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Vernon considers 'community visit'

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2015-01-29

By Michael Faher, Brattleboro Reformer: http://www.reformer.com/latestnews/ci_27422043/vernon-considers-communit...

VERNON >> What should Vernon's future look like?

It's a big question, especially given last month's closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. And some wonder whether the community needs to have a focused conversation about which goals and plans are the most-pressing.

To that end, a public informational meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 5 at Vernon Elementary School's cafeteria to determine whether the town should participate in Vermont Council on Rural Development's "Community Visit" program.

That program, which neighboring Guilford completed in 2013, is aimed at setting priorities and then finding expert advice and resources to make those priorities a reality.

"This is a starting point. Is there interest?" said Heather Frost, a Vernon resident who is organizing the meeting. "Are people interested in participating in the program? I hope they will be."

The Community Visit Program has happened in 26 places since 1996. The Vermont Council on Rural Development defines it as a program that "actively connects grass-roots community building efforts in towns across Vermont with statewide resources, expertise and opportunities."

Over the course of four months, residents attend meetings with a "visiting resource team" made up of council members and others representing the governmental, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Residents choose key goals and form task forces to advance them.

More information is available at vtrural.org.

In Guilford, the visit process happened in 2013 and led to three priorities — redeveloping Broad Brook Grange; further development/expansion of Guilford Community Church; and creation of a small-business incubator. At least two of those projects have moved forward since then, with locals taking the lead after the end of the "visit" process.

Frost said she heard about Vermont Council on Rural Development's work in Wilmington and Guilford, did some research online and "thought, 'Wow, this is really great.'" She's hoping she can help bring it to Vernon.

"I think we're in a transitional period," Frost said. "I thought it would be a way to empower the citizens."

Frost added that the visit program might be a way to focus ideas about Vernon's future.

"There's a lot happening. But as a whole, I would like to see all those aspects come together," she said. "I think a lot of people have a lot of good ideas, and they're not always sure where to take them."

The Feb. 5 meeting is scheduled to include Vermont Council on Rural Development Executive Director Paul Costello as well as another council representative. Frost is hoping enough people attend to "put Vernon on the list."

"From what I'm understanding, there is a waiting list," she said. "And if there is a waiting list, that tells us something about it."

Costello said the council "will be able to be more conclusive" about the visit program's prospects and potential schedule in Vernon after the Feb. 5 meeting.

"We do have a backlog of towns, but we also know how important Vernon is," Costello said. "So this meeting will explore what is possible."

Contact Mike Faher at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.