David Dunning, Town Supervisor

The Chili Town Hall

It was a sunny August morning when I steered my bicycle into the simmering Town Hall parking lot. Not a single cloud interrupted the azure sky, yet, as I locked my bicycle and wiped the sweat from my brow, I felt a bit overcast with uncertainty. In my previous interviews, I gleaned wetland related stories and wisdom with a paddle in hand, with my hiking boots laced and mottled with mud, or with binoculars scanning the canopies of maple trees in search of lyrical, feathered wildlife. But on this pleasant summer morning, I wasn’t joining another wetland enthusiast in the field, sharing stories over sore muscles and mosquito bites – I was meeting David Dunning in his tidy, climate controlled office, where mud and stinging insects would be sorely out-of-place. I wasn’t accustomed to the clean-cut rooms and hallways of the Town Hall, and to be honest, I was starting to doubt my reasons for organizing this meeting:  could a man smack dab in the middle of town governance proffer any compelling insights about swamps and waterways?  I was worried that my voice recorder was going to be stuffed with policy jargon, read verbatim from some leather-bound, gilded book pulled from a dusty shelf.

I didn’t need to worry.

The formal suit and the tie portray an image that corroborates the professionalism inherent of a town supervisor, but this image, as I discovered, is a veneer in many respects. David is a man of the outdoors, and he has cultivated a relationship with wetlands and other wild places across Western New York, a relationship that most town residents are unaware of. For instance, David can release the string of his bow as deftly as he scribes his signature on town documents. “I started as a bow hunter,” David described to me. “Hunting wasn’t really a sport for me, it was really more of a passion….If you’ve ever gone up and sat in a tree stand, or been out in the woods when its pitch black in the morning and you watch the woods come alive, it is absolutely one of the most beautiful experiences you can go through. You freeze your butt off, you know, and sometimes…it gets a little rough, but it’s beautiful, you start hearing the birds, you hear turkeys fly out of the trees, you start hearing critters running around, you watch the light come through, and what happens in the woods while you’re sitting there – really, it’s a beautiful experience”.

It is these beautiful experiences that David carries within him as Town Supervisor, sentiments that have undoubtedly catalyzed his interest in protecting the integrity of Chili’s open places. You don’t have to take my word for it — just check out Chili’s recent Open Space Inventory; this extensive study has shed a fair amount of light on the cultural and environmental qualities of our priceless undeveloped landscapes, and this light, abetted by conscientious planning, will hopefully intensify. Open space is a vital asset to the health of a community, which, out of the endless list of benefits, gives us, in David’s words, some “room to stretch….I think one of the really beautiful things about this town is that…North of Black Creek, we’ve got development…but a two-minute drive from that South, and all of a sudden you’re in the country. And I love that aspect….You feel like you are in a different place”. This feeling of entering into a different, more amicable landscape is the type of feeling that we must preserve for the welfare of present citizens and future generations. A homogenized tableau of pavement, pools, and tidy front lawns will not offer the same intrinsic pleasures as a hay field or an untouched tract of forest. “You can’t overcrowd your town,” David asserted. “If you start chopping down all of the trees and start filling in all the wetlands and buying wetlands in some other place, it really takes away the value of [the wetlands] for your community….It is stripping your community of a resource.”

Yet, to acknowledge that something is a resource, one must discover that the object of interest, wetlands in this instance, has value, whether intrinsic or economic. A resource, in layman’s terms, must somehow benefit the individual utilizing it. However, it is doubtful that most Chili residents even consider wetlands as a resource; the more likely, and regrettable, reality is that they are deemed more of a nuisance. “Generally speaking, most residents, if you brought it to their attention, you sat down at the table with them, they would probably be able to talk a little bit [about wetlands]. Most people do not know what a wetland is [and] don’t care what a wetland is. All they care about is ‘where the mall is’ and ‘what time the movie is going to be’ and ‘are we going to get to dinner on time’….I think their lives are so cluttered up that they don’t have time to stop and think about other things.”

Reed Road Bird Preserve

However, if we are to preserve the remaining open spaces that grace our town, we might have to spend a little more time thinking about our relationship with the land, not just our yards, which forms the bedrock of our community. If we love the place we live in, we might have to spend a little more time thinking about what we want it to look like in fifty years. We might have to spend a little time identifying what open space means not only in our minds, but in our hearts. Open space, for David, is “having a place to go and walk, bicycle, snowshoe…cross country skiing…To be able to have places to able to do that is extremely valuable. I think it is more mental and psychological than anything else. I know it has great environmental benefits to it, but for me, to be able to go out into the woods or out into some space like a field somewhere [to] walk, it is stress relieving. You can walk and look at stuff that you don’t see every day.”

I often wonder if my grandchildren will be able to see the open spaces that I grew up with, explored, and reminisce upon. I often hope that Chili will strive to preserve the roots of its salubrious pastoral charm. But I am certain of one thing — I am relieved that we have an outdoorsman at the helm.

Read about the Black Creek Trail Study: http://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/news/articles/2011/06/TRANSPORTATION-Westside-towns-may-study-trail/

Read about the Open Space Inventory: (If this link fails, type in “Chili open space inventory” in google, and download the PDF).  http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=chili%20open%20space%20inventory&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CDUQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.townofchili.org%2Findex.php%3Foption%3Dcom_docman%26task%3Ddoc_download%26gid%3D1258%26Itemid%3D79&ei=3kpET7L3OOLr0gHZybGRBA&usg=AFQjCNGxE964WDp_tchZ4CgztYRk6jVJKQ&cad=rja

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