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Staff picks: Vermont Public's favorite stories from 2022

As we near the end of 2022, we continue our (if somewhat inconsistent) tradition and ask Vermont Public staffers to tell us a little more about their favorite stories from the past year.

We'll rebroadcast some of these stories over the holidays, but you can also find links to the stories below

Meet some of the Vermonters who moved here during the pandemic

A photo of two people wearing winter clothing and taking a selfie in the snow, with a small wooden building in the background.
Lou Blouin
Lou Blouin and Nichole Becker survived thier first Vermont winter, after moving here from Detroit in 2021. Equipped with heavy coats and a generator, they came through "no problem.”

Myra Flynn, producer/reporter for Brave Little State:

This episode really challenged me, as an interviewer and frankly — as a Vermonter. It was such an honor to capture these little vignettes with folks who had recently moved to Vermont for a variety of wonderful reasons, and it also felt incredibly important to report their personal challenges when it comes our beloved state. I left this episode feeling really lucky. Everyone I spoke with trusted me enough to share their experiences: good bad and ugly. And, the episode inspired a Brave Little State mixer with New Vermonters! Many who attend and some who listened to the episode and wrote in, shared with us that they felt a little less lonely afterward. What’s better than that?

Revisit the piece — How are people who moved to Vermont during the pandemic doing now? [May 5]  

Chilly dipping in Lake Champlain

Elodie Reed, digital producer:

This was probably the most memorable reporting experience I’ve ever had for Vermont Public. It was fun, cold, silly and sad. I was initially drawn to Gisela Veve’s story about grief and healing after losing my mom, and during our interview, Gisela told me that trying chilly dipping might change my life. She turned out to be right: to get the sound and visuals for this story, I had to walk into Lake Champlain in December, twice, and then I went back on my own again, and again, and again. I’m so grateful to Gisela and the Red Hot Chilly Dippers for sharing this with me.

Revisit the piece — How dunking in the icy waters of Lake Champlain helps one woman grieving the loss of her husband [Jan. 20]

Drumming for the pollinators

Hands holding pansticks over the the metal surface of a steelpan.
Marlon Hyde
Vermont Public
Emily Lanxner taught her band how to play the steelpan. She has been a music teacher since she was 13.

Marlon Hyde, news fellow:

Every time I listen to this story, I smile. Watching the band buzz around while entertaining and educating made me excited to produce this story. This was probably the most fun I’ve ever had while editing a story. As the child of Caribbean immigrants, I have a close relationship with steel-pan and music with a social impact. I'm grateful to the steelband for inviting me to their performance and volunteering to speak so passionately about the intersection of music and activism.

Revisit the piece — A Vermont Steelband wants to bring awareness to the dwindling bee population[Oct. 28]

Revisiting a Vermont plane crash

Two people standing outside on a blue sky day at a ski hill, wearing winter clothing.
On Feb. 5, 1972, David Zlowe and his family were on their way to a ski trip when a plane crash killed Zlowe's father, sister and brother. On that day this year, Zlowe, right, skied for the first time in a half century at Massanutten in Virginia, with help from Mark Andrews. Zlowe said he was able to take six runs, and turned what had always been a sad day into something joyful.

Nina Keck, senior reporter:

Every once in a while, a story I report will haunt me. David Zlowe’s was one of them.

The morning the story aired, I got an email from Pamela Fletcher, the woman who survived the crash with David. I had tried to find her in New York, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts… never thinking she would be living in Vermont.

But she lives in West Arlington, about a half hour from where the plane went down, and she heard my story.

“I had one foot out the door to go to work… And I heard about a story about a plane crash 50 years ago on Mount Tabor, and I was like… and then I heard David's name. And I was just totally shocked, totally shocked to hear his voice, and his name after 50 years," she said.

Fletcher sent me her phone number, and we connected.

“I had no idea until your story that David had been buried in the snow and was almost — didn't make it," she said. "I didn't know that part of the story.”

Over Zoom, she told me her side of what happened back in 1972. She explained that she had been new to her high school, and that David’s older sister Randy was her first friend: they’d bonded working on their high school musical. Fletcher was 16 when the plane went down, and she told me she’d had a crush on Roger, David’s older brother. The ski getaway was going to be their first date. Fifty years later, she remembers all of it.

"I could walk through every second of that ordeal… anytime I could walk through the whole thing, but you know what happened was near the very end. There was just David and I that were walking, and I started to have to wait for him. He couldn't keep up with me," Fletcher said. "So I was leaning against trees waiting for him and falling asleep. And I knew if I fell asleep, I wasn't going to make it. So I had asked him to just follow my tracks. Because I could see a house or a barn. And I said just head towards that that house. And so I lost you know, contact with him, and I made it, made it to the barn and there was a truck … And I just yelled... and they got the ambulance there.”

