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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Environmental Hero...And Not Even Old Enough to Vote

Air Date: Week of

Steve visits with high school senior Andrew Holleman. Five years ago, when he was 12 years old, Holleman successfully campaigned to save a wetland near his house from development. This is the last in our 2nd anniversary "Making a Difference" series.


HOLLEMAN: There's some deer tracks right here, you can see by the cloven hoof, three different parts.
CURWOOD: Just one, huh?
HOLLEMAN: There's one there, and there, and there. They're going across, probably to drink at the stream. You see everything from coon to fox to deer. (Sound of footsteps in snow)

CURWOOD: Meet Andrew Holleman.

HOLLEMAN: Even if the animals are carnivores, they might not be there for the grapes, they're looking for animals that are eating the grapes -- another part of the web of life.

CURWOOD: High school senior and amateur naturalist Andrew Holleman is leading me on a tour of his favorite part of the world. It's next to his backyard in Chelmsford, Massachusetts -- 16 acres of wetland that he saved from development five years ago. Then, it was about to be sold to a developer who intended to build 180 condominium units on it. In a town of over 30,000 inhabitants, it took one twelve-year-old boy to make a difference.

On this April day in New England, the lingering snow crunches underfoot as Andrew leads me to a stand of ancient pine trees reaching up to the sky.

(Sound of snow underfoot)

CURWOOD: Now, I understand that when you found out that a developer intended to build condos on this land, you fought it and you won, and all this at the tender age of twelve. Now what made you think you could stop a real estate developer?

HOLLEMAN: Well, I didn't really know. I knew that this land had a lot of wetlands on it. I knew that it had endangered species on it, and I knew that the stream that runs through it feeds right into the town wells. I knew that if there was development, of course, the whole area would be polluted, including the animals' habitats and the wells. And I didn't know what I could do, but I knew I had to do something, so the first thing I did was I had my mother take me up to the town library where I researched the information about the site in the Annotated Laws of Massachusetts, and also in the town master plan, and I created the petition and fired it around to over 180 registered voters in the area, and then I used this information to go to that meeting that the developer had scheduled and speak about the land and how I felt about it. And I sent the petition to all of the town boards, and I also used the information in a form letter that I sent to the State Senators and Representatives, and also local TV anchorpeople and people in environmental associations.

CURWOOD: That's quite a lot of work for a 12 year old guy. If you got this knowledge from your parents, why didn't they move when they got the letter, they got the registered letter -- why didn't they organize and try to stop this development? Why did all hinge on a 12-year-old kid?

HOLLEMAN: Well, I don't really know, they'd have to speak for themselves, but I think many people felt that they couldn't really do anything, they were powerless to fight a large developer, and I just, I really didn't care at the time, I had nothing to lose by fighting the development, I felt, and so I did it. I knew what the land was like, I knew that it shouldn't be built on, and that's what I did, I fought the development.

CURWOOD: It's now five years later. What's happened to this land?

HOLLEMAN: Well, where the developer's application for the permit was denied, nothing of the same magnitude, no developments like condominiums or anything like that can be built on this land. There is a possibility of single-family homes being built on the land, but there have been no offers as of yet, even though the land is unprotected, so to speak. The owner still is willing to sell it to anybody that will develop it.

CURWOOD: Is there a lesson you could draw from your experiences?

HOLLEMAN: Basically, if you see something worth fighting for, fight for it. You see me, you hear about me doing a project like this, and a lot of people think, oh, I could never do that but you can. I was just a 12-year-old kid from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, typical kid. But I realized something had to be done, and it doesn't just have to be the environment you protect, it can be anything. You can do something about drugs, you can do something about racism -- it's all up to you. Something that's important to you, just fight for it. That's something that we all have to do, if we all fought for what we believed in the world would be a better place.

(Sound of snow fades into stream sound)

CURWOOD: We seem to have left our pine forest and this is a stand of -- ?

HOLLEMAN: Actually this is a wetland area, very large wetland area. You can see the streams running through it. And many, many cattails grow here in the summertime, and it's full of all sorts of critters that typically inhabit wetlands. And this area would have been destroyed if the development had come through. Pollution would have run off the driveways and right into this stream, and polluted the whole area, ruined the whole ecosystem. There are turtles and salamanders, and field mice and all sorts of different rodents and hawks come by to hunt. This is where the blue heron, the great blue heron like to roost when they're in this area. I've brought so many animals back from this place, I've always let 'em go, of course, but I just brought them back and studied them for a little while, watch their habits. I brought a skunk home, unfortunately one of my neighbors has a garden in their back yard over on the other side of the site, and he had a steel-jaw trap caught, that caught a skunk by its leg in his garden, because he was sick of animals coming in and eating his food. But anyways, I released the skunk and I brought it home by its tail, 'cause that's the only way you can bring home, only way you can carry a skunk is by its tail without the risk of its spraying you. And . . .

CURWOOD: I never knew that. You pick up a skunk by its tail and you can stay (sniff, sniff, sniff ) -- safe?

HOLLEMAN: Yeah, I smelled pretty bad afterwards, 'cause he had been spraying ever since he got caught in the trap. But yeah, I carried him, because skunk spray can also be blinding if it gets in your eyes. It was rather interesting, I walk all the way home and my friend's mother saw me walking home, called my parents and told them to get out of the house, close the windows and the doors and wait for me to come home. She couldn't explain, and she hung up. And I had this whole parade of kids from the neighborhood behind me, about 20 kids followed me home as I carried this skunk all the way home.

CURWOOD: What advice would you give other young people?

HOLLEMAN: Okay, one, you have to have a purpose. You have to know what you're going to do and why you're going to do it. Second of all you have to get your information about what you're going to do and get it straight, so you can tell other people so they can help you. You have to stay local in the area that's your consideration, because people in high places can't help you if you've just got a small area in a town. Fourth, you have to get a lot of publicity, because if people don't know what you're doing they can't help you. And fifth, you can never give up the fight, if you believe in something you have to stand up for it, and that's just the way it is.

(Sound of footsteps crunching snow)

CURWOOD: Andy Holleman, you've stopped this big development. What are your goals for the future?

HOLLEMAN: Well, for my future as, in the real world, quote unquote, I'd like to become a professor of possibly environmental science, so I can teach other people what they can do to help our environment. And for the near future, I'd like to get this land purchased, of course, there's not very much money in this recession, these times, but hopefully somehow a miracle will occur and we'll be able to get the money and they can have the town purchase the land so that everybody can enjoy it, it won't become condominiums.

CURWOOD: But stay forever wild?

HOLLEMAN: That's right.



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