Vermonters are traditionally land-oriented people. Vermont’s love for leisure and sport, such as skiing, snowboarding, biking, climbing, and hiking are a testament to the land we live on. Agriculture, alternative energy, and scenic tourism use Vermont’s land to drive much of the state’s economy. As a result, Vermont’s land largely influences its lifestyle.
Burlington’s Community Sailing Center is challenging this stereotype, together with our state’s largest natural resource: Lake Champlain. The Sailing Center encourages Vermonters to be more water-oriented. And with a bit of their help, the center and its staff believe that Vermonters can be.
Located on the waterfront’s northern shore, the Community Sailing Center’s first season set sail in 1994. It was founded by a group of sailors who desired more public access to the lake and wished to teach the public the ways of the water. Over time, the center has grown tremendously with its fleet, funding, and programming. Now in its 17th season, the goals of the Sailing Center still remain the same.
Public Access and Community:
Kate Neubauer, the Community Sailing Center’s Executive Director, has been a part of the center since she joined in 2002. She explains the development that’s taken place over the last several years.
“We started as a sailing school. Throughout the years what we learned about the people on Lake Champlain is that there isn’t a lot of public access to the lake. So if you don’t know someone who owns a boat or aren’t a member of a yacht club, you don’t really have access to be on the lake.”
Traditionally, the sport of sailing is viewed to be exclusive and elitist. It’s hard to access because equipment and boats are expensive. Therefore young adults do not have chances to sail if they don’t own a boat. The Community Sailing Center is turning these perspectives up side down by eliminating all barriers tagged to the sport of sailing. Because of this, the center deliberately offers no memberships.
The Community Sailing Center is all about community in Vermont. The center welcomes sailors of all skill levels. As long as there is an interest in sailing, the opportunities are there.
“The most important word in our name is community. We are a community center that is trying to unite the community by using the lake. Our mission is really getting people who live in Vermont to get on the lake, to play in the lake, to learn about themselves in the lake, and ultimately take care of the lake.”
Neubauer says that an experience on the water can teach many different things. A lot of the center’s programs use sailing as a platform for confidence and life skills. Plus being in a fun, hands-on environment makes it hard to resist taking advantage of the Community Sailing Center’s programs.
Opportunities for high school and college students:
The Community Sailing Center is powered by the demand to sail. Vermont’s youth is pushing this demand. The center offers numerous programs for the youth, including summer camps and day lessons. Rentals and lessons also exist for adults.
But probably the coolest opportunities the center offers are for high school students. The center runs a community-wide team called the Northern Vermont High School Sailing Team. The great thing about the high school team is that it doesn’t matter what school you attend or what level sailor you are. The program is geared to all levels, giving all high school kids a chance to try out sailing.
“They travel around New England and compete against other high schools. We see high school students from our sailing program go onto college to be really good college sailors. The goal is to join the high school sailing program because you have an interest and really like it, and then you get some years of training, then you go off to college. It becomes a really big part of your life.”
The center also works closely with local colleges such UVM’s sailing team. The center is currently working with Saint Michael’s and Champlain College to establish their own programs. Their goal is to reach out as much as possible to young adults and spark their interest in sailing.
Vermont and Sailing:
The sailing center encourages Vermonters to share in their passion for Lake Champlain. Sailing and other water sports are quickly becoming a large part of Vermont’s identity. The Community Sailing Center welcomes this by promoting a new perspective on Vermont’s lifestyle.
“We claim the lake as our greatest natural resource, and if it’s our greatest natural resource, then everyone has the right and responsibility to engage with it. Whether it’s swimming in it, paddling on it, sailing on it, jumping in it, or taking care of it. It’s really engaging with what’s in your backyard,” says Neubauer.
“We’re this little organization and all we’re doing is trying to get the people onto the lake because every time that happens, they change their perspective maybe about themselves, maybe about Vermont. It happens all the time.”
To learn more about the Community Sailing Center and its programs, visit www.communitysailingcenter.org
by Matt Sulva