Fletcher suffered serious frostbite on her feet, but she didn’t lose any toes. Doctors realized later that she had broken two vertebrae.

"When I woke up in the hospital, I was, you know, so thankful to be alive, and I knew part of that was luck," Fletcher said. "But then I became very angry that my friend [Zlowe's sister, Randy] and her family didn’t have the same luck that I did. And at some point, I thought, well, you know, because I survived, I have to become this amazing human being and accomplish great things. And then when I realized that wasn't happening too fast, or happening at all, I became very depressed, you know, the survivor guilt. And one of my adult friends said to me one time, she said, 'You know, you survived with your strengths and your weaknesses.' And that was so liberating to me that I was, you know, just like anyone else."

Fletcher raised two sons and has enjoyed a career as a physical therapist — a job she pursued in part because of David’s injuries.

And after the story aired, she said she and David were able to reconnect.

"We just texted each other," Fletcher said. "And it wasn't, you know, lengthy texts. But it was a very sweet converse, you know, conversation, and even there was some humor in it. And, you know, I was just, it gave me some peace of mind to know that, that he was able to find some joy in his life. And I'm sure it was a struggle… but I'm just thankful now that he found some joy.”

Revisit the piece — 50 years after VT plane crash, survivor says, ‘I like to think we’re rescued by strangers all the time.’[March 24]

A loon rescue mission

Three people stand on a frozen lake over an with a net over open water, trying to catch a bird.
Robert Kozlow
Loon Preservation Committee
It took several hours of experimenting before biologists were able to haul each loon out of Lake Winnipesaukee and extract them from the net.

Lexi Krupp, reporter:

I learned so much about loons while reporting this story: They’re really heavy because they have solid bones, which is why they need a long runway for take off, they can live for over 30 years, and their remarkable recovery from just a couple dozen pairs in the region a few decades ago. I had also never heard of wild skating, which is how this group of stranded birds was first spotted. And I got an update that seven of the 10 birds rescued were seen this year! At least three had chicks over the summer.

Revisit the piece — Ten loons were trapped on a frozen lake. Biologists planned a rescue mission [Feb. 21]

"The Wolf" guitar makes a comeback

A photo of a man playing a guitar in a wood-paneled room
Ben Collins
One of Jerry Garcia's previously-owned guitars, affectionately named "Wolf," is featured on Vermonter Zach Nugent's debut album, “Good So Far."

Mitch Wertlieb, Morning Edition host and reporter:

Vermont is something of a haven for "Deadheads" — fans of the legendary rock band led by the late Jerry Garcia. Even Vermont's long time senior Sen. Patrick Leahy counts himself among the generations of concertgoers who reveled in the band's eclectic and electric live performances, and I've been a devoted fan as well since seeing my first show as a teenager. So I couldn't resist speaking with Zach Nugent, who plays lead guitar in the house band for Nectar's in Burlington, when I learned that he was able to get his hands on one of Jerry Garcia's old guitars used in many of the band's greatest shows throughout the 1970's: an axe Jerry affectionately called "The Wolf."

The guitar had not been used on a studio recording since 1978, but Nugent brought it back to life for his debut album "Good So Far." The story of how The Wolf found its way to Vermont, and what it meant personally for Nugent to play the same guitar that brought musical joy to so many people all over the world, was irresistible.

Revisit the piece — Jerry Garcia’s guitar finds new life on Vermonter Zach Nugent’s debut album [Nov. 11]

Farming as resistance against the climate crisis

A photo showing long red pieces of fabric hanging down multiple floors, in a round, white space.
Howard Weiss Tisman
Vermont Public
Pieces of fabric, made at Wing and a Prayer Farm in Shaftsbury, hang from the fifth floor of the Guggenheim Museum rotunda in New York City on Aug. 30. They were provided by Vermont sheep farmer Tammy White.

Howard Weiss-Tisman, reporter:

This story was so much fun to report; from meeting Tammy on her farm to traveling to the Guggenheim for the performance. It was an ambitious piece, as I had three distinct scenes (on the farm, in the museum, and in the streets of NYC). And I think it worked and flowed well in the end.

I think I chose it mostly though, for the story it tells and how it came out in the end. Tammy believes fiercely in what she does, and how natural fiber, and limiting our consumption of chemical-based clothing, can help slow climate change. It was very cool that an international artist who was performing at one of the premier museums in the world found this humble sheep farmer from Vermont to create the fabric for the performance. Fun photos too.

