Interview with Craig Whipple

Page by Oliver Scofield

Craig Whipple is the Director of Vermont State Parks in the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation

VT State Parks

For the purposes of these questions I am using the following definitions of ecological design and rewilding.

Ecological Design: Design that mimics or reproduces the networks, structures or processes found in natural environments and in turn brings these systems into human landscapes with the purpose of integrating human buildings with the natural world around them.

Rewilding: Returning land to a natural state as might have been found before major human disturbance (such as clear-cutting), generally with the focus of providing more habitat for wildlife.

1.     To what extent is ecological design a part of the state park system in Vermont? This could include current infrastructure, visions for the future, plans already in motion, beliefs, mission statements and the like.

Currently and into the future state parks will be incorporating shoreland protection concepts that mimic a more natural ecological system into both new projects and existing development on lake shores to a more limited extent. Shoreland vegetation will be retained as much as possible given the desire of humans to approach and recreate at the water’s edge. At some more traditional widely cleared and manicured beaches, vegetation will be established where practical to at least compensate for the cleared aspect of the shore to meet public desires. “Green infrastructure” is being considered in all development plans near water bodies to facilitate a more natural “treatment” of surface runoff. Frequently drainage culverts are being replaced with bridges over streams to better facilitate fish and other aquatic organisms passage.

2.     Same question but for rewilding.

That’s a tough one. Certainly our colleagues in the Department of Fish and Wildlife are actively taking steps to preserve wildlife corridors for major species through fee acquisition, easement acquisition and development permit condition. Our state parks are viewed as portals through which the public can approach and interact with the natural world and as such are “sacrifices” made to accomplish that end. Our belief is that encouraging and facilitating that interaction is necessary to build an appreciation and understanding which builds a constituency to support a culture and ethic of environmental literacy and protection. Our system of state forests are actively managed improve the health of the forest, provide wildlife habitat benefits, and to provide economic activity and opportunities for outdoor recreation. While there is belief in the value of human intervention, the department does steward set aside zones and natural areas where human intervention and activity are minimal to non-existent.

3.     How much do you focus on the wildlife in the parks and the interactions between visitors and the animals? Does wildlife ever take precedence over the visitors?

Our efforts to interpret the natural world to park visitors will often focus on wildlife in the area mostly due to our seemingly inherent curiosity and attraction.  It makes a good “hook” for inspirational messages. We encourage observation and understanding from a respectful distance. Black bears experiences in campgrounds are becoming an increasing concern. Steps are being taken to discourage bear/human interaction with education, trash management, etc. Certainly populations of Canada geese, skunks and raccoons in intensively used park areas are actively managed to prevent them from becoming a “nuisance”. In all these examples, humans “win out” in developed park areas. Having said that, recreational use is either minimized or completely restricted in certain sensitive habitat areas such as deer wintering grounds and bear feeding and travel corridors.

4.     Although Vermont is a state with relatively little public land, when compared to western states, what role do you think the parks play in shaping the way both residents and visitors think about Vermont as a state?

Because management of park, forest and other public lands in Vermont serves to set an example for the private landowners, the influence of our management has farther reaching consequences. Our state parks represent much of the common image and perception (brand) of Vermont. They are relatively small, authentic, uncluttered commercially, welcoming and managed in a practical, common sense manner. They are often seen as a valuable illustration of Vermont values.

5.     How much influence do practices in parks in other states, or national parks, have on how Vermont parks are managed?

State parks systems across the country are fairly well connected in common purpose but are all developed and managed somewhat differently. Although we often glean ideas from others, there is little “influence” from others. Similarly there is a collective relationship with national parks but due to a number of reasons, national park practices have very little influence on Vermont State Parks.

6.     Do you foresee a future that incorporates the concepts of eco design and rewilding into the parks to a greater degree than they are today?

Certainly eco-design but re-wilding (absence of human intervention) seems to me to represent a somewhat larger cultural leap for Vermont (total speculation on my part!!)

7.     Would you consider, or be able to, partner with organizations such as the Rewilding Institute ( to bring these practices more fully into the parks?


 Photo Credit: Ellen Snyder

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