While the Mad River Valley Recreation District and its partners continues to work on planning, engineering and permitting a new recreation hub in Waitsfield, VTrans is once again eyeing the intersection of Routes 17 and 100 in Waitsfield.
The new rec hub is to be developed from a $408,000 Vermont Outdoor Recreation and Economic Collaboration (VOREC) grant that was awarded this spring. That grant plus another $200,000 in in-kind services will result in a bridge behind Localfolk Smokehouse that connects Irasville and Waitsfield to the recreation trail networks.
The bridge will connect the field behind the Smokehouse to recreation trails on public and private land in and around Dana Hill, but also even further to the Catamount Trail, the ski area and sections of the Mad River Path.
The VOREC grant will cover the creation of a parking lot behind the Smokehouse and the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce will open a visitors center in the Smokehouse building between the existing bike shop and restaurant. Part of the recreation hub project includes a pedestrian crosswalk from the west side of Route 100 to the east via space between the Mad River Valley Real Estate and Jamieson Insurance buildings where people would connect with Dugway Road and continue north to a new section of trail built into the hillside south of Bluestone Pizza.
From there, pedestrian access will be along the east side of Route 100 until a crosswalk that is proposed near the southern entrance of the Mad River Green Shops. Those will be two new sections of the Mad River Path.
Details on the recreation hub project were discussed at length during a community forum on May 11 last week. It was well attended by the project partners as well as another 30 community members who Zoomed in plus those who watched via MRVTV.
Creation of the recreation hub will be a two-year project with planning and engineering underway now and permitting expected to start this summer. Construction will take place next year. The VOREC funds must be spent in two years, explained rec district board president Liza Walker.
Last week’s community forum was one way for the rec district and rec hub team to engage with the community as plans move forward, Walker explained.
The recreation hub and visitors center will also come with indoor and outside restrooms as well as educational information about The Valley’s various trail networks and other recreational resources. Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that questions the chamber receives about recreation are second only to those from people seeking a bathroom. The new visitors center is going to have space for all of the participating organizations in the project to have information and tell their stories.
In addition to the chamber, Mad River Path, Friends of the Mad River, the Mad River Valley Planning District, Waitsfield and the Mad River Valley Trails Collaborative, Mad River Riders are a leading partner in the recreation hub effort. Bob Kogut, president the Mad River Riders, explained the important of the project in linking The Valley’s commercial center to its trail and recreation network.
DEEP INTO PLANNING
He said that the Mad River Riders with Friends of the Mad River (FMR) and other partners are deep into the planning, and designing of the bridge and parking lot, working closely with state officials on best environmental practices, flood plains and more. The bridge will be 4-feet wide and 80-feet long. Organizers hope to be able to provide 50 to 80 parking spaces onsite.
“We’re currently talking to VTrans about the parking entrance and exit. We’re aware that VTrans is rethinking the whole route 17/100 intersection and we may move a crosswalk based on how that intersection finally happens,” Kogut said.
Members of the public asked questions about who would maintain, own and steward the parking lot and bridge and Kogut explained that Smokehouse owner John Morris had granted an easement for public access for the bridge, parking and access to trails. The bridge, he said, would be owned by the rec district and the Mad River Riders would be stewards of the bridge and trails.
Kevin Anderson, a member of the Waitsfield Planning Commission, asked if the project team had considered metrics for assessing the impacts of the recreation hub and Kogut explained plans to use trail counters which is something the Mad River Riders does every two years.
“Economic development is one of the factors in a VOREC grant but we’re also interested in making outdoor recreation more accessible to people who already live here. A good third of this project is creating this appreciation for nature and how to better take care of it. Another third is teaching people about the watershed and recreation and how to take better care of it and the environment. And the final third is all the nonprofits working together and planning this,” Kogut said.
MOST DANGEROUS INTERSECTION
Returning to the issue of VTrans and the Route 17/100 intersection, trail volunteer Charlie Hosford said he is concerned about the trail from Dugway Road to Bluestone from a public safety point of view.
“That intersection Bragg Hill, Route 100/17 and Bluestone parking lot is probably most dangerous intersection in the entire Valley. VTrans is in process of redesigning this entire intersection. I think it would be far better to wait before we carve up that hillside and create a hodgepodge of signs at Bluestone to see what that intersection looks like. We have an alternative route that connects to Irasville; it’s not like bikers and walkers can’t get to the commercial area. My suggestion is that we not put money and effort into that section of the path,” Hosford said.
Mad River Valley Planning District executive director Josh Schwartz reminded those at the forum of the effort to make that intersection safe over a 15-year time period when VTrans worked with Waitsfield and Fayston on dozens of iterations of potential new alignment for the bridge and the intersections. That culminated in no change and no concrete plans by the early 2000s. Now, Schwartz said, VTrans wants to re-engage with Waitsfield this summer and start having that conversation from a safe place that is focused on pedestrian and vehicular safety as well as stormwater concerns.