Project Supervisor Dan Lee has a meaningful history with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and its two iconic Monitor Barns. His journey started with a chance encounter with the West Monitor Barn during college, later leading to two impactful seasons as a Corps Member. Now, back on campus, Dan plays a crucial role in supporting subcontractors through the East Monitor Barn restoration process while keeping the big picture in mind. Dive into his story below.
Dan’s Path to Becoming a VYCC Corps Member
Similarly to Eliot (read about his journey to becoming the Lead Restorationist here), Dan Lee first found himself in and amongst the Monitor Barns by chance. As a University of Vermont student working for ReSOURCE in the summer, Dan commuted to Stowe to deconstruct the old base lodge at Spruce Peak. The newly-restored West Monitor Barn always caught his eye as he passed by on I-89: “I remember seeing that frame and thinking it looked pretty cool.”
Dan’s UVM senior capstone project, about developing a sense of place through agriculture, culminated in a harvest dinner in the West Monitor Barn. It was his first time inside the barn that had piqued his interest a few years prior.
After graduating, Dan had an internship on the west coast. When the internship ended, “I was hitting dead ends with finding employment and decided that heading back to Vermont would be a good idea. I applied and joined Vermont Youth Conservation Corps as an AmeriCorps Member in the Parks program.” And that’s how Dan found himself back on campus, this time as a Corps Member.
Two Seasons with VYCC
Dan’s first big project was to stabilize a portion of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. The LVRT is a multi-use 93-mile trail connecting 18 towns in Northern Vermont from St. Johnsbury to Swanton. A total of six VYCC crews worked on various sections of the trail over many years.
When Dan’s crew arrived, the railroad track along the Black River had recently been lowered several feet, so it was no longer a levy that disconnected the river from the floodplain. Dan said, “We planted a lot of willow fascines to stabilize the trail bed, so that when the floodwaters came up, not too much big debris would come up and also just to hold what was left of the railroad bed in place.”
If you’re familiar with the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, you’ll know that its creation spanned many years. July 15th was slated to be the grand opening, but this summer’s devastating floods thwarted that plan—at the time of writing, the trail is partially closed (but the section that Dan worked on is open!).
Dan then became a Co-Crew Leader and Co-Park Ranger at the Quechee Gorge State Park, where he rotated between the visitor center, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
The following year, he served as an AmeriCorps Park Educator in Moosalamoo National Recreation area in Goshen. Dan’s fondest memory of his VYCC days is his friendship with Tony Clark, who spearheaded the designation of Moosalamoo as a National Recreation Area and owned the Blueberry Hill Inn & XC Ski Center. He was a good friend to VYCC over the years, and, Dan said, “he certainly was to our crew, too.”
Dan recalls how, in their free time, the crew would go knock on Tony’s door and slurp oysters down on the beach. “I think that was really exciting for some of the Corps Members, and also for Tony,” Dan recalls. Tony liked seeing the look on the faces of the young 20-somethings who’d never tried oysters before. Dan’s Crew also used to stop at the Inn after work to pick blueberries, and then enjoy blueberry pancakes the next morning. These experiences stand out as shining highlights of his time with VYCC. About those special moments, Dan said, “It’s important to have a lot of planning done, and then often some of the most serendipitous things aren’t planned.”
Dan went on to work with Tony at Blueberry Hill for a number of winters. Sadly, Tony passed away just last year at age 78. Dan reflected on time spent with Tony with a mix of sorrow and fondness. Tony is greatly missed by all who knew him and VYCC is deeply grateful for his friendship over the years.
Dan’s Journey Back to Campus
After VYCC, Dan’s path continued to meander through Vermont. He went back to ReSOURCE, where he worked on a project with Jan Lewandowski. If you read the post about Eliot, that name will sound familiar—Jan was also an integral person in Eliot’s journey to the East Monitor Barn.
Then, Dan was perusing a job board circa roughly 2013, when he came across a job opening with (you guessed it) Building Heritage. Eliot was way up in the bell tower of a church when he and Dan met for the first time. “I got to the project site and everyone said, ‘oh yeah, Eliot’s up in there.’ I climbed up a bunch of rickety ladders and stuff and introduced myself. We talked a little bit. He hired me on the spot. And a few weeks later I transitioned from life in the nonprofit world to working for a for-profit restoration company.”
Things were going well with Building Heritage, but as with so many other businesses, COVID threw a wrench into even the best-laid plans. Dan transitioned to working for a sugar maker and wood processor, and he built a barn for someone during that time. He also had another stint in water quality and ecosystem work with the Lamoille County Conservation District. By all accounts, Dan’s path looked like it was leading away from carpentry and restoration. But when Eliot told him about the East Monitor Barn project, that all changed. “I couldn’t pass this project up. Too many connections to the barn, to the organization, to the subcontractors.” And just like that, Dan was back on campus.
Dan’s Role as Project Supervisor
As the Project Supervisor, Dan holds the big picture (at 54 feet wide, 112 feet long, and nearly 70 feet tall, it’s a big picture indeed!), which in turn informs when and where he provides support to subcontractors. He ensures that each subcontractor completes their respective components of the restoration with attention to the historic fabric of the barn and the structure of the building.
On the enormity of the project and his role, Dan said: “One thing I’ve been reflecting a little bit on: some people will stop by and say, ‘oh, such a big project! The scale is so big.’ And it doesn’t feel like that for me. I get it, it’s a big barn, there’s a lot of components, but it doesn’t feel like that. And I think it doesn’t feel like that because I think I feel very comfortable here on this site. I think that is because of my experience working for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and how that experience made me feel.”
Beyond providing the opportunity for young people to make a difference for Vermont’s natural environment and recreation areas, VYCC provides a chance for folks to build community and grow as individuals. It can be a formative experience in peoples’ lives, and it is heartwarming to know that Dan’s time as a Corps Member contributed to his current ease in managing the scale of the East Monitor Barn.
Things are moving quickly! Stay tuned for more construction updates.