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Out & About: After Irene, Hartford Builds Community With Resilience Week

  • Mark Kutolowski leads the Wild Edibles Food Walk during Resilience Week in Hartford, Vt., in 2016. (Photograph courtesy of Matt Osborn)

  • Didi Pershouse makes a presentation at the Symposium on Soils during Resilience Week in Hartford, Vt., in 2016. (Photograph courtesy of Matt Osborn)



Valley News Calendar Editor
Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hartford — I didn’t live in the Upper Valley when Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on the region, but I remember the news reports.

After seeing the dramatic footage of the Quechee Covered Bridge being washed away by the raging Ottauquechee River, I called my parents’ friends in Vermont’s Addison County to see how they made out.

The problem is on the other side of the state, they informed me, and I filed that information away as people do when hearing about a natural disaster that does not have a direct impact on themselves or those they love.

Nearly nine months later, as I was prepping for my job interview at the Valley News, I reread the news coverage of what has been described as a once-in-lifetime event.

After I got the job and moved to the region, a few months before the storm’s first anniversary, I began to notice that people described certain features in the area by referring to the storm.

“Before Irene,” they’d say, the Kmart on Route 12A in West Lebanon was pretty run down. “Before Irene,” the Norwich Pool was a supreme swimming spot.

Then there was “during Irene,” when whole neighborhoods were cut off and residents worked together to deliver medication and supplies to their vulnerable neighbors. “During Irene” my (now) Valley News colleagues were hard at work at the office until the Lebanon Fire Department finally ordered them out of the building just before the press was supposed to roll.

“After Irene,” culvert sizes were increased to better handle floods. “After Irene,” businesses reopened and volunteers helped residents clean up their homes. “After Irene,” more neighbors made it a point to check in on each other.

After Irene, I am told, there was a genuine feeling that if a town could survive a storm like that, it could survive anything.

It’s that feeling of togetherness, that toughness, that us-against-the-worldness that the Community Resilience Organization of Hartford, a Selectboard-appointed committee, aims to capture and grow during its second annual Hartford Resilience Week, which features discussions, workshops and other events focused on building a stronger, more resilient community.

The weeklong schedule of events coincides with the sixth anniversary of the storm.

“We as a community are better suited to plan, respond and recover from natural, manmade events and disasters,” said Dylan Kreis, chairman of the committee.

The organization is one of six pilot groups started in Vermont after Tropical Storm Irene to study how towns can build and strengthen their preparedness efforts. Hartford’s organization also aims to assist the town in putting its Hazard Mitigation Plan in place.

Preparedness begins at a community level “to do what we can do to help without waiting for the federal government,” said Matt Osborn, a Hartford planner. “There is a lot of public education … simple things we can do with our families to deal with those events.”

Resilience week begins Friday night with a community dinner and discussion centered on the theme “How does Hartford measure up?” Programs are free and open to everyone. You don’t have to live in Hartford to attend.

Workshops — such as Monday’s CPR class, taught by the Hartford Fire Department, and a Thursday composting class — teach skills that are beneficial “for the long term and also the short term,” Kreis said.

Building resilience also helps create community, he said, by knowing who in the neighborhood has a generator or who has a chain saw, for example.

The week concludes the way it began — with a discussion and a community dinner.

“During that session we hope to come up with plans of action and find people to implement (them),” Kreis said.

The organization has not sponsored any events since last year’s Resilience Week, but that’s something Kreis hopes to change by “doing a workshop, lecture or resilience ‘skill share’ once a month,” he said.

It’s also about connecting elements of the community that typically operate separately — town government, businesses and NGOs, for example.

A reminder of the value of the resilience effort came just last month, when July’s flooding wiped out roads across the region. “There are ice storms, there are blizzards, we can have power outages in the winter,” Osborn said.

So whether you lived in the Upper Valley before, during or after Irene (or all three), attend one event or all 13 to discuss how to make the community stronger.

“There’s something for everybody,” Kreis said. “Opportunities for learning, meeting new people and having fun.”

Here’s a rundown of the week’s events:

Resilience Week Schedule

“How Does Hartford Measure Up?”

Aug. 18, 6-9 p.m., Bugbee Senior Center 262 N. Main St., White River Junction. Community Resilience Assessment with Mindy Blake and Rebecca Sanborn Stone. Dinner provided.

“Resilient Forest Walking Tour”

Aug. 19, 2-4 p.m., Meet at Dothan Brook School, 2300 Christian St., Wilder. Led by foresters Jon Bouton and Dana Hazen.

“Dinner and a Movie: ‘How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change’”

Aug. 19. Dinner, 5:30 p.m. Movie, 6:45 p.m. Wilder Club, 78 Norwich Ave., Wilder.

“Movie: ‘How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change’”

Aug. 20, 7 p.m., VINS, 6565 Woodstock Road, Quechee. Refreshments provided.

“Hands-on CPR Training”

Aug. 21, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Bugbee Senior Center 262 N. Main St., White River Junction. Taught by the Hartford Fire Department.

“Resilience Panel”

Aug. 21, 7-9 p.m., Bugbee Senior Center 262 N. Main St., White River Junction. Video from Bill McKibben with responses from Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Rebecca Sanborn Stone and Andrew Winter.

“The Art of Vegetable Fermentation”

Aug. 22, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Town Hall, 171 Bridge St., White River Junction. Led by Alison Baker.

“From Plant to Medicine”

Aug. 22, 7-8:15 p.m., Town Hall, 171 Bridge St., White River Junction. Led by Duncan Pogue and Katie Williams.

“Building Soil From the Ground Up”

Aug. 23, 5-6 p.m., Center for Transformational Practice, 149 Latham Works Lane, White River Junction. Taught by Cat Buxton. Followed by potluck.

“Designing with Natural Patterns: Permaculture as Framework for Holistic Landscape Design”

Aug. 23, 7-8 p.m., Center for Transformational Practice, 149 Latham Works Lane, White River Junction. Taught by Karen Ganey.

“Tool Sharpening”

Aug. 24, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Ratcliffe Park, Latham Works Lane. Taught by Mark Grable.

“This Rots! Demystifying Compost”

Aug. 24, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Ratcliffe Park, Latham Works Lane. Taught by Cat Buxton. Registration required.

“Coming Together for Community Resilience”

Aug. 25, 6-9 p.m., Bugbee Senior Center 262 N. Main St., White River Junction. Dinner provided,

Editor’s note: For more information, contact Osborn at 802-295-3075 or visit www.hartford-vt.org. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.