A Yurt That Survived Flooding Gets New Life as Gathering Space at Nature Center | True 802 | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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A Yurt That Survived Flooding Gets New Life as Gathering Space at Nature Center


Published June 12, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

North Branch Nature Center yurt - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • North Branch Nature Center yurt

A yurt that was carried off by floodwaters last summer from a campground in Marshfield has a new home in Montpelier, where it will be dedicated on Juneteenth as a BIPOC gathering place.

The tarp-covered structure is now set up at the North Branch Nature Center, a 28-acre preserve of forest and fields that draws about 15,000 visitors per year. It's a gift from Opeyemi Parham, a central Vermont-based health consultant who wants the yurt to become a refuge for people of color, according to Emily Seiffert, the nature center's deputy director.

The yurt will serve that purpose and more, Seiffert said in an email. Programs will use it as a home base, as will Camp BranchOUT, a weeklong August camp that is run with Outright Vermont, a group dedicated to supporting LGBTQ young people.

Parham, who is Black, will lead nature-based activities and community gatherings. At the dedication on Wednesday, June 19, she'll tell the story of the yurt, which she purchased with an inheritance from her aunt, who graduated from Howard University with a degree in botany. The ceremony will include drumming, dancing and remarks by local activist Sister Sankofa — formerly known as Shanda Williams — and community singing.

The yurt stood for three years at the Onion River Campground in Marshfield before the area was devastated by Winooski River flooding last July.

"Luckily, the yurt floated, and was carried downstream a hundred yards before being gently deposited in a newly created wetland," Parham said in a statement.

The structure is 17 feet in diameter and has a wooden platform and ramp. Its frame and rafters are made from saplings that are interlaced. A woodstove will make the yurt usable year-round. It's known as Dot's Place, in honor of Parham's aunt.

"A group could warm up for lunch after doing a tracking program all morning," Seiffert said. "We look forward to discovering all the ways we and the broader community might end up using it."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Natural Fit"

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