largest privately owned wildlife refuges in Maine. In 1983 the Larouche family deeded the land, in trust, to the University of Maine. A trust fund was established by family and friends that is responsible for maintaining the Refuge. Oliver Larouche, his wife June, and three of his brothers and their families have been active trustees for decades. Oliver’s niece, Stephanie Larouche, chairs the board at this time. Stephanie’s daughter, an archeologist, works with the board and volunteers at Hirundo’s archeology site, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places. This site is a prehistoric Native American habitation indicating settlement for the last 5,000 years.When Stephanie became board chair nine years ago, she decided that the need for environmental education was so great that Hirundo should change its mission from wildlife rehabilitation and passive recreation to an active educational facility. Using funds from the trust, donations, memberships, and grants, a full-time employee was hired to guide programs and institutional development. Presently there is a full range of programs and activities for the public and the schools occurring on a nearly weekly basis. Off-site programs serve central Maine communities. Hirundo maintains more than seven miles of trails, many with interpretive signage. Several canoes are available for use on Pushaw Stream by reservation, free of charge. Universal access trails are in the planning stages with the aid of the National Park Service. For decades, UMaine professors have used the property for research and student projects. The Larouche family’s foresight has led to the formation of an organization integral to environmental education in the central Maine area.
The nominations do not represent endorsement by NRCM of any particular environmental position, strategy, or viewpoint.