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KATE McCarthy

Company: Vermont Natural Resources Council
Title: Sustainable Communities Program Director
Age: 38


Favorite Part of Job: Working on community planning and policy for a statewide organization, I have the good fortune to explore Vermont’s wonderful downtowns, villages, paths, and forests as part of my job; I often stop and remind myself that many people spend their hard-earned dollars and vacation time to do the same. More importantly I get to participate in helping community members, legislators, and others think about ways they can strengthen their communities, which is truly a privilege. I’m lucky that I get to do this as part of a hardworking team of people at VNRC.


Tell us something fun about yourself that few people know: After college, I spent the summer leading Boy Scouts on 5-10 day trips in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and the Quetico Wilderness of Ontario – a total of six trips. I slept outside for something like 45 out of 60 days that summer, and learned a lot about teamwork and being patient as a leader.


What three words best describe you: Collaborative. Detail-oriented. Dedicated.


Favorite Vermont Escape: It’s a simple one: a trip from Montpelier to Elmore, either on my bike to take in the scenery and get some exercise, or in my car to go for a hike up Elmore Mountain. Either way, I find an excuse to stop at the Post Office Café in Worcester to fuel up on coffee and a pastry.


Favorite Downtime Activity: Cooking is at the top of the list lately, for the satisfaction that comes from creating something nourishing at the end of a long day. I’ve enjoyed expanding my horizons over the years I’ve lived in Vermont by putting new things from my CSA to work, like fennel - though kohlrabi, I must confess, still eludes me.


If you had unlimited access to funds, which causes would you support: I tend to support causes that take the long view, particularly since it’s increasingly clear to me that good change takes a long time, but bad change can happen in the blink of an eye. Whether it’s fostering positive societal change, protecting our civil rights, or bending the curve on land use and climate change, I want to support the organizations who are in it for the long, often unglamorous, haul.


What is the best career advice you have received: My graduate school advisor and work study supervisor, Rolf Pendall, once advised me to “practice the art of ‘good enough’” in my research projects for him. This was not permission to let things slide, but rather a pragmatic reminder (from a really talented researcher and effective teacher) that part of being successful is recognizing when extra effort brings extra value – an essential strategy for using time wisely and avoiding burnout.


Where do you see yourself professionally in ten years: In ten years I see myself using my leadership skills and experience to influence policies essential for building a sustainable and prosperous communities across Vermont, and to share Vermont’s experience with communities across the nation. I also expect to be mentoring younger environmental and community planning professionals to support the next generation of leaders.


What motivated you to live and work in Vermont: I was raised in Maine and lived in many places around the world, but ultimately chose to live and work in Vermont, for a number of reasons: the strong sense of place, the landscape of communities and natural places, the beauty, the New England seasons, and the ability to make a difference while learning from many amazing people.


Career Highlights: Through my work in Vermont, I’ve been active in numerous areas, and each has had highlights of which I am proud. Among them: In the legislature, advocating for pro-environment policies, I contributed to a coalition that strengthened programs promoting downtown development, while updating statute to better address scattered development. Working in communities, I supported the citizens’ group Exit 4 Open Space and other partners to raise concerns about a large-scale development, and then purchase and conserve the farmland where the project had been proposed. As part of my work to bring credible, usable information to policy makers and local leaders alike, I co-authored a guide that offered local leaders a range of options to protect their forest and wildlife resources. We built on this information to develop a training for Realtors® and engineers interested in helping their clients plan and develop with natural resources in mind. Finally, last June I was proud to work with AARP Vermont to host a Smart Growth Summit where a welcome by Governor Scott, as well as the day’s conversations, affirmed the value of investing in our downtowns and villages. In addition, the variety of work I get to do is a highlight in and of itself.


Community Involvement: In Vermont I’ve been pleased to get involved in ways that support both my community and deepen my understanding of the work I do. For formal service, I’ve served on the Montpelier Development Review Board since 2013, and was elected to the Vice Chair position in 2018. I have been an officer on the Vermont Planners Association’s Executive Committee (first secretary, now vice president) since 2013. In addition, just this year, I was honored to be appointed, as a citizen representative, to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s Board of Directors, where I am pleased to support this important organization’s work on housing, farming, forestry, smart growth, recreation, and more.


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