UVM extension sponsors pumpkin growing contest
ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont kids who've ever wanted to grow a giant pumpkin -- here's your chance.
Growers between the age of 8 and 18 can take part in a pumpkin-growing trial sponsored by the University of Vermont Extension 4-H.
Participants will get a variety of pumpkin seeds to grow in the upcoming season. The pumpkins will be weighed on Oct. 11.
Prizes will be awarded for the heaviest pumpkin of each variety.
Seeds will be available to pick up at the UVM Extension office in St. Albans on April 15 or they can be mailed to participants.
To register for the trial contact Martha Manning, UVM Extension 4-H educator, at (800) 639-2130 or (802) 524-6501, extension 449, or by email at martha.manninguvm.edu.
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Former Gov. Dean to give talk at Castleton College
CASTLETON, Vt. (AP) -- Former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean will be speaking at Castleton State College at the end of this month.
Dean will give a presentation on "The First Global (Millennial) Generation and The New Rules for Civic Engagement" on Monday, March 31, at 7 p.m. in the Casella Theater.
Organizers say Dean will discuss the use of the Internet and social media to spread the word about issues and allow people to connect.
The event is free and open to the public. To reserve a seat, contact the Fine Arts Center Box Office at (802) 468-1119 or visit www.castletontickets.com online.
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Vt. bus drivers, union reach deal, averting strike
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- The Chittenden County Transportation Authority says it has reached a deal with the union that represents almost 70 Vermont bus drivers, averting a strike.
The authority says 19 hours of negotiations ended Sunday morning, producing a contract proposal that the union will bring to a vote. Details of the proposal were not released.
CCTA says passengers who use its buses will not endure any service disruptions.
The drivers had said they would strike Monday if no deal was reached. At issue during negotiations were working conditions, part-time drivers and working hours.
The drivers carry about 9,500 people a day in the state's largest county.
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Birds drawn to frozen lake's Vt.-NY ferry channels
By WILSON RING
CHARLOTTE, Vt. (AP) -- Thousands of water birds that normally spread out across Lake Champlain are seeking refuge in the channels left by two ferry routes that carry passengers between Vermont and New York during this bitterly cold winter.
Bird watchers have been drawn to the Essex, N.Y., landing of the ferry from Charlotte in hopes of catching a glimpse of sometimes-rare birds that are usually scattered across the length of the 120-mile lake. During a winter of below-zero temperatures, the ducks, bald eagles and other birds have been forced to scour the open water of the channels for food.
"They are surviving the winter in a lake that's over 100 miles long that right now is down to five puddles," said Ian Worley, a retired University of Vermont environmental studies professor who goes birding along the lake two to three times a week.
It's the first time the lake has frozen since 2007 and it's created a paradise for birders, who peer through the eyepiece of a scope to watch birds foraging for the zebra mussels, fish, plants or other animals they need to survive.
"The lake -- as it ices over and pulls the birds into this little isolated place -- also pulls the possibility of uncommon or rare or really rare species right to you as well," Worley said.
Birders on the New York side of the ferry crossing are eager to spot the single tufted duck, which is common in Europe and Asia but exceedingly rare in the eastern United States. The duck is spending this winter in the lake among the more-familiar mallards, black ducks and common goldeneyes.
"We like things that are hard to find, but we can find," Worley said. "The birds are really, really important in telling us what's going on in the world. If we know that a bird is beginning to occupy a new place or disappearing from an old place, we want to know why."
The birds can also be found along the route of the Grand Isle-Cumberland Head, N.Y., ferry, about 30 miles north and in a narrow stretch of water between Vermont's South Hero and North Hero island in Lake Champlain.
The birders have been a common sight for the crew of the Grand Isle, the Lake Champlain Transportation Company ferry that makes its hourly run as long as it's able to keep the channel open, said ferry captain Bill Pinney.
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Vt. officials taking nominations for teacher award
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- The Vermont Agency of Education is asking the public to join educators in nominating candidates for the 2015 Vermont Teacher of the Year distinction.
This is the first time that everyone can join in the process of nominating for the distinction, the agency says.
The program, launched in 1964, seeks to promote teaching and recognize an outstanding teacher in the state to advocate for the teaching profession, education and students.
To be considered, a teacher must be employed at a Vermont public, private or approved independent school, hold a current state teaching license and have a minimum of five years teaching experience.
Nominations will be accepted online through March 28.
