After years of discussion and planning, Hildene is now incorporating our River Road Meadows and Battenkill wetlands into the everyday Hildene experience. For us to finally make this gorgeous and ecologically diverse part of the property available to the public as part of a unified whole is very exciting. Last year we brought our 80 acres of wetlands to life for our guests by constructing both a shoreline footpath and a 600' floating boardwalk. This year, we turn our attention to agriculture on the Meadows with gardens, sheep and chickens. Next year, we will likely add pigs and cattle. Together, the Meadows and Battenkill wetlands will add depth and interest to the Hildene experience, which will, in turn, provide educational opportunities and draw more guests to Hildene and The Shires. In the meantime, we bring back to life a long-ago working farm in the middle of Manchester.

Beyond this, we will add to the Meadows an overlay of sanctuary for bees and butterflies as well as ground-nesting songbirds. For a variety of reasons, bees, butterflies and songbirds are all under serious stress. We have both the opportunity and the obligation to help. We will plant trees, bushes and flowers to provide habitat and food source for pollinators. We have already set aside 20 acres of the Meadows for ground-nesting songbirds. The Mea dows will be a very special place focused on agricultural and ecological sustainability as well as education about the role we all play in the stewardship of those environments.


Advertisement

Finally, within the next couple of years we will have a deeply integrated high school program with students here virtually every day during the school year gaining real world experience focused on ecology, plant and soil science, animal husbandry, economics and sustainability.

Vermont is undergoing an agricultural renaissance. Both visitors and those of us who live here place a high value on an authentic Vermont. Agriculture is at the heart of that authenticity. We can contribute to the critical mass required for that renaissance to be sustainable and we can showcase best agricultural practices, just as we do now with our goat dairy and cheesemaking operation. Bringing the Meadows to their potential will be good for both Hildene and the community. Maintaining Hil dene's 412 acres and 14 historic buildings is a huge challenge. To date, we have never generated enough revenue to maintain all of our historic buildings and property. Because we are committed to keeping Hildene fully intact, it is critical that we put all our assets to work advancing our educational mission and generating sufficient income to take care of everything that is Hildene. And, the more successful we are, the more we do our part to help The Shires be as successful as it can be. Our contribution to that success matters a lot to us. Thank you.

Seth Bongartz is the president of Hildene.