Revisit the piece — A Vermont sheep farmer provides wool fiber for Guggenheim climate crisis performance[Sept. 12]

A train advocate's lasting legacy

A blue, red and silver Amtrak train sits at a concrete platform in Burlington, Vermont
Henry Epp
Vermont Public
The inaugural Amtrak train from Burlington waits for passengers. The new service will provide one trip a day between Vermont's largest city and New York's Penn Station.

Henry Epp, reporter:

Back in 2019, I reported a story about the decades-long process of extending Amtrak service from Rutland up to Burlington. As that project finally inched toward the finish line this year, I had the idea to check back in with the people I’d spoken to in 2019, who’d spent years of their life pushing for this project. One of them was Jeff Munger. So I was saddened to hear that he died in May, just two months before the train arrived. I decided the best way to tell the story of the completion of the Amtrak extension was to tell the story of Jeff Munger and his work to make the project happen.

Revisit the piece — Remembering Jeff Munger, who put his ‘heart and soul’ into bringing Amtrak to Burlington [July 28]

The state of the Vermont GOP

A photo of people in a long line on a sidewalk lined with dirty snow.
Taylor Dobbs
Vermont Public File
Hundreds of Vermonters waited in line for hours to see Donald Trump speak at the Flynn Theater in Burlington in 2015. More than seven years later, the former president's presence still looms large over state-level politics in Vermont.

Pete Hirschfeld, reporter:

With Democrats in control of the Vermont Legislature, and a socially liberal Republican at the helm of the executive branch, we don’t see much in the way of far-right politics in Montpelier.

So the emergence of pro-Trump conservatives in the 2022 GOP primaries presented an opportunity to explore a swath of the Vermont electorate that doesn’t get much attention from political reporters covering the Statehouse.

Spending time with election-denying Trump supporters was illuminating for me. I was struck by the earnestness with which they pursue their causes, and also the damage they can leave in their wake. The MAGA wing of the Vermont GOP was shut out almost completely in this year’s midterms. But the 30% of Vermonters who supported Trump in 2020 are still residents here.

Revisit the piece — A Republican primary for lieutenant governor reveals a broader divide in Vermont GOP [July 6]

The lasting impact of excessive force

A woman and man stand in a kitchen holding a picture of another man.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Susan and Robert Fortunati hold a picture of their son Joe, who was fatally shot by Vermont State Police in 2006.

Liam Elder-Connors, reporter:

When several powerful state lawmakers, including now-U.S. Representative-elect Becca Balint, announced a push to end qualified immunity, I knew I’d have to cover it — but the question was how. I didn’t want to cover the turn-of-the-screw in the Statehouse, so I settled on examining how this somewhat obscure legal doctrine has been used in Vermont, which led me to Robert Fortunati, and his wife Susan.

In 2006, their son Joe was fatally shot by state police while in the midst of a mental health crisis. Sixteen years later, their sorrow over the loss of their son and anger about the lack of accountability was palpable. And they weren’t just upset about their son. When I arrived, they showed me a list of all the times the police in Vermont had killed someone or allegedly used excessive force. They expressed disbelief that these sort of incidents keep happening.

Speaking to Robert and Susan reminded me that tragedies and trauma stay with people for a long time, and as the debate over criminal justice and police reform continues, reporters should take the time to reach back and resurface these sorts of stories.

Revisit the piece — How qualified immunity acts as a barrier for alleged police brutality [March 22]

Giving another life to vintage quilts

Stacks of quilts and fabric lay folded on multiple shelves in the corner of a studio.
Mary Engisch
Vermont Public
Kat McVeigh from Kitty Badhands lovingly collects old quilts and textiles from online sources and in-person auctions. She then lives with the quilts in her studio for some time, getting to know their patterns and intricacies, before ever making the first cut.

Mary Williams Engisch, host:

This was one of the first stories that I reported in the field after working from a home studio during the pandemic. And because I had been cooped up for so long, just meeting Kat and Dale in their studio in person and seeing all the eye-popping quilt patterns and clothing remains a color-saturated, vibrant memory in my mind! It was a fun challenge to piece together their story about saving and reviving vintage quilts and textiles, and how they turn them into one-of-a-kind sustainable clothing, and convey it to listeners.

Revisit the piece — Why this Vermont designer makes clothing from vintage quilts[April 9]

A 12-year-old's connection to his family farm

An old dairy barn with a blue sky.
Anna Van Dine
Vermont Public
The dairy barn at the Howes farm. It was built in 1903.

