Five Questions with Zack Porter

As the new Lake Champlain Lakekeeper, Zack will work on the ground with communities, at the state house with legislators, and hand in hand with partners to restore Vermont’s iconic waterbody to health.


You fell in love with Lake Champlain as a child – can you tell us about your earliest experiences on the lake?

I grew up in Boston, and my grandparents lived on Lake Champlain. My earliest memories are of taking the ferry to visit them and keeping a lookout for Champ, the fabled lake monster. As a kid, there’s something magical about stepping onto a boat on one shore and disembarking someplace else entirely. I fell in love with the Lake Champlain landscape, and, years later, the lake and its surroundings haven’t lost their magic. Now, I get to see the beauty of the area through the eyes of my 3-year-old daughter. We love getting out on the lake – my wife, daughter, and our black lab all pile into our red canoe and go paddling.

Now that you’re protecting the lake, what are your top priorities?

My passion is for creating connected and protected natural areas, which will also improve water quality, trap carbon, and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

Lake Champlain is a barometer for the health of the entire watershed. If the lake is in trouble, then things are amiss upstream. I’m excited as Lakekeeper to work with communities throughout the watershed to return the lake’s health to the point where we don’t have to question if it’s safe to swim, fish, or drink.

That means building on the nearly 20 years of progress made by past Lakekeepers and the talented legal team at CLF Vermont to improve water quality standards for Lake Champlain. We will continue to clean up pollution around the expansive watershed, but also look at natural solutions, like preserving and restoring forests and wetlands and removing dams.

How will you work with all of the different communities connected to the lake?

Lake Champlain is the largest body of freshwater in the U.S. after the Great Lakes. It supplies drinking water for 200,000 people, and yet portions of the lake become dead zones every summer due to excess nutrient pollution. In the coming months, my focus will be listening and learning, then charting a plan forward.

In New England, climate change is already increasing the frequency of severe storms, like the one that just took place on Halloween night. These extreme events put the most overburdened among us – especially low income communities – face to face with damaging winds and flooding. In Vermont, our buildings, homes, and roads weren’t built to withstand this kind of weather. It’s essential that we make our cities and towns resilient to the impacts of climate change, starting with the most disadvantaged areas.

How do your previous jobs as a wilderness ranger and wilderness advocate shape how you approach this position?

Wild places shaped my outlook on life from an early age, and they inspire my work today. With the climate and extinction crises upon us, we have a moral obligation to act as guardians of what few wild places remain and as advocates for rewilding degraded land and water. Restoring natural processes and native species isn’t just the ethical thing to do, it’s ultimately in our own self-interest. When the Champlain Basin’s natural communities thrive, its human communities and economies will thrive as well.

After years of living and working in the western United States, what are you most excited to come back to in New England?

I’m looking forward to bringing my passion for wild places and wildlife home to New England. I’m excited to help restore Lake Champlain and to help people see the wild in their own backyard.

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