By Tony Marquis
It’s been 23 years since Woodstock was named the “prettiest small town in America” by The Ladies Home Journal. Over that time, a group of buildings on the village’s east end have slowly deteriorated. Their windows have been broken and their walls and roofs have sagged. An area that still holds town history, where a railroad station used to be, now seems to be the home of notoriously nicknamed sites like the “jungle” or the “dump.”
Over the years, different local activists have picked up, and subsequently dropped or become frustrated with, efforts to revitalize the east end. But for the past few years, the East End Action Group — headed by residents Mary MacVey and Joby Thompson — has been leading the charge, hoping to build a park, or really anything that will improve an area some people have called “ugly” and an “eyesore.”
“I think there’s an understandable and natural skepticism,” said MacVey. “So many things have been proposed and so many things have been tried, and people just say, ‘Ugh, now what?’”
A meeting was scheduled for July 25 between the Woodstock Resort Corporation and village officials to discuss a piece land near Bailey’s Meadow, which could serve as an alternate site for the village to move its snow to in the winter.
It’s a meeting that may prompt an environmental study, but to the East End Action Group, it’s an integral first step in a long-awaited process.
The Snow Dump
Every year, village plows push tons of freshly fallen snow away from downtown streets and into a large pile behind the dilapidated buildings which fronts Route 4 and is only steps away from the Ottauquechee River. Businesses have come and gone near the area. The East End Action Group thinks the snow dump has something to do with the lack of economic growth.
“You have the snow trucks coming in and out at night and mostly all during the day,” Thompson said. “You’ve got the trucks coming in, you’ve got them backing up, going ‘Beep, beep, beep.’”
In 2000, a group of local designers came up with different plans to make the area more appealing. Among their suggestions were a park, housing, a visitors’ center, restaurants and shops.
“All of the attempts have failed for one basic reason: the snow dump,” Thompson said.
Before the flood from Tropical Storm Irene last August, the group had a spot picked out to relocate the snow dump. But that was opposed by a property owner near the proposed site.
A new site — owned by the Woodstock Resort Corp. — just down the road from where the Apples and Crafts Fair is held every fall, has been proposed and pending an environmental impact study, the resort is willing to sell it to the village.
“It’s in everybody’s interest to have something happen at the East End — for it to become more than what it is, because right now it’s basically an eyesore,” said Werner Graef, president and general manager at Woodstock Inn and Resort. “It’s the primary point of entry to the town — entry and departure — and it just doesn’t represent the town favorably.”
‘We Need Something’
Driving into Woodstock from the east on Route 4, a couple of the run-down properties are visible from the road. Walking down the village parking lot and drive, there are four more dilapidated buildings.
Closer to the river, where a gravel ramp appears to allow public access to the Ottauquechee River, are separate piles of rebar and concrete and rusted metal and village signs, in between overgrown grass, weeds and wildflowers.
Across the street, a majority of the nearby businesses and properties are for sale, including Mark Hazen’s laundromat, which has been on the market for about three years.
“I wish something could be done with it, but what should be done with it? I don’t know,” Hazen said. “We need something to bring people to walk to this end of town. There’s really no reason to go further than Mac’s Market.”
Chy Tuckerman rents out a building for his restaurant, Angkor Wat.
“I feel that place should have been re-done a long time ago,” said Tuckerman, who has been renting for four years. “I feel like it will bring more business to Woodstock — whatever they do — I’d just like to see something happen.”
Plans to purchase two of the run-down properties, owned by Bill Alsup, fell through last year, according to reports. The Alsup property is still listed as a contaminated brownfield site according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Ron Jaynes is one of the owners of a property in the east end, which includes the remnants of an old railroad terminus.
“We don’t have any plans for the property,” Jaynes said. “The land is for sale.”
One property is making headway though. Nick Burke, an attorney who has an option to purchase the Gerrish property across Route 4 opposite Maplefield’s from the jungle, said the property just completed its cleanup of petroleum contamination on its brownfield site. Burke said he plans to demolish the building there to make it more attractive for potential buyers.
A Park Goes Here?
The East End Action Group has seen the 2000 plan from the designers and it thinks the best option for the village-owned property along the river is a park — a Riverfront Community Park, to be exact.
“We’re looking for a better use of this land and we’re really looking to start an economic engine, that’s really at the heart of redeveloping this,” Thompson said.
MacVey added: “If the public does this much for the community that the private sector, will look at it and say this is a worthy investment.”
In a phone interview with Village Trustee Candace Coburn said the village is willing to fund the relocation of the snow dump, but not the proposed park.
“The only thing I’ve ever said is ‘No public funds,’” Coburn said.
The group said their plans for a park haven’t changed despite the flood from last year that washed away a large portion of the land near the river.
Local nonprofits have given the group their endorsement for a park. Sustainable Woodstock has raised $13,500 for the park and a $10,000 work grant from Chippers, a landscaping company, once a site is approved.
“Some prefer to sit back and wait for the right plan from the right developer at the right price, which we feel is not going to happen,” MacVey said.
Thompson added: “Since it hasn’t happened in 30 years, why would it suddenly happen?”
By Tony Marquis