Vermont Law School offers a one-of-a-kind Masters of Environmental Law degree. The 12-month program focuses intense study in the specific areas related to the environment through varied law school classes. A class of 40 students will arrive next fall to the growing program. Hopefully, our daughter Kelly will be one of those selected later this year to enroll in the fall of 2012 after her graduation from Washburn University.
The unique qualities of the program match the unique qualities of Vermont Law School (VLS). The school in not associated with any Vermont university. Founded in 1973, VLS sits in the small town of South Royalton along the banks of the White River. South Royalton would be a ghost town if not for the VLS’s 600 students, faculty and staff. Cars speed along I-89 through the thick woods above the campus. None of the drivers know they are passing VLS because South Royalton cannot be seen for the trees.
The storefronts opening onto the small town square reflect the needs of the students – a general store, a few diners, a laundromat, a small health clinic, the post office, one bar and a perfectly named barber shop. Former dean Jonathon Chase joked that South Royalton was the only town in America “with a law school and no stop light.” The closest stoplight is 27 miles away. A few private homes offer opportunities to live right next to the 13-acre campus.
The campus is another unique feature. While most university law schools occupy a lone building on a bustling campus, VLS spreads through a variety of classic New England buildings, the oldest dating to 1892. Old homes become classrooms and administrative offices after careful renovation. Each building is named in honor of the owner that sold the building to the school. The town’s former elementary school became a focal point on campus. Donors saved the building in serious need of repair. Renovations held to strict environmental standards included use of natural light, flooring to reduce allergens and an elaborate compost toilet system to save remarkable amounts of water and give back to the farmers in the area.
Lest you think life at VLS is monastic, the city of Hanover and the Ivy League’s Dartmouth College is only 40 minutes away. There are other nearby communities where VLS students live and commute. The campus is “quaint” and very beautiful. Hammocks and Adirondack chairs dot the many lawn areas. An outdoor classroom features slate amphitheater seating. The entire campus is wi-fi.
Most of all, VLS is unique because of its ranking as the nation’s #1 environmental law school. VLS has ranked #1 for 12 of the last 15 years and has never ranked lower than second. Students from 44 states and 20 countries study at VLS. All these impressive statistics, and Kelly’s unwavering committment to work for social justice in the area of the environment, had us packing our bags for a visit and an extended vacation.
Flying into Boston was the first hurdle for two Yankees’ fans traveling with Kelly. Fortunately, storms north of Boston had us flying out over the Atlantic and into Boston from the south, thus avoiding any site of Fenway Park. It would not have been good to start a journey sick to our stomachs with a bit of vomit in our throats.
Of course landing in the midst of Tuesday rush hour traffic was hardly good. As with any trip though, Laura quickly morphed into “Pathfinder.” Who needs GPS when a human compass sits next to me. Laura often scoffs at the GPS directions and quickly turns it off. With map in lap and iPhone at the ready, we made a remarkably easy escape from “The Town.” Traffic stacked up but moved steadily. After 34 miles, traffic jams suddenly disappeared. We were off and rolling to Vermont through New Hampshire.
We arrived for our first night in White River Junction, VT. Even though it was dark, just that name – White River Junction – was the teaser we needed for the excitement ahead. The night air was bewilderingly crisp. There was a hint of a chill in the air, something almost forgotten as we swelter in the flash point heat of our Kansas summer.
Dawn did not disappoint. Trees everywhere. All else – save for the rivers and creeks – were intruders carved out of the lush forests of New England. Into this idyllic environment came Kelly with us in tow. This was an important day. Let us just say a young woman was wound quite tight.
Kelly had arranged a classroom visit. Sorry, but Energy Project Development and Financing did not provide the kind of energy boost Laura and I were looking for early in the morning. We chose to wander. Coffee for Laura and cinnamon rolls were part of our recon exploration. We chalked the gooey, sugar-laden treat up to research. Sadly, the reality was that this was the start of a major gorge-fest that we will be paying for in workouts for weeks to come.
We did stop by the campus health club to find it locked. Peering through the windows was a step back in workout time. While there were a number of treadmills, elliptical machines and stair climbers, the weight room was truly “old school.” A squat rack, bench and a full complement of weight plates and dumbbells, all thoroughly rusted, were truly hard-core. We discovered later a new facility loaded with the latest and greatest workout machines and an indoor pool will be ready soon. That is good. Burning calories will be important during the long Vermont winters. Fire hydrants equipped with extended poles help firemen find the plugs during the long winters. The area’s lush forestry comes with a price measured in feet and feet of snow.
As Laura and I wandered, the friendly woman behind the counter at a convenience store immediately knew why we were visiting. She reminded us that we would have to return four times during the year, should Kelly be admitted. Fall for the foliage, winter to cross-country ski and snowshoe, spring to kayak the White River and summer to cycle. Fine by us on all counts.
We just hope the woman will be there if we come back. She regaled Laura with a riotous story of her husband trying to drown her in the river before taking off with all the couple’s belongings. Laura recalled how the woman got the last laugh. “He forgot that I could float,” she said. Alright. Good time to head back to meet Kelly.
We capped our visit off with a thorough guided tour of the campus and an enlightening meeting with one of the two advisors that will soon review Kelly’s application. All pressure disappeared for Kelly as she asked question after question. Each of us left South Royalton filled with the sincere hope that the Lord will lead Kelly back again in the fall of 2012.
Before we could go too far, we had to stop for pancakes and real Vermont Maple Syrup. How could we pass up Eaton’s Sugar House. Oh my. Sinful. With stomachs full, we pointed the car towards Lake Placid, New York.
The only problem was that no road points directly towards Lake Placid. The three-hour cruise was up and over the Green Mountains on twisting and turning roads. While I delighted in the very firm suspension of our Chevrolet Cruze, Laura and Kelly sloshed back and forth and side-to-side in their seats with maple syrup-laden pancakes in their stomachs.
By the time we drove aboard the ferry – really a ferry – for the trip across Lake Champlain into New York state, I was firmly reminded that I was not Jeremy Clarkson from BBC’s Top Gear and that the rally race was to come to an end.
I reluctantly agreed as my mind was already anticipating an even more exhilarating ride the next day down the Lake Placid Olympic bobsled run. Come back soon for part two of the Jacobsens in New England.