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1998-2007

Mary Lou Goes to Montpelier (3/00)

MARY LOU RECOR

Mary Lou Recor is more likely to be found on the trail than in Montpelier. The Burlington Section President describes a new experience: her first visit to a State Senate hearing!

My car was the only one parked directly in front of the state house, and I wondered if I had the wrong date.

Where were the throngs of environmentalists, ATV riders, and snowmobilers all vying for a say in how state land is used? I looked for the Pavilion where Senator Ready and the Natural Resources Committee were holding a public hearing. Passing it three times without seeing any activity, I headed downtown in search of a hot chocolate.

 

Mary Lou's Speaking Hints

My first brush with the workings of state government taught me valuable lessons about speaking before a senate committee.

1. Arrive early and sign in near the top of the list so you'll speak while everyone is still awake.

2. Make enough copies of your remarks so each committee member gets one.

3. Speak up, be brief, be original, and, if at all possible, be funny.

MARY LOU RECOR

At 7 PM I sat midway down the center aisle of the auditorium where I could watch the proceedings from a safe distance, yet still be close enough to hear. Anyone planning to testify was directed to sign on a clipboard at the front of the room.

A group of sweat-shirted, middle-aged men and women occupied almost the entire second row from the front. They were members of Good Sam, an organization dedicated to seeing America from the window of a recreational vehicle, the Winnebago crowd. As Senator Ready called their names to testify, each spoke of a need for more facilities at state-run campgrounds, i.e., more water, electric, and waste hookups. One woman explained how as she got older, she moved out of a pup tent to a pop-up to a fifth wheel and she needed more in the way of amenities. I think she was younger than I. Most read prepared statements, rattling off statistics on the number of fifth wheelers who vacation in Vermont and the millions of dollars in revenue they bring to the state each season.

Then came the snowmobilers. They were sprinkled throughout the audience in twos and threes and sported shirts and jackets with names like Snobees and Arctic Cat emblazoned across the back. Each speaker testified to the extensive use of currently available trails and the need for more. One woman cited Groton State Forest as a place where the primary winter recreational use was by snowmobilers. This came as a surprise to the snowshoers and cross country skiers in the audience.

A man from the Northeast Kingdom claimed hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling as traditional uses of the newly acquired Champion lands, activities he felt should continue. Like the RVers, the snowmobilers talked about the cash they bring to the state each season.

Finally, the low impact advocates had their say. As a group, they were younger, thinner than the other two, and mostly women. They didnt have much quarrel with the RVers but objected to extensive snowmobile riding on state land. One cited the damage to trees and vegetation caused by fumes from the two-stroke engine. Another complained of the noise and pointed out that snowmobiling is enjoyable only for the person riding the machine.

Matt Moore of the GMC spoke about the long history of cooperation between the state and the GMC and the desire for that to continue. Two women from a Vermont equestrian club requested more horse trails across specific parcels of state land linking up with already existing trails. Senator Ready seemed to really like them.

By 8:30 I realized I was no longer listening to the speakers. My mind was numb with hearing so much similar testimony, and I wondered if the members of the committee felt the same. Half the audience had left, but I determined to stick it out to the end. I pitied those who were last on the speaking list and was glad I was not among them. When the hearing ended at 9:30, I was ready to go home.