[Originally published in the Rutland County Express.] Like most people living and working in the nonprofit and community development world, Jenny Nixon Carter is always on the move. As executive director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition, that fact is particularly accurate – “physical activity” is in her organization’s name. Fortunately, the energetic mother of two is up for the job.
“It’s pretty much the northwestern tip of the country,” she said.
For college, she headed down to the University of Washington in Seattle, soaking up the culture and coffee of what we both agree is an ideal city for people who don’t like cities.
In 1993, Nixon Carter left the Northwest behind and landed on the East Coast where she spent time in Woods Hole, Mass., putting her chemosensory biology degree to use.
However, she soon began to lose her yen for the science side of the environment.
“I wanted to move toward policy and environmental issues,” she said.
So she enrolled in Vermont Law School in South Royalton, where she studied environmental law. While there, Nixon Carter also met her husband Andrew, a Castleton native.
After getting their degrees, the two moved back to Seattle where they practiced until 2005, when they returned to the Green Mountains for good.
“We always knew we wanted to live in Vermont,” Nixon Carter said. “There’s a good balance of work and family life here.”
She also notes that “commuting” around these parts is unparalleled. Nixon Carter lives in Brandon, but she and her husband both work in Rutland. Her husband occasionally bikes to work.
“Even when you do have a 30-minute drive, it’s usually on some gorgeous country road with a great view,” she said.
But why drive when you can bike, walk, run and hike?
Since 2003, Nixon Carter’s organization, RAPAC, has been putting that very question to the residents of Rutland County.
RAPAC’s mission is threefold: shaping policy by advocating bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure improvements; coordinating community programs like WalkRutland and BikeSmart; and promoting education and outreach, addressing the need for increased physical activity.
Nixon Carter became executive director of RAPAC in 2007. The job is a perfect marriage of her passions.
“It merges the things I love: working on policy, promoting recreation and addressing environmental issues,” she said.
With recent studies that have identified Rutland County as one of the state’s least healthy counties, RAPAC’s work is all the more important and necessary. Of particular concern, are our high obesity rates in both adults and in children.
Nixon Carter is undaunted by this challenge. She explains that getting individuals and families to take better care of themselves physically requires a shift in culture.
To some extent, she already sees that shift occurring in Rutland.
“I’m seeing more and more activity and events,” Nixon Carter said.
Groups like the Marble Valley Runners (a RAPAC coalition partner) and Pine Hill Park’s Summer Sunset 5k trail run/walk series regularly draw big numbers to their events. Indeed, the current popularity of Pine Hill is a testament to Rutland’s increased desire to be outside and active.
It’s a start, but there is more work to be done.
Looking to the future, Nixon Carter hopes to see more visible demonstrations of physical activity around the area, which includes improving infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We need more projects and more visibility. That will lead to more use,” she said. “And that’s what will begin to really change the culture.”
In the meantime, Nixon Carter is content to keep working and taking advantage of all the Rutland County has to offer – enjoying the outdoors with her family whenever possible.
“This is one of the most beautiful places to live,” she says of the area’s recreational assets. “You can walk out your front door and in five minutes be at a trailhead or a lake. That’s unique and incredible.”