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Fairlee residents hope to use grant money to make village friendlier for all

  • Derek Barbaro, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., an employee of US Foods, brings deliveries to the Samurai Soul Food restaurant and the Lunchbox Deli and Cafe on Main Street in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 12, 2019. During the summer Barbaro also delivers to camps and a country club on the other side of town, which is divided by the interstate. Although Main Street, also known as Route 5, has wide shoulders, a sidewalk might enhance the shopping experience for pedestrians. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • A memorial marker at the base of the flag pole on the town commom is in memory of Raymond "Bill" Thurber, who "gave all his time and energies to the town of Fairlee," is half-covered by grass and leaves in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 12, 2019. Beautification efforts such as adding more flowers is one of the ideas to improve Main Street visually. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • The bridge over the Connecticut River connects the communities of Fairlee, Vt., and Orford, N.H., on Dec. 12, 2019. “Groups working on three different topics put access to the river at the top of their lists,” Fairlee Selectwoman Cathy McGrath said of those studying ways to improve the town. “Even though Fairlee is unique in terms of its existing natural assets, people are saying they crave access to the river.” (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Tripp Muldrow, of Greenville, S.C., of Arnett Muldrow and Associates, interviews Sharon Petersen, of West Fairlee, Vt., who is the owner of Barnyard Quilting located on Route 5 in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 12, 2019. Muldrow surveyed business owners to ask how they envision Main Street improvements. His survey is in conjunction with DuBois & King Inc. (Rick Russell photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2019 9:39:49 PM
Modified: 12/12/2019 9:45:43 PM

FAIRLEE — Denis Lambert and Elizabeth Wilson settled on Fairlee’s Main Street in 2012 — mostly, at first, because the village sat midway between Lambert’s workplace in Bethel and his wife’s job in Saint Johnsbury.

Between commutes, the newlyweds started looking around their adopted home and quickly grew fond of many of its 1,057 residents, of the nearby Connecticut River and Lake Morey, and especially of the town common, where they started a popular summer-music series for Fairlee Community Arts in 2017.

Walking through the heart of their adopted home was another matter entirely, and still is, especially since their daughter’s birth last year.

“You always kind of wonder if somebody’s going to come along in their car and hit you by mistake,” Lambert, a member of the town’s Planning Commission, said this week. “It would be wonderful to have something like a walking and biking lane separated from the road.”

For that reason, among several others, Lambert and Wilson joined the Main Street to Morey revitalization effort that, with a $93,000 “Better Connections” grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, kicked off Wednesday night in Fairlee Town Hall’s revamped auditorium. In all, more than 40 people attended an introductory workshop held by the set of consultants helping the town to identify and choose ways to make the village more inviting.

That turnout pleased Fairlee Selectboard member Cathy McGrath.

“When they asked each of us to find someone we didn’t know and come up with a code word to share between us, my first thought was, ‘Shoot: I know most of the people here,’ ” she said. “Then I looked around and saw people I really didn’t know. I was just so thrilled they came. A lot of them were just the kind of people who don’t tend to have time to come to the usual municipal events I go to.”

The workshop might have drawn even more of the unusual suspects if it hadn’t been scheduled for the same night as the annual holiday concert by fifth- and sixth-graders at nearby Samuel Morey Elementary School. So when economic development expert Tripp Muldrow visited Fairlee native Aleta Chapman Traendly the next morning at Chapman’s Store on Main Street, the grandmother of one of the young musicians gently reminded him to check community-event calendars before setting dates for the next set of workshops.

“I really wanted to be there, so I was glad he followed up,” Traendly said while serving customers Thursday. “What they’re trying to do is so important. There are so many things that we really need to do.”

For Traendly — as for a number of workshop attendees — it all begins with making the village, which lines either side of busy Route 5, friendlier to pedestrians. By doing so, she said, potential business owners might show more interest in unused properties such as the former convenience store near the bridge to Orford and the neighboring lot that has sat vacant since fire destroyed the Colby Block in 2007.

“Growing up, we had sidewalks all the way through town,” Traendly said. “We lived at the south end of town and always walked to our family’s store, and we could walk safely. Now, it’s so dangerous walking through. People just fly through here. There’s no real focal point for them.”

In addition to clearly marked walking and biking zones and other traffic-calming options, workshop attendees cited a need to offer motorists positive incentives to slow down and stop. And maybe those who stop, the thinking goes, might join area residents in exploring the village’s shops and restaurants and learn about lakes Morey and Fairlee as well as the growing network of trails on town conservation land.

And don’t forget the Connecticut, running parallel to Route 5 and Interstate 91 on its way to Long Island Sound.

“Groups working on three different topics put access to the river at the top of their lists,” McGrath said. “Even though Fairlee is unique in terms of its existing natural assets, people are saying they crave access to the river.”

Along with creating routes for quiet strolling along the shore, workshop attendees suggested ideas such as an arts walk, maybe with sculptures by local artists.

“As we go along, I hope we’ll hear more ideas about how to keep what’s quirky and different about Fairlee and to invite others to join us,” McGrath said. “This is an exceptional opportunity for Fairlee. … The time is right.”

Consultant Rebecca Sanborn Stone of the planning group Community Workshops is a veteran of the Bethel Revitalization Initiative, which has been helping that Upper Valley town bounce back from the ravages of 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene and the decline of the downtown business district.

“Dream big,” Stone told the Fairlee workshop attendees. “Think about what we can test out in the coming months.”

David Corriveau can be reached at or 603-727-3304.

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