Lewis Creek Association founding member Marty Illick and her husband, Terrence Dinnan, died Monday after a small boat capsized in the creek. Their 3-1/2-year-old grandson managed to make his way to safety and back to the couple's home.
The three had been on an outing in the boat near Spear Street in Charlotte, according to Vermont State Police. Fishermen reported to police at about 12:30 p.m. that they had discovered two bodies in the water. Troopers searched for the child for an hour before finding him safe in his grandparents’ car in their driveway. Illick, 70, and Dinnan, 71, lived on Lewis Creek Road.
“The child was wearing a life vest, while the adults were not," police said in a press release. "The child was able to make it to shore and then returned on his own to the vehicle outside the house. He was reunited with his parents at the scene.”
Illick was one of a group of people who founded the influential Lewis Creek Association in the early 1990s to carry out conservation work in several Lake Champlain Valley towns.
“The lake and the land have lost a great champion, and it’s going to be hard for her shoes to be filled,” said Dan Albrecht, a senior planner at the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission who had worked closely with Illick for two decades. “On the other hand, she’s also inspired so many people that the work will continue."
Illick served as the association's executive director for more than two decades. Another founding member, Andrea Morgante, described Illick Monday night as an enthusiastic problem solver who, along with Dinnan, "wanted to share love and beauty and community and the Vermont way of life."
"Her passion, it was contagious," Morgante said.
Lewis Creek was especially important to Illick, she added. Illick lived across the street from the waterway for more than 40 years. Morgante can't recall any accidents on that stretch of water.
"I'm really perplexed at what happened," she said. "They're around the water all the time."
Much of Illick's work as executive director for the small association was unpaid. She'd been enjoying being a grandparent in recent years, and was beginning to step back from her conservation role. Even so, she pushed the board to actively fundraise and continued her stewardship. Last Friday, Morgante said, she and Illick stood in the rain on the stream bank with state officials to discuss a planting project that would create more shade.
"She just had a love of the creek," Morgante said.
She was an influential collaborator, said Albrecht. He said he had watched her conceptualize projects, work with local landowners, write grants, and advocate for policy. “She helped to inspire a lot of people, me included," he said.
The Lewis Creek Association uses dozens of volunteers for conservation efforts. It operates South Chittenden River Watch, which has been monitoring water quality in four watersheds in southern Chittenden County since 2004.
Volunteers take water samples from the LaPlatte River, McCabe's Brook, Thorp Brook, Kimball Brook and Holmes Brook for analysis by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The results guide water quality improvement efforts.
Albrecht said he had been impressed by the energy at night meetings of the association. “When Marty put together something, it was always well-attended,” he said.