Created on Thursday, 13 December 2007 06:41
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 December 2007 06:41
By Kevin Eurich
I think the reasons for young people leaving the areas where they grew up fall into two camps. The first is what I view as a natural transition (i.e., marriage, military, college and acquaintances). In the natural transition camp, people find new interests, lifestyles and opportunities that just crop up. It's a natural evolution created by chance encounters. The second camp is a direct result of the environment that has been created in the home area of the young men and women.
I graduated with Waitsfield High School's Class of 1965, one year before WHS ceased to exist in 1966. Our tiny class of 14 members has turned out to be somewhat unique. Most of us remained in The Valley to pursue our lives. Some, like me, spent a few years away in the military or furthering our education. However, within a short period of time we were back and, by-in-large, remained here from an approximate age of 21 to 55.
Back in my high school days The Valley did not have the population that exists today. The Valley still had its agricultural base. Most of the "service" jobs were filled by high school students during ski season. Only a handful of adults remained behind as full-time employees. Beyond trail and other maintenance, there wasn't enough work. In no way, was the ski industry a 365 days employment opportunity. Certainly, we had Bonnette's Garage, Mehuron's I.G.A., Hap's, Bisbee's Hardware, Waitsfield-Fayston Telecom, etc., but combined I don't think there were more than a 20 employees. The rest of the population commuted outside The Valley for employment.
When I returned to The Valley after being discharged from the USN in October of 1969, I was fortunate to land a job with Waitsfield-Fayston Telephone Company. During the four years I was in the Navy, tremendous changes took place in terms of farms closing down and the amount of new homes that had sprouted up. I would go hunting in areas I had frequented before Uncle Sam and find myself suddenly standing in someone's backyard. The 1970s was witness to phenomenal growth, particularly the condo industry at Sugarbush. And, more farms sold out. Land, often large acreage, was being grabbed up by money that usually came from out-of-state speculators, venture capitalists and those with the means to afford second homes. The large sums that were being paid for the land put possibilities for the average citizen out of reach. Most of my class was able to adapt to the pace of mind-boggling changes going on around us. We weren't necessarily lucky. The fact is we had nailed down our careers before it hit the fan.
The Valley has become a victim partly of its own making and in large part because human population has grown at a frightening pace. There has been a very large exodus by metropolitan and urban citizens to the rural areas of the country, Vermont, seemingly, the most desired destination. The population influx to The Valley was typically affluent and quickly gobbled up land and homes throughout. What little that remains is, for all practical purposes, unobtainable.
The Valley was once a thriving agricultural community. Certainly, no one got rich at farming, but it was a way of life that worked. We've made the transition to an entity that depends chiefly on tourism. We are very much a recreation-based community, skiing being our primary product. This environment doesn't pay well, the vast jobs being offered are of the "service" variety or retail oriented. The margins for profit are very small. Success always teeters on a good or bad winter. How many restaurants, specialty shops, boutiques, bed and breakfast businesses, et al can The Valley sustain given the competition for the dollars that may trickle down from the ski slopes? We have a tiny bit of industry, but it was telling when Mad River Canoe moved on. There is, at the very least, a perception that Vermont and, in this case, the Mad River Valley are not business friendly. Give the myriad of regulatory hurdles, NIMBY attitude and unreasonable and unrealistic views of some perceived utopian world, I can understand the frustration. This is not a conducive environment for one to rely on to pay the bills and realize a little bit of the American dream.
I wouldn't say that all of our younger citizens are gone. Certainly, less are staying. That amount is proportional to the limited job opportunities that exist. It doesn't help that The Valley and Vermont in general has transitioned to the point where it is generally unaffordable to not only the young but all citizens that are middle-class or lower.
Kevin Eurich lives in Moretown.