By PHYL NEWBECK
George Burrill has had a long and successful career. Best known as the co-founder of Associates in Rural Development, a global provider of consulting and engineering services, Burrill also founded and chaired the Business Alliance for International Economic Development and served on the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, the Brookings Institution and the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress.
Despite that impressive resume, what Burrill really wants to talk about is his volunteer work with The Nature Conservancy.
“They are the largest environmental non-governmental organization that works on conservation issues,” he said. “My firm often came in contact with them and when I retired, and they asked me to serve on the board.”
Burrill grew up in the Champlain Valley and has lived in Shelburne since the mid-1980s. He served on the board of The Nature Conservancy’s Vermont chapter for 10 years and is proud of its conservation efforts in his hometown.
Although Burrill’s work drew him into the international arena, he was always interested in local issues and retirement allowed him to devote more attention to those concerns.
“The LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area is an incredible wild oasis in Shelburne,” he said. “It’s a really rich intact floodplain which increases flood resiliency. The marsh can absorb a lot of water which protects the community from damage.”
Burrill went on to point out that the almost 150-acre natural area includes walking trails and is home to more than 60 species of birds, 20 kinds of mammals, and 50 varieties of reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Burrill is also proud of the work The Nature Conservancy has done on Raven Ridge Natural Area. Covering 365 acres in Charlotte, Hinesburg and Monkton, Raven Ridge now has a universally accessible boardwalk so people with mobility impairments can have greater access to nature.
Although term limits required Burrill to cycle off the Vermont The Nature Conservancy board last year, he hasn’t severed his ties with the organization. He winters in New Zealand and helped start a Nature Conservancy chapter there and serves on its board. He also sits on the organization’s Asia Pacific Advisory Board.
Burrill admits he misses skiing in Vermont during the winter but he enjoys his time in New Zealand.
“There are similarities to Vermont, particularly on the north island,” he said. “These are tourist areas but they are very rural. It’s a lush green landscape with dairy cattle and sheep and very friendly people. There’s both a cultural and a physical similarity.”
Burrill’s philanthropic work in Vermont is not limited to environmental issues. He is on the board of Champlain College, and he and his wife, Lola Van Wagenen, started Champlain’s New American Scholarship Fund six years ago to help those who want to become citizens obtain an education. Burrill touted Champlain’s work in helping other underserved populations such as single parents and veterans.
But even when he’s half a world away, Burrill’s thoughts often turn to Shelburne. He’s interested in work underway by The Nature Conservancy to fundraise in order to expand the protected perimeter around Shelburne Pond.
“A lot of the land around Shelburne Pond is owned by (The Nature Conservancy) and open to the public,” Burrill said. “It’s unique to have a place with such biological diversity and there is another parcel on the shore that we’re raising money to protect. I hope more Shelburne residents will take a look at some of these wonderful places in our town.”