As the executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, I felt the need to respond to Ben Falk’s opinion piece about overcrowding at Warren Falls in last week’s Valley Reporter. No one, myself included, wants to see our beautiful natural areas overrun and “loved to death.” I also question the wisdom in busing folks to the falls on a number of levels. While I appreciate some of Mr. Falk’s sentiments, I wish he would have taken a moment to contact me before going off disseminating information that is simply untrue.
Warren Falls has always been a popular place and the recent overcrowding has developed in a more organic and less nefarious way than he describes. The falls became part of the Green Mountain National Forest in the mid-1990s as part of a land swap with Sugarbush. The arrangement also required a successful fundraising effort among concerned locals dedicated to protecting the falls. This history was well documented in an editorial a few weeks ago. Parking became a safety issue and the United States Forest Service (USFS) was bound by law to address it. They did so with a legally compliant, accessible new parking lot. Over the ensuing years Warren Falls has received plenty of attention as one of the most beautiful swim holes in the nation and rightfully so. It has not become popular due to over-promotion or a concerted campaign of any kind. It has become popular because it is a wicked cool place, and guess what? People talk, people share and social media can be powerful.
Mr. Falk made it sound like there is a concerted marketing effort that features Warren Falls. Rest assured that the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce is not trying to “find ways to encourage jamming people into the pools at the falls. …” In fact, if you took the time to visit the swimming page of our website (www.madrivervalley.com/swim) you’d notice that we in fact direct folks to many other swim holes along the Mad River and don’t even mention Warren Falls. We don’t mention it for the very reasons you suggest.
Do we have images of Warren Falls on our website? Yes, we do, because it is an amazing place and we have great photography from there. Would you suggest that we not use a photo of woods skiing at Sugarbush or Mad River Glen because it might lure too many skiers into your favorite glade? Do you feel like we shouldn’t use our best imagery to encourage folks to visit the Mad River Valley?
When you mention the town of Warren you said, “… they should have thought about that before promoting the place and drawing the crowds whose dollars they were after.” While I have only lived in town for three decades, I don’t think I am aware of any “marketing effort” initiated by the town of Warren and don’t see them as being after anyone’s money.
Mr. Falk, do you really want to talk about the “collateral damage” of tourism? Are you aware of the fact that many of your neighbors own or work at local businesses and are reliant upon tourism? Are you aware that many of them struggle to remain viable in a tough, competitive and seasonal market? We are fortunate to have restaurants, inns, a movie theater, retail stores, services and other amenities that most communities of our size do not have. They are here because our visitors provide the traffic that locals alone cannot make viable. Hopefully you will consider them the next time you decide to be critical of our collective (and exceedingly limited) marketing efforts. Stop on by our Bridge Street Visitors Center and I’d be happy to share the actual marketing plan with you.
I also must point out that in my nearly 25-year career of marketing Mad River Glen and The Valley generally, you are literally the very first person I have ever heard suggest that the Mad River Valley’s overall marketing efforts have been “too” successful. While I appreciate your respect for our collective marketing work, we really can’t take all the credit for overcrowding at Warren Falls.
In conclusion, let's all remember that we collectively own this property via the national forests. Warren Falls belongs to all Americans, not just the locals fortunate enough to live near it.
Eric Friedman is the executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce.