“We’re at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock with Steve Perkins, the executive director of the Vermont Historical Society,” Mike Hoey said. “Steve, what brings us here this week?”

“So, Mike, we’re in a really beautiful and interesting place that gets into the history of conservation and land management, farming and all sorts of stuff,” Perkins said. “And really, a gift to the nation.”

“George Perkins Marsh was born here in Woodstock in 1801, and he’s really considered one of America’s first environmentalists,” interpretive park ranger Rachel Freundlich said. “He writes his book ‘Man And Nature’ in 1864, and this is one of the first books that talks about man’s impact on the environment.”

Hoey asked, “He grew up on this property, did he not?”

“He did; he grew up here as a boy,” Freundlich replied. “He loved to read. He loved to go outside and explore, and that sort of inspired his love of nature with his father.”

Perkins asked, “What was his career? I mean, ‘naturalist’ wasn’t necessarily a career at the time.”

“Yeah, so he goes to school,” Freundlich replied. “He studies at Dartmouth and then he tries a couple of different business endeavors. He tries to be a sheep farmer; he tries to be a mill owner. He actually tries to be a lawyer in Burlington for a little bit, and he’s very unsuccessful in all of this — but he does know he wants to travel, so he uses his academic mind to become a diplomat. He’ll actually leave the country, and he’ll be (U.S.) ambassador to the Ottoman Empire as well as the Kingdom of Italy.”

“He was instrumental in connecting the sculptor Larkin Mead, while he was in Italy, with the Vermont legislature to carve the statue for the top of the State House,” Perkins noted.

“(Marsh) was one of the founding members of the Smithsonian,” Freundlich agreed. “So, with a lot of the pieces that he brings back from his travels overseas, it’ll eventually end up in the Smithsonian.”

“We all think of Vermont as this very pristine space,” Perkins said. “But (in the mid-19th century) it was in the midst of the sheep craze and Vermont was mostly denuded — no trees — so he was seeing this. How do you find that sort of imagery in his writing?”

“Yeah, so he talks about in ‘Man And Nature’ that if we cut down all of the trees in our beautiful Green Mountain State — sure, we don’t have lumber for our industry, but we have bigger problems,” Freundlich said. “There’s nothing holding the soil in place; we have erosion. It slides into the river, and it’s more than just the fish that will be affected, so this idea of nature’s interconnectedness comes into play.”

“That entire idea was such a new concept at the time, for so many people,” Hoey said. “I’d be curious to know what kind of general reception his ideas in this vein had during his lifetime.”

“Absolutely; ‘Man And Nature’ was written in 1864,” Freundlich said. “It’s actually never gone out of print — and it gets read by some pretty famous conservationists, if you’re familiar (with them). John Muir reads ‘Man And Nature’ and is inspired by it. Gifford Pinchot, one of the first chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service, reads ‘Man And Nature’ as well…so it gets pretty good critical reception, you might say.”

Perkins asked, “How can people learn more about George Perkins Marsh and the location where we are now?”

“We have wonderful tours that help explain the legacy of Marsh here at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller — named after him, of course,” Freundlich answered. “We explore the house that he grew up in and the landscape as well. They can go to our website and learn about him that way; there are a lot of options.”