Anna Van Dine, reporter:

Midsize dairy operations have declined precipitously in the state, and most of the time we hear from older farmers who have lost a part of their past. But when his family farm shut down, Max lost his future. I was so moved to hear him talk about his connection to the land. He’s the wisest 12-year-old I’ve ever met.

Revisit the piece — For Max Howes, home is 235 acres of trees and fields, an old dirt road and a barn built in 1903 [Jan. 3]

A front-row seat to climate change in Vermont

A red shed with barn siding sports a white banner that reads "Northeast Slopes, Home of the World's FASTEST rope tow." There are orange traffic cones to the left, and a banner that reads "slow." Snow is on the ground, and the ski slope is in the background. A sign reads "No ski patrol on duty."
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Local volunteers from the surrounding towns of Topsham, East Corinth and Bradford run Northeast Slopes. Each year, they host barbecues and raffles to raise funds that supply local middle school students with free ski and snowboard lessons and gear.

Abagael Giles, climate and environment reporter:

Three generations of Wade Pierson’s family have worked the rope tow at Northeast Slopes in East Corinth. When you work with snow for that many years in Vermont, you have a front-row view of climate change. I dug through a lot of numbers for this story, but talking with Wade made those numbers a lot more real. And it made me think about how personal it is to talk about what climate change is taking from us — and about how we try to hold onto it.

I checked back in with Northeast Slopes manager Wade Pierson just before the holidays to see how the snow was:

“Early snowstorm, got started before Christmas," he said. "And now we’re looking at a big rainstorm coming in again…”

Still, Pierson says wet snow is still snow.

“I’m a habitual optimistic person," he said, laughing.

This year, Northeast Slopes is opening on Fridays, a first for them. That’s to get more days out of a shrinking ski season. The early snow brought local families — even a few toddlers — out on the slopes for opening day on Dec. 19.

“This was the first year in probably a half dozen years that we’ve been able to open this early before Christmas with, you know, decent conditions," Pierson said.

Revisit the piece —Poll finds most Vermonters expect major impacts from climate change in the next 30 years [Feb. 28]

Samson, Baylor and bao

Anna Ste. Marie, social media specialist:

This Samson and Baylor video highlighted the Made Herefilm, Mountain Dogs. When I first watched the Mountain Dogs film, someone must have been chopping onions, because I had some spicy eyes! It's such a special and touching film that we were featuring in our Made Here film series, so I reached out to the filmmaker, Aynsley Floyd, to work with her on making this nugget for Instagram and TikTok. Like many filmmakers and video producers, she was understandably a little hesitant at first to chop up her visually stunning and powerful work to make it fit this vertical and super short format. But ultimately it had a huge impact! The video got over half a million views (also my first time seeing content I worked on "go viral") and reached people all over the world who would have never otherwise heard their story.

This was the most delicious day I've ever had at work... and I did work in restaurants for 5+ years prior to Vermont Public. My colleague Myra Flynn said there might be some cool social media opportunities at an interview she was conducting with Sam Lai, owner of Café Dim Sum, for the Brave Little Stateepisode on the Asian American experience in Vermont.Dumplings for work? You know I'm in.

I filmed Sam and his crew showing us how to properly fold pork-filled bao, and then Myra trying to recreate it. And OK, yes, the point of the video is that she ended up being really bad at it, but she is still better than me, so that's why I stayed behind the camera. And of course after watching all of this delicious food be prepared and learning the stories behind it, Sam wanted us to sample some. And let me just say, wow. I'm still dreaming of those flavors.

Stories in motion from the Vermont Public video team

Holt Albee, senior producer/director:

I'm fond of the audio/video climate change companion pieces Abagael Giles and I worked on back in February.

Climate change in Vermont

I think the Homegoings interview Myra Flynn & David Littlefield captured with Ferene Paris Meyer is worth a mention as well.

HOMEGOINGS: Ferene Paris Meyer

Mike Dunn, producer/director:

For me, music is a passion and when I get a chance to work with local artists and the Vermont Edition team, I'm all in.

Musician Noah Kahan performs 'Stick Season' and dishes on TikTok stardom

Brian Stevenson, managing director of production:

No surprises here, any day you get to go for a hike at work is a good day. This was my first time filming with Nina Keck, but she was such a pro, and we all had so much fun together. Plus, we got to highlight an inspiring Vermonter, Randy Crossman, towards the end of his incredible achievement; hiking Pico Mountain 365 times in one year!

What's it take to hike Pico every day?

Kaylee Mumford, producer/director:

This is the "Are llamas ticklish?" video from the But Why Farm Adventure series. It was such a fun day being around the llamas, finding a ticklish llama, and watching how much kiddos loved it when the video played at the Podcast Festival in WBUR!

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