No Swimming: Members-Only Lake Pinneo in Quechee Will Remain Private

  • Jeff Waters, of Woodstock, Vt., plays with his one-year-old daughter, Amara, at Lake Pinneo in Quechee, Vt., on May 18, 2015. Waters, his wife Kristina, and their twins Amara and Beckett, have been to the lake a few times in the past two weeks, saying they love the parking proximity as well as the quietness of the area, and would be disappointed to have fewer water spots to take their children to. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Quechee — Lake Pinneo, the manmade body of water owned by the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association, is not expected to open its beaches to the general public anytime soon.

The continuing denial of public access — which dates to 2015 — could be all the more important because Sherman Manning Pools, which is Hartford’s only public pool, is scheduled to be closed this summer for renovation or possible decommissioning.

When it closed access to the 52-acre lake in 2015, QLLA leadership indicated that permission could be restored through negotiation with the town. However, no such negotiation has taken place, and the organization now is seeking instead to beef up its enforcement against Hartford residents who skirt the members-only rules.

“The public is not permitted,” Sean McLaren, general manager for the association, said in an email in response to an inquiry from the Valley News. He said that the organization’s trustees “are concerned and are looking (to) the management (for) a method to patrol and enforce. I see the need of security for our facilities including the Lake.”

McLaren added that he was gathering pricing information to weigh different enforcement options.

The Hartford public enjoyed long-standing access to Lake Pinneo beginning soon after it was constructed in the early 1970s. It is one of several QLLA-owned amenities, such as the Quechee Green, polo fields, golf courses and a neighboring ski hill, that the 1,400-member association has allowed to be used by at least some members of the Hartford public.

But in August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene changed things.

Floodwaters and debris associated with the storm not only damaged Lake Pinneo’s liner, but also devastated a quarter-acre property between the Simon Pearce building and the Quechee Covered Bridge on Quechee Main Street.

The liner was repaired in 2013, but the riverside property, deemed an eyesore by members of the Quechee community, got entangled in a network of state and federal obligations that, combined with some indecision within the Hartford community, prevented it from being stabilized and rehabilitated for years.

Eager to see the eyesore remedied, QLLA sought to increase pressure on the town to act, using the lake and other amenity use as leverage. In 2015, then-President Dave Duval proposed that the town pay $35,000 per year for continued use, with the previously casual agreements formalized in a contract. Duval envisioned that some of the money would be directed to rehabilitating the riverside property.

But as those talks stalled, public access to Lake Pinneo was revoked. That provoked an outcry, not only from affected Hartford residents but from QLLA members like Peter Merrill, who also sits on the Hartford School Board. This week, Merrill said he was unaware of any recent developments, but he reiterated his opposition to the move. “I’m on the record as believing that a good relationship between the (rest of the) town and QLLA benefits everyone,” he said, “and that I was against the rule changes made several years ago that reversed the long-standing practice of allowing locals who were not QLLA members to make use of Lake Pinneo.”

When they closed the lake, QLLA leaders hinted publicly that the restricted lake access was only temporary.

“We do want townwide use of the green and soccer fields, we want high school teams playing and practicing on the ski hill and the golf courses. And we do want Hartford residents at Lake Pinneo,” Patt Taylor, a former president of the association, wrote in a September 2015 letter to the Valley News. “However, like any relationship, it gets strained when one side feels unappreciated.”

And as recently as June 2016, one month before the Hartford Selectboard approved funding for the riverside park, longtime QLLA member David Barrell said “overcrowding, safety and liability concerns” contributed to the decision to curtail use of the lake, but only “until a manageable agreement was in place.”

Fading Priority

In 2017, officials finally broke ground on a $415,000, publicly funded project to transform the eyesore into a small riverside park, also known within the community as a pocket park.

However, the urgency to craft a broad contract between the town and QLLA has faded.

Town usage of other QLLA amenities was never interrupted, and “most of the content of the agreements resolved themselves,” said Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar, who became a member of QLLA at about the same time he was hired to the post in 2016, when most of the conflict between the two entities already was dying down.

“I have had no discussions at this point,” Pullar said.

But the unresolved issue of lake access will take on added importance this summer, when the closing of Sherman Manning Pools — which has been plagued by costly repair bills in recent years — will leave residents searching for other low-cost alternatives. Though he hasn’t pushed for one, Pullar said, he was open to a new agreement.

“I see nothing that would inhibit any future discussions on the topic,” Pullar said. “I have asked the Parks and Recreation director to have some initial discussion with the QLLA staff on the topic.”

Selectman Mike Morris, a Quechee resident, said he hopes that a committee that’s been formed to explore alternatives to repair or close the pool will gather more information.

“I think every option is worth exploring. Not just Lake Pinneo,” Morris said. “I think it would be a good idea for the committee to look into and come back with recommendations.”

Honey Donegan, a QLLA member who often has been critical of the association’s interactions with the town, said on Monday that concerns about overcrowding are overblown.

“Lake Pinneo has extended the length of the beach by adding sand,” she said. “The only time the beach is ‘overcrowded’ is on the July holiday celebration and barbecue.”

Donegan said the restriction of Lake Pinneo is the latest example of an organization that has trended away from community values.

“My perception is that QLLA is no longer a part of a Hartford community; it is a money-making corporation that aims to be elite,” she said. “The atmosphere is very different than 20 years ago and this change can be seen by the expensive cars in the parking lot.”

Through McLaren, the general manager, QLLA’s executive committee members declined to be interviewed for this article.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.