July 2, 2007
By ANGELO LYNN
MIDDLEBURY — More than 100 people turned out to offer ideas and their enthusiasm at the third meeting of the Creative Communities Program in Middlebury last Wednesday, setting the stage for action plans to be developed and volunteers to start formulating steps to make the initiatives become reality.
“There’s so much energy and excitement at these meetings,” Helen Labun Jordan said after the meeting, noting that the Middlebury area has been unique among the nine towns that have participated in the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s program because “most everyone seems to share a common vision” for the area. Jordan, who is the director of the Creative Communities Program, observed that residents who have participated in the discussions haven’t been divided over the vision for the area, but rather are more interested in figuring out how to move forward on the ideas.
Middlebury resident Nancy Malcolm, local coordinator of the effort, also told the crowd that a fourth project — developing business incubators — would be part of the effort because of the strong demand for that initiative. The topic was ranked fourth out of numerous projects initially developed at the first two meetings. Typically, the Creative Communities Program has limited the initial scope to three projects, but strong demand for the project prompted its inclusion, Malcolm said.
The business incubator project wasn’t discussed at Wednesday night’s meeting, but will be developed within the next couple of weeks.
During the committee meetings Wednesday night, each group was to review on-going efforts in the community, develop potential action steps, set priorities for those action steps, and develop a list of potential resources to help achieve their goals.
After about two hours of committee discussion for each of the three projects, committee chairs presented brief summations of their respective meetings:
• Otter Creek development: The mission is to recognize the Otter Creek, and particularly the Middlebury Falls area, as an untapped jewel of the downtown and to enhance its visual appearance as well as pedestrian access to the shoreline. The challenge the committee faced was to winnow down more than 20 prospective projects developed during the meeting to a few concrete and achievable goals that could jump-start the initiatives.
Town Planner Fred Dunnington reviewed previous plans and maps dating back to the early 1970s for a historical perspective of what had been envisioned and what had been accomplished to date, and also why many previous initiatives had been stymied. Lack of funding for the projects was noted as a primary cause of past failures and the committee agreed that a focus on funding should be an early priority for the group with an emphasis on tapping into resources that did not depend on raising local taxes.
Included in the early initiatives, the group agreed that creating a resource map and inventory of public access points up and down the Otter Creek was a necessary first step. Such a map would help the Middlebury-area determine how feasible it might be to create a more extensive path (bicycle and pedestrian) upstream and downstream of the Middlebury Falls for several miles. The group also will determine a project of scale it can readily achieve in the near future, while developing more ambitious long-term projects, such as a boardwalk along the shoreline in the downtown area.
Other long-term projects included improving access and the appearance to what was called the “ice house park” just upstream of the falls (near the trestle); providing a business plan to fund the various projects; investigating river hydraulics to better understand ways to move the debris that gathers in the large eddy below and north of the falls on down the creek; better marketing of the creek’s atheistic and recreation appeal; and better education of the community as to the potential importance of the creek to the community’s economy.
Discussion also focused on ways to incorporate the college and business communities into the efforts, as well as the many state and local recourses that could be tapped to help with the various projects.
The next meeting was set for July 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ilsley Library meeting room.
• Alternative energy: With the many local organizations and groups already pursuing various initiatives within the energy sector, the group agreed that its first goal was to assess and inventory those efforts and determine what was needed to help carry out their missions. The group would also look at ways to coordinate the various efforts so they can tap into shared resources and strengths.
While no specific projects were discussed in the wrap-up comments by committee chair Rep. Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, he noted that the mission of the group was to help the area become “a pioneer in alternative energy.” Deciding just what that meant and how to accomplish that objective was the subject of much of the evening’s debate, he said.
The next meeting was set for July 18 at 7 p.m. at the Ilsley Library.
• Umbrella association for the arts community: The group noted that there was no equivalent of a Middlebury Area Arts Council and discussed what such a council might do were it established.
Among the goals of the group, the committee agreed to work on staging events during the slow season for area businesses; sponsor courses for the arts community on business strategies; lobby and advocate about the importance of arts for the culture and economy of the area — all with the over-arching vision of “slowing down and enjoying life.”
The next meeting will be set in late July via email.
Area residents who were not at Wednesday’s meeting, or at prior meetings, can still be involved in these efforts by attending the next meetings of the respective committees. More information on those meetings can be found by contacting Jordon, the director of the Creative Communities Program, at 802-223-3793, or going online at www.vtrural.org; go to “contact us” and contact Helen Jordan via email.