Vermont's current Teacher of the Year is Luke Foley, an Alternative Program teacher at Northfield Middle High School.
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Vt.'s Norwich U presents poet David Budbill
NORTHFIELD, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont's Norwich University is going to be presenting poet David Budbill as part of the Northfield school's 2014 Spring Writers Series.
The April 2nd event will begin with a reading by the Norwich Pegasus Players from Budbill's play "Judevine."
Budbill, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom, is the author of seven books of poems, eight plays, a novel, a collection of short stories and a picture book for children.
The event continues Norwich's 2014 Writers Series. It is presented by the College of Liberal Arts and the Department of English and Communications.
The event is free and open to the public.
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Vt. health care meetings for Somali Bantu, Nepali
WINOOSKI, Vt. (AP) -- Meetings will be held next week to help Nepali and Somali Bantu residents of Vermont understand the state's new health care system.
The informational sessions will also help them get coverage before the March 15 deadline to enroll in Vermont Health Connect, the state's new insurance exchange.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is working with Vermont Refugee Resettlement and the Community Health Center to offer the enrollment meetings in the Mai Mai (meye meye) and Nepali languages.
They will be held Monday at The O'Brien Community Center in Winooski and Wednesday at the Community Health Center in Burlington. Both meetings will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and a light dinner will be provided.
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Ken Burns' documentary to premiere at Vt. theatre
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) -- Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will attend the premiere of his documentary about students at a Vermont school learning to memorize Gettysburg Address.
The film called "The Address" follows the 50 boys at the Greenwood School in Putney who have learning disabilities as they struggle to learn and recite the words uttered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
The film will be shown on April 2 at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro. Burns will answer questions afterward. Tickets are $8 and proceeds will benefit the Greenwood School.
Burns and PBS, which is airing the film this spring, are challenging others around the country to learn the Gettysburg Address and to create a video of themselves reading or reciting it to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the speech.
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Vermont bats begin white nose recovery
By WILSON RING
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A biologist who has studied the decline in Vermont's bat populations since white nose syndrome started killing tens of thousands almost a decade ago says he thinks the worst of the epidemic is over and at least one affected species is beginning to recover.
Despite the devastation among certain bat species caused by the disease that spread into Vermont out of a New York cave in the mid-2000s, thousands of little brown bats, once the most common bat in Vermont, continue to pass the winter in the Aeolus bat cave in Dorset, said Scott Darling, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Since white nose was first identified, it has spread across the country and into parts of Canada, devastating new bat populations.
"Here in Vermont, I think we have seen the worst of it," Darling said. "I suspect we are at the beginning of a long road toward recovery."
Jeremy Coleman, the white nose coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says biologists in New York have seen similar changes. But in other parts of the country, white nose is continuing to devastate bat populations. Many questions remain about the long-term recovery of the species.
For example, bats can live more than 20 years and it's unclear how well bats that have been exposed to and survived white nose will reproduce.
"There is cause for hope and some optimism for the remnant population, but do we have enough of a remnant population to allow that species to recover?" Coleman asked.
In Vermont, it's unclear whether the bats passing the winter in the cave, known as a hibernaculum, are those that survived exposure to white nose or whether they are uninfected bats that flew to Vermont to hibernate and could still face exposure.
White nose, which has killed up to 90 percent of some species, is caused by a fungus that prompts bats to wake from their winter hibernation and die when they fly into the frigid, insect-less winter landscape. It was detected in New York's Adirondack Mountains in 2006 and since then has been spreading across North America killing at least a million bats.
The fungus is believed to have been brought to North America from Europe, where the fungus is found, but bats are unaffected.
As part of an effort to determine whether the bats in the Aeolus cave are survivors, Darling and other biologists tagged about 450 little brown bats last fall to determine whether they leave the cave during the winter in search of food, a mark of white nose. The bats that leave the caves die because the winter landscape does not provide the insects they need to survive.
Next month, the biologists will be monitoring the cave to see how many emerge from hibernation.
"If, in fact, survivorship is high, maybe there is some genetic or behavioral trait that has enabled these bats to be resistant or resilient to the disease," Darling said.
Darling said the well-known plight of the bats has drawn support from people across Vermont.
"We've got homeowners with maternity colonies in and around their houses, and they're willing to put up with them because they know their situation," Darling said. "If they could just stop being killed by the disease itself, that would be a big step forward."