In a speech that entertained the 100 members present at last Thursday’s annual meeting of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, renown sports writer Alex Wolff painted an exciting portrait of tomorrow’s Addison County: a county-wide destination resort steeped in Vermont’s rural traditions, blessed with farm-to-table cuisine, and focused on outdoor recreation.
The setting was fitting. Camped inside an historic room at Basin Harbor Inn on scenic Lake Champlain, Wolff outlined a new cycling event called the Grand Fondo that is being planned for next June 21. He tied that sporting event to many others already being held in the county, including: the Kelly Brush Ride in early September, which attracted a record 750 riders this year and raised more than $300,000; the Middlebury Maple Run, the Sweetest Half Marathon in early May that attracted 1,000 runners this year; smaller events like the Shoreham-based Farm-to-Table bike ride and the Vermont Sun Triathlon Series; as well as numerous sporting events hosted by Middlebury College, plus scores of community-sponsored events.
What makes Addison County unique is its wide mix of terrain, the unique facilities at Middlebury College, our proximity to Lake Champlain, and the many and varied community-based offerings.
As Wolff said, where else can you Nordic ski at one of the premier Nordic facilities in Northeast, alpine ski within a mile of that site, and drop into town 10 miles away to take in an operatic performance in a quaint-New England town theatre — and then have the option of visiting one of several art galleries, museums or live theater at college or community venues?
As we’ve noted before, the new snowmaking facilities at Rikert Touring Center helps make that the guaranteed spot to host New England’s premier Nordic events or, at the very least, the back-up site for many events that have historically been hosted at other venues. The potential draw could mean that hundreds more skiers and their families will come to the county at several events throughout the ski season.
There’s more coming. Middlebury College’s new $45 million athletic facility (being built now and ready for the 2014-15 school year) will be one of New England’s largest indoor track and field arenas, creating the potential to draw regional events from throughout the Northeast. There are also new squash courts that will enable the college to host bigger tournaments than ever before. That translates to more events, more people coming into Middlebury and the county, and more opportunities for the county to present itself to the outside world.
The impact could be significant.
Put yourself in the visitors’ frame of mind. You’ve arrived to compete in your chosen sport, a passion you hold dear. Once the event is over, you’re elated and the views around you — including of the host town — are likely seen with rose-colored glasses.
Add a friendly store clerk, a warm bed in a cozy inn, an exquisite meal and, just like that, Addison County is — for the moment — their Shangri-La. And if you’re a telecommuter working in a Jersey superb, for example, it’s easy to imagine that on the ride home you might have thoughts of moving north.
And that’s Addison County’s real opportunity. We may not have the 24-plus bars and restaurants and the big, sexy mountain that a ski resort like Stowe has, but we do have wonderful towns in which to live without the schmaltzy side of towns too fully dedicated to tourism. We’re the real deal — an authentic community with an abundance of recreational opportunities all around us, and successful events that are generating a lot of buzz.
The questions Addison County merchants need to ask are straightforward and introspective: Are we ready? Are our customer-service skills up to par? What do we need to do to improve so tomorrow’s visitors are eager to return?
Opportunity is knocking. Hopefully the county will open its doors widely and flash a warm smile that’s well received.
Angelo S. Lynn