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Outdoor Clubs Look for Leaders

A pair of Vermont-based nonprofits are now in search of new leadership.

The Green Mountain Club and Northern Forest Canoe Trail are both looking to replace executive directors who recently stepped down. GMC’s Will Wiquist, of Burlington, left last month after nearly three years on the job, while Kate Williams is set to depart NFCT on Feb. 17.

Williams, 47, began overseeing the Mad River Valley-based organization in 2004 and helped the long-distance water trail become much more visible and accessible during her tenure.

Leading a staff of just five to facilitate the 740-mile route extending through New York, Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, Williams specialized in promoting usage of the trail and developing relationships in the 45 communities it passes through.

While the organization has yet to integrate a viable way of measuring total usage figures, 61 individuals have registered as having completed the entire route, which begins in the Adirondacks of upstate New York and finishes at Fort Kent, Maine. Many additional users paddle the route in sections over multiple seasons.

NFCT’s website features recommended trips, mapping tools and links to paddler blogs, and the organization has published maps for all 13 sections while erecting more than 20 kiosks to help guide paddlers along the way.

Williams, a Belmont, Mass., native who played lacrosse at Princeton University, is leaving to become a partnerships director for One Percent for the Planet, a Waitsfield-based nonprofit that works to facilitate financial commitments from businesses for environmental initiatives.

Williams won’t have to go far for her new post — One Percent is based in the same town as NFCT.

“It was a really hard decision,” said Williams, who begins the new job in March. “I learned so much and had such a great time building the partnerships and relationships and seeing the organization grow. I just felt it was time for a change and this opportunity came about.”

Wiquist, 35, led a GMC organization that maintains and protects more than 500 miles of trails in Vermont, including the 272-mile Long Trail and over 170 miles of side trails along that route.

Wiquist will look back most fondly on his efforts to help actualize the Winooski River footbridge in Bolton, a project more than 100 years in the making.

In 1912, $500 was appropriated for a footbridge over a portion of the river blocking the Long Trail, but the project remained in limbo, forcing through hikers on a 3.5-mile road detour, much of it absent of sidewalks.

Hired in April 2011, Wiquist immediately began working to resurrect the project. In the end he helped secure raising more than $1.5 million in donations and state funding, facilitated a half dozen land-ownership transactions and acquired a bevy of necessary permits to make the project possible. A ground-breaking ceremony for the 224-foot steel-and-concrete suspension bridge was held in September, with Gov. Peter Shumlin on hand.

The project is expected to be completed this year and open to hikers in the fall.

“It was an enormously complex project, but it was something I was very passionate about,” said Wiquist. “When I started work on it, I found it very inspiring and it was something the staff and our members worked very hard at.”

Wiquist also helped spearhead a movement to create the Vermont Energy Siting Commission, an executive order of Shumlin in 2012 that enhanced oversight and public involvement in proposed electric generation projects in the state.

The GMC’s interest stemmed from several wind turbine projects occurring within sight of Long Trail hikers.

“Without opposing or supporting the projects, we felt it was important to investigate the impacts,” said Wiquist. “We thought it was important that the public be better prepared to deal with these projects and (to) have adequate platforms for public comment and input.”

Wiquist is no stranger to politics, having served as comptroller for Congressman Peter Welch during his successful 2006 campaign as well as press secretary for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for 31/2 years prior to landing at GMC.

A Connecticut native, Wiquist grew up summering on Lake Champlain in Colchester and hopes to stay in Vermont for future endeavors.

“My family goes back 150 years here and that was a big reason why I came here (for the GMC job),” he said. “I want to look at other professions around the state and stay involved with public affairs, marketing and communication. The experience working for a major nonprofit like GMC is really going to help with that.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.