Since last fall, visitors to the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain have had the opportunity to step inside a kiosk and record their personal reflections on the lake in a short video clip. The results, uploaded to ECHO’s YouTube channel, run the gamut. One respondent in his mid-forties talks earnestly about the growing global issue of water resources. Another, considerably younger, raps about how fish get their colors.
While it may look like just another interactive gadget, the ECHO kiosk is actually part of an ambitious long-term project, Voices for the Lake, first conceived in 2005. Project manager Bridget Butler writes on her blog that it all started with the question, “Can social media be used to raise awareness around a conservation issue?”
The goal, Butler says, is to gather enough personal stories from communities touched by Lake Champlain to create a “Google mash-up map of the watershed” where “you can touch your town, and up will pop a set of videos.” To foster stewardship of the lake, the map will offer links to community action groups, too.
A second motive behind the project, Butler says, is to “attract an older audience demographic” to ECHO, which draws plenty of youngsters with its programs focused on aquatic life. “How do you engage the adults who are here with those kids?” she asks. Besides being accessible online, the map/video database will form the centerpiece of “a new adult-focused section of ECHO,” says Butler. Visitors will be able to browse it via a large table-top computer touchscreen, then view and upload their own videos from individual stations.
While “hundreds” of stories have already come in through the kiosk, Butler is heading out to other parts of the watershed to gather more. She’s already toted her equipment to libraries in Enosburg and Highgate; Swanton is next on the list. There Butler offers community members webcam-equipped notebook computers and conducts one-on-one interviews with her Flip camera; she’s currently building video editing skills so she can pare down the results.
“People don’t really know they have a story to tell,” says Butler, who expects to make about 70 site visits for the project, hitting both sides of the lake and every sub-basin. “One cool thing is the diversity of the people.” This Thursday, weather permitting, she’ll be on Lewis Creek talking to a group that pulls invasive weeds, and she’s excited about meeting two “river rats” at their camp on the Missisquoi. She says the ECHO team is also working on giving technologically adept folks the ability to submit lake testimonials straight from their laptops or cellphones.
So next time you’re out on the Burlington bike path and want to remind your fellow Champlain Basin denizens not to take for granted that expanse of water sparkling blindingly in the sun, you may have a chance to do just that.