The history of lake research vessels at Middlebury College started in the 1970s, when David Folger was a faculty member in the Geology Department.
His vision started the marine component of the curriculum, and he was instrumental in obtaining Middlebury College’s first research vessel – a Coast Guard rescue surf boat. Under Dave’s direction, several students pursued Middlebury College’s first undergraduate research thesis about Lake Champlain. Many of these students went on to prominent careers in the marine sciences (for example, Dave Twichell (’73), Debbie Hutchinson (’74), Jill Whitman (’78), and Robin Bell (’80)). Dave particularly influenced the three Cashman sisters—Patricia, Katharine, and Sue—graduates of Middlebury’s Geology Program who received honorary doctorates from the College in 2008.
Dave earned his BA in Geology at Dartmouth College in 1953 and his MA/PhD in Marine Geology at Columbia University in 1968. He was a Bombardier/Navigator in the US Navy from 1953 to 1956 and stayed in the Navy Reserve from 1960 through 1977, achieving the status of Captain, USNR. After leaving the Navy, Dave worked in the oil industry for a time, but after getting his PhD he was awarded a post-doctoral appointment with the US Geological Survey (USGS) at Woods Hole, MA. In 1969 he came to Middlebury College, where he taught courses in Geology and Oceanography.
He received tenure in 1975 but turned it down to become head of the Atlantic Marine Geology Branch of the USGS’ Environmental Studies Program. His career at USGS also included stints as Coordinator of the study to evaluate the effects of hydrogen bomb tests at Enewetak Atoll for the Defense Nuclear Agency (now the Defense Special Weapons Agency), Coordinator of the marine gravity survey of the Caribbean, Cape Verde & Canary Island, and west coast of Africa for the Defense Mapping Agency, and Coordinator for the Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Erosion Study. He retired in 1997. When giving a talk at Dartmouth in 1994, he decided to speak about a project that “has always had a warm place in my heart for a number of reasons: 1. It had, by comparison, virtually no funding. 2. It involved students…who suddenly found themselves involved in a Supreme Court case. 3. It had an impact on reducing the pollutant output from a major paper mill.” This project, by Dave Folger with Middlebury students, took on the International Paper Company (IP) plant at Fort Ticonderoga. Dave and his Middlebury team showed that IP was responsible for pollutants being released into Lake Champlain, and their evidence eventually supported a class-action lawsuit in the US Supreme Court. As a result, enforcement of effluent discharge limits was stiffened, and IP was obliged to reduce the amount of chlorine used in their paper-making process.
Middlebury College’s new research vessel will be named the R/V David Folger in honor of Dave’s foresight and his influence on research for Lake Champlain. He is the reason that Middlebury College boasts a marine studies component, and his influence on the prominent marine scientists that have come from Middlebury College has been enormous.