A Springfield woman who led efforts to clean up the Black River was presented the GMP-Zetterstrom Environmental Award at a State House ceremony Tuesday. Kelly Stettner, who founded the Black River Action Team, which celebrates, cleans up and protects the Black River in southeastern Vermont, was selected from eight nominees for the annual award, named for famed osprey advocate Meeri Zetterstrom. The award comes with $2,500 to continue BRAT’s work.
“Kelly’s spirit, determination and commitment to improve the Black River region inspired hundreds of people,” said Mary Powell, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power. “Through force of will and incredible optimism, Kelly built a broad coalition that collaborated to clean up the river. And her ongoing focus on environmental education and stewardship will help protect the river for generations to come.”
Stettner founded the Black River Action Team, which began annual river sweeps to clean up pollution in 2000. Just four volunteers helped out that first year, cleaning up just 100 feet of the river; hundreds of people now volunteer for BRAT, and help clean up miles of shoreline annually.
BRAT, which Stettner runs as a volunteer even as she works full time, created a nursery to grow plants for bank stabilization, collects thousands of printer cartridges for recycling to raise funds, operates a fishing line recycling program, cleans up after local parades, helps with fuel spill issues in the region, conducts monthly water sampling at 11 sites on the river, and manages an “Adopt a Swimming Hole” program.
Over the years, Stettner has facilitated collaboration with dozens of groups and agencies, ranging from the Ottauquechee Natural Resources Conservation District to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Nominator Jennifer Austin of Springfield compared Stettner to Zetterstrom, who led an effort to restore ospreys to Vermont through education, habitat protection and construction of artificial nesting platforms. Ospreys were removed from Vermont’s endangered species list in 2005. “She is a shining example of what is possible,” Austin wrote. “I think Kelly is like Meeri in many ways – remaining just as humble as she is passionate, diving into an issue, figuring out what needs doing and getting it done, and inspiring many others along the way.”
GMP Vice President Steve Costello, who worked on osprey restoration with Zetterstrom for more than a decade, also drew parallels. “Like Meeri, who was once a lone voice calling for work to protect ospreys, Kelly built a movement to improve the local environment,” Costello said. “Meeri and Kelly came at these issues without a traditional environmental background. Both women started with passion, and used that passion to learn everything they could to support their vision and inspire others.”
The award, first presented in 2010 shortly after Zetterstrom’s death, was created to honor her legacy and recognize others who follow her example. Past award recipients include Sally Laughlin, a leading wildlife advocate and scientist whose work was instrumental in restoring three species of endangered birds in Vermont; Michael Smith, the founder of Rutland’s Pine Hill Park; Margaret Fowle, who led Vermont’s peregrine falcon restoration program; and the Lake Champlain Committee, which for five decades has used science-based advocacy, education and collaboration to protect and improve Lake Champlain.
About Green Mountain Power
Green Mountain Power (www.greenmountainpower.com) generates, transmits, distributes and sells electricity in the state of Vermont. The company, which was named 2013 Utility of the Year by the Solar Electric Power Association and 2014 Solar Champion by Vote Solar, serves more than 250,000 customers and has set its vision to be the best small company in America.