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Column: Suicide Six Broncos are corralled, but distrust is out of the barn

For the Valley News
Published: 4/19/2021 10:10:04 PM
Modified: 4/19/2021 10:10:03 PM

Daily I am grateful for the neighborhood in which I reside. When I have the opportunity to speak with any one of my neighbors, I feel my life enriched. Our stories of how we found ourselves living near one another is different. Our defining commonality is a shared love of the land, the wildlife and the freedom offered through remote living. There is respect.

Recently, it came to the attention of Pomfret residents that the Woodstock Inn & Resort was not displaying the attributes of a good neighbor. It had been making a deal with the devil while throwing the town of Pomfret under the proverbial bus. The Woodstock Inn and a Michigan company, Adventure ORX, proposed a Ford Motor Co. “Bronco Rodeo” off-roading school at Suicide Six, our local ski area.

Suicide Six is idyllic. Right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Healthy outdoor family recreation. Vermont living. In recent history, the town of Woodstock wanted no part of a Dunkin’ Donuts. We get prickly about chain stores. We are individuals, and our businesses should follow suit. So, glazed doughnuts are out but the ravaging of Pomfret is fine? Fossil-fuel dependent vehicles tearing up the land and our quality of life? Where is the responsibility? Where are the ethics? Where is the respect?

Pomfret residents and taxpayers were called to battle after reading the April 3 Valley News article “Resort asks to go off-road: Inn plans driving school at Suicide Six in summer.” The article passed from resident to resident like a brush fire.

The people of Pomfret were no longer outlanders, flatlanders or locals defined by birthright but a community united. The urgency was palpable. Visions of Ford Broncos running wild through the town’s hills and Class 4 roads struck me like the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The difference being, I would prefer the bulls.

As I learned of the plans, I was simultaneously receiving brush fire warnings via my phone. Global warming was reminding us that our climate is rapidly changing. The Woodstock Inn’s plan defied logic and was flagrantly disrespectful of the work, vision and wishes of conservationists Laurance and Mary Rockefeller.

Ski resorts are rethinking and planning. The warming of the Earth is threatening their long-term survival. Was the Woodstock Inn interested in expediting the global warming process? The “off-roading” Broncos would make short order of bird habitat, as well as deer, bears, eagles and the elusive bobcat. Fait accompli.

Should this aberration of a school happen, the repercussions will be dire. The safety of our residents, roads, water, land and wildlife will be forever negatively altered. No young socially and globally minded family will want to move to our area.

How did this ever make sense to the Woodstock Inn? Decisions have been shrouded in secrecy. The outraged citizens of Pomfret were thrown a red herring when we were told the Act 250 application was being withdrawn. The Vermont venue initially — temporarily — was removed from the Bronco Rodeo website. Smoke and mirrors? Would Ford simply acquiesce? Promotional investments and program profits are on the line. What has been contractually agreed upon? What was the price for selling out the soul of a community?

Will the educators at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park be forced to shout while sharing the cherished history of the place with visitors as they compete with the off-roading, adventure-seeking Bronco riders? Will Grange performers strain their vocal cords as they try to rise above the roaring engines? Will the young summer campers at Artistree Community Arts Center need to wear masks and earplugs? Maybe the Woodstock Inn will sell them in the gift shop.

Trust has been broken. The grand white façade of the Woodstock Inn has been tainted. Will a financial solution for Suicide Six that respects the community that has loyally supported it be found? If we defeat this proposal, will future considerations pay homage to the Rockefeller ideals, from which the Woodstock Inn has greatly benefited? Or will they go off-piste again?

I guess we will have to wait and see.

Elizabeth Ricketson lives in South Pomfret.

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