So we thought this might be a good time to take a step back and look at where the valley has come from in the past three years. Of course, it was not quite three years ago that Tropical Storm Irene dumped a torrent of rain on Vermont, much of which swept through local streams and rivers like a scythe cutting the first crop of summer hay.
Why now, as opposed to a couple of months from now when Irene’s third anniversary rolls around? Well, because this isn’t really about Irene, even though the damage caused by the flooding was the catalyst for much that has taken place. No, we picked this week because of two convergent things: the release of the draft plans for the Wilmington police and fire co-location study and Gov. Peter Shumlin’s visit to the area to talk about what the county is facing in the light of Vermont Yankee closing later this year. They are two more building blocks in the foundation of economic development that is being built in the region.
Looking back, many business and community leaders knew the Deerfield Valley had problems long before Irene struck. For a local economy that is so dependent on tourism, it only took a couple of bad ski seasons and a rainy summer for folks to realize that it wasn’t enough to sit around and wait for business to show up. There had to be a more proactive approach. That approach required some planning and study, and in 2007 the Mullin Report was issued, which offered a comprehensive overview of the problems facing the valley’s economy, the challenges to fix them, and some ideas on where to go. That year also saw the voters in Dover approve the local option sales tax, which led to the creation of first an economic development committee, and then a municipal economic development department. Also in 2007, Mount Snow Resort was sold to Peak Resorts, which immediately took to rebuilding the ski area, which had stagnated under the previous ownership. Concurrently, the towns of Wilmington and Whitingham were working through the process of school integration, through the Twin Valley High School agreement. Those things laid the groundwork for much of what has transpired.
Fast forward to today. Much has been accomplished in the past seven years, and especially in the three years since the floods of Irene.
In Wilmington much of the village, devastated by the floods, has been rebuilt. More renovation and construction is currently underway. Haystack Mountain has undergone a rebirth, with the Hermitage Club development pumping much needed life into the mothballed ski area, creating scores of jobs and a sense of excitement at the same time. In Dover, the town has been wired for high-speed access, the town park has become a focal point of the community, and a plan to beautify the Route 100 corridor is on the books. Mount Snow has added a one-of-a-kind bubble chairlift, expanded its snowmaking capacity, and is in the process of securing investors for long-term redevelopment. Dover and Wilmington have worked together on a number of projects, including the Bi-Town Economic Development and the Valley Trail network.
But, for our money, the Twin Valley school consolidation is perhaps the crowning achievement. While some might say new schools are not tied to economic development, we believe just the opposite. Good schools attract people, and Wilmington and Whitingham are on the verge of completing the biggest one-time school construction project the valley has ever seen. School administrators and board officials believe the rebuilt high school will attract students from surrounding towns. We think it will do that and more. Families will come to the valley because of the new school and the opportunities it will offer
Yes, the valley has come a long way in short amount of time. The key has been a combination of private and public investment, with a little help from a natural disaster that help galvanize people and develop a spirit of cooperation. What’s needed is continued strong leadership to keep the momentum going, articulate a vision for what needs to be done, and rally people in support. Those things, as much as anything, will keep the valley vibrant and moving forward.