A Unique Rest Area in Vermont: Young Leaders Reflect on Past Wars and Future Innovation

The Sharon Academy students Rajana Dion and Katie Spencer

By Rajana Dion, Katie Spencer, and Dominic Stucker

You might not consider a rest area a destination, but rather part of the journey. Edie Farwell of Sustainability Leaders Network sees one particular rest stop in Sharon, Vermont as both. She recently took her Personal Leadership class, one of our Young Leaders Initiatives, from The Sharon Academy there. This group is currently engaged in learning the key leadership practices of visioning, systems thinking, reflective conversation, and creative expression as they prepare for their senior year of high school, gap year, or college. So why visit a rest area?

The rest area is Vermont’s first green rest stop. It uses less energy than its counterparts, whenever possible using recycled resources. Because people are always coming and going, rest areas are notoriously expensive to heat and cool. By drawing on twenty-four 430-foot deep wells, the rest stop uses energy stored in the Earth to cool in the summer and heat in the winter. The buildings and site are also designed to take advantage of sunlight to warm buildings, keep their interiors bright, and to melt snow.

Another fascinating component at the rest area is the “Living Machine.” The greenhouse that visitors see when they drive in is actually a jungle-like biological system. It uses plants and bugs to recycle over two-thirds of the 6,000 gallons the rest stop uses ever day, mostly from the toilets. Student Katie Spencer writes:

The Living System at the Sharon Rest Stop is an example of thinking outside of the box. It certainly called for leadership to get this project implemented, because it is not often that you come across a rest stop that doubles as a science experiment.

A classmate, Rajana Dion, reflects:

The Living Machine is more than just inspired by vision. It is an icon for what the State supports and can accomplish. The visionaries behind this invention show immense creativity and drive. They were able to think of all the different components of the machine that would lure people to come see it, rather than scare them away due to the abstractness of it all. The Living Machine reflects the real dedication that Vermont has to the environment and all the potential that our visions can inspire.

In addition to these environmental innovations, the rest area includes a Vietnam War memorial, honoring those from Vermont who died and featuring local granite and marble. The only non-native elements of the rest stop, fittingly enough, are the South Asian plants in the Living Machine. Katie writes about how she sees these two features intertwining:

Another remarkable thing about this little rest stop is the Vietnam War memorial that threads through the whole building. There are photographs from the Vietnam War inside and a stone memorial outside. The memorial’s round structure mimics the living waste system’s circular shape, but there is an interesting connection between the two that goes beyond the architectural design. The Vietnam War memorial is a reminder of our past, where we as a nation have come from, and the Living Machine is an example of what is to come for our nation.

From her personal perspective, Rajana comments:

The architecture behind the Vietnam War memorial is extremely powerful. Beginning with the lengthy pathway leading to the eternal flame, circling the large monument, and finally ending back in the same place by the eternal flame has a strong personal meaning. The special Vermont details include the marvelous granite and marble stone work. These elements encourage guests to interact with the walls. The flags blowing in the wind add another powerful element; they symbolize hope for the countries that lost so many loved ones.

With an eye toward the future, Katie sums up:

The waste system, coupled with the memorial, makes a comment about our society. It causes the tired traveler (or Personal Leadership student) to consider bigger ideas and questions when we sip our tea and stretch our legs. It took vision and drive to construct a rest stop in such an original way, and this was time well spent. We need more buildings like this one, and more leaders to make projects like this one happen!

We look forward to seeing what innovative projects Katie, Rajana, and the other Personal Leadership students design in the coming years!


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