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Fairlee revitalization plan includes efforts large and small

  • Fairlee Selectboard member Cathy McGrath paints boards that will form the base of an informational sign for one of several planned socially distant gathering places in Fairlee. The gathering places, which will feature games, activities and information about outdoor recreation and resources in town, are part of the Main Street to Morey project to improve infrastructure and make the thoroughfare more welcoming and walkable. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2020 8:52:00 PM
Modified: 8/10/2020 8:51:55 PM

FAIRLEE — Route 5 is a major thoroughfare in Vermont, but when the state road makes its way through Fairlee, it becomes Main Street.

The speed limit drops and the road cruises through the center of town, passing the Town Common, where in pre-pandemic times summer concerts were held.

There also are restaurants and ice cream stands and the drive-in movie theater, and the turnoff for Lake Morey, where people can recreate year-round.

The corridor is the focus of the Main Street to Morey project, a community-led effort to spruce up downtown, improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, promote public spaces and emphasize Fairlee’s offerings. In the last week of July, volunteers installed outdoor seating areas, lawn games and new signage as part of a “Community Makeover” project. Efforts are continuing.

“A lot of this stuff is a little bit silly, but what we’re finding, and what the research shows, is when a community takes on some these little visual steps, it helps them believe that working a little more thoughtfully can lead to some more permanent steps,” said Selectboard member Cathy McGrath. “It’s certainly to welcome more people to Fairlee, but it’s also to make sure everyone in the community is sharing the resources we have right at our fingertips.”

The project stems from the “Better Connections” statewide grant awarded to the town in 2019. Consultants surveyed community members about what improvements they’d like to see and conducted an economic analysis and market study. Business owners and residents alike spoke of improving stormwater systems to reduce flooding and potholes, refurbishing the sidewalks and making Main Street safer for pedestrians.

“The more traditional model of planning is to write the plan and have longer-term improvements follow,” said Rebecca Sanborn Stone, principal senior planner and engagement specialist at Community Workshop LLC. “Instead of waiting for the report to be done and going after major grants … we set out this summer to really help Fairlee identify recommendations and improvements they can make happen right now.”

The Fairlee Public Library provides free Wi-Fi access to residents and volunteers set up an outdoor area there that includes games for children.

“We wanted to make it more comfortable for people accessing the Wi-Fi,” McGrath said.

People who are cycling through town might stop to rest at one of the seating areas, said Sanborn Stone, who has worked on similar efforts in Bethel. Once there, they might decide to get a meal at one of the local restaurants and explore downtown instead of just passing through.

“People want more places to gather, they want more activities to do, especially family-friendly activities. They want to be able to walk and bike more safely. They want traffic to slow down, they want to really shine a light on all the things to do,” Sanborn Stone said. “In some ways what this project is about is making Route 5 more of a Main Street. One of the main goals for Fairlee is turning that into a community center where people stop.”

Something as simple as adding signs that show where people can park for free or adding maps of biking and hiking trails can go a long way.

“There were people who lived in Fairlee who didn’t know about extensive series of trails in the town forest,” McGrath said.

Aletta Traendly bought her family’s business Chapman’s Store in 2000 and said the improvements can help benefit businesses in town.

“There’s a long way to go but we’re getting started making the town more beautiful, which is exciting,” she said. “It’s just so exciting to see a group of people get excited to say, ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to make it more beautiful.’ It’s very much appreciated.”

There are signs it’s already working. Liz Wilson, co-founder of Fairlee Community Arts, was on a bike ride the other night with her husband when she saw people gathered at one of the spots created by volunteers.

“There was a family who had come together to sit and eat dinner together at the social distance station and the library,” she said. “That kind of thing wouldn’t be possible without Main Street to Morey.”

Sanborn Stone described Fairlee as a community full of energetic volunteers devoted to bringing improvements to their town.

“It really is the kind of town where people are willing to take the future into their own hands,” she said.

“This community makeover project, it’s not the ending for them. It really feels like just the beginning.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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