This past week the Waitsfield Select Board made a fateful decision, one that affects many if not all. They passed a motion to start proceedings to determine if Dana Hill Road should be abandoned by the town. The presumption was that the road is too expensive to maintain and that this just a question of economics. Yet, what is fateful is not the simple-minded approach to this situation but what they did not do or say. They did not discuss the human, historical or ethical implications of their actions. They did not consider how this will affect the lives of the people who live and work on the road or those who use it regularly. They did not begin to consider what can be done to provide fair, just and reasonable services for a road that has been in existence for over 220 years. They did not consider what the environmental impact will be of abandoning this road.
ONE OF FIRST ROADS
Dana Hill Road was one of the first roads in The Valley. It existed before Route 100 was built and before bridges across the Mad River were available. Our house site was the second home in The Valley after General Wait built his house and one of the first children born in The Valley was born at our site in 1794. At one point up to eight family farms were located along the road. Now we are down to two farms, a couple of businesses and several camps and seasonal residences. My family has been making use of Dana Hill Road for five generations. During all that time Dana Hill Road was maintained and accessible in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Now some of the farms have been consolidated into a portion of Camel’s Hump State Forest and the road has become a mecca for hunters, hikers, bikers and sightseers. It is used daily for all of these purposes.
During the course of the select board meeting several wildly speculative comments were made about the cost of maintaining and improving the road. In point of fact, the costs have been minimal and they have been decreasing. Twenty years ago the town provided yearly maintenance. That amounted to a bulldozer coming up the road for a day and maintaining water bars and ditches. Several years later that was reduced to once every two years, and lately all maintenance has stopped other than when a specific problem pops up like the need for a culvert replacement. Select board members suggested that we can always "beg for help like we did a number of years ago.”
That comment referred to a situation when several landowners realized that the town was cutting back its maintenance support and we offered to spread some gravel if the town would truck it up the hill for us. We were in fact offering help, not begging for it, in the spirit of cooperation. Those of us on the hill realized that those of us who have small tractors can assist with the road duties despite the fact that many other people use the road besides us. In recent years, we have also become grateful to the local mountain bike club for their work on removing downed trees and helping maintain the water bars.
Later in the meeting there was a question about what happens to an abandoned road. That is easy to see. During the early 1970s the last portion of Dana Hill Road was abandoned, the portion from Dana Hill to Butternut Hill Road. That section is now indistinguishable from the woods surrounding it. It is entirely impassable.
Select board members implied that recent new state regulations focusing on environmental concerns are to blame for this latest development. In fact, the neglect of Dana Hill Road has been in the works for years. The driving force appears to be that we are small in number and expendable as people and taxpayers. And, more worrisome, the state regulations are intended to improve water quality and environmental standards. The select board action is clearly designed to knowingly and blatantly circumvent these efforts.
We now ask, what does it take to keep a road open? Perhaps we need to take as an example the actions of our erstwhile select board chair. When his farm road was blocked by an unsuspecting visitor he dumped a load of manure on the miscreant’s car. The lesson to be learned from this is not that we have to throw a lot of crap around to get our point across, but that everyone has very strong reactions when access to their properties is impeded. We will do what needs to be done to stay connected to our community and we will not let our homes and lives be destroyed by callous officialdom. That is something we should all be concerned about. I, thus, ask, what would you do if someone came up out of the blue and announced, “You can’t go home again”?
Laskowski lives in Waitsfield.