by Roger LeCours
Backed by some local supporters and facing some adamant opposition, leaders of the Vermont Reggae Festival Thursday night presented the select board with an impassioned appeal to allow the 1997 reggae festival to be held here on July 19.
Wendell and Beverly Shepard have granted permission to the reggae organization to use their farm meadows off Bridgman Hill Road which was the site of the 1995 reggae fest. Hardwick Police Chief Leslie Dimick and others estimated that 50,000 people were at that event. It was the biggest turnout in reggae's Vermont 10-year history. Previous festivals were held in Burlington and Johnson. Last year's reggae was held in New Haven, a town in Addison County.
Andrew Marks, president of the reggaecommittee,wasjoined Thursday night by vice president Josh Silberstein, secretary Susan DeLeon,and securitydirector Andrew Pattin in a 90-minute appearance before the board along with 25 local citizens. The reggae organization is based in Burlington.
Since the specter of 50,000 people turning out again this year is fueling much of the local opposition to the reggae fest, Marks was quick to say estimates of the 1995 crowd were "grossly overstated~"
Marks said there was "no official count" but he estimated the crowd at "18,000 to 20,000."
Marks said he bases his figures on the 4,000 cars that were parked on the festival site and his estimate of 3.2 people arriving in each car.
There's just no way that it adds up to 50,000 people," Marks said.
Selectman Helmut Nottermann said he places more trust in the "police estimate of 50,000," adding that he saw no cars with only three people.
"Whether it's 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000, it's too big for our town," saidCharlesDeasy,whose Bridgman Hill residence is on a 7acre tract abutting the Shepard farm.
Deasy said he opposes having the reggae festival this year just as he opposed it two years ago. Deasy said he doesn't want people walking all over his property.
Lewis and Helen Billings w
"It's taken some time, but we're moving more rapidly, gaining momentum and we're glad to be started," said Bob Burnham, a trustee of Kingdom Trailways.
Directors of Kingdom Trailways envision the project as an innovative way to use the natural environment to generate tourism growth. They see it as an opportunity for both the economy and the environment around the Northeast Kingdom.
"Once the trail network is established and publicized, we think it will draw many people from outside the area, as well as being a great place for local people to hike and ski," said Burnham.
Burnham said eventually the group envisions a system of trails that extend all over the Northeast Kingdom. With East Burke at the hub of the system, trails would go from Lyndonville to East Haven, to the Victory Bog area, and to West Burke.
Burnham said the area already has about 75 km of cross country ski trails, many of which are available for year-round use. In addition, there are other trails along the Darling Hill Ridge."We're making an effort to connect a lot of the existing trails," said Burnham.
Currently Burnham said Kingdom Trail is working on a portion to become a main trail on Darling Hill that would eventually link it to East Burke and Burke Mountain. He hopes to begin marking the main trail by the end of the summer.
Charlie Browne, curator of Fairbanks Museum and trustee of Kingdom Trails, explained East Burke serves as a good hub for the trail system because of its central location and parking capacity. There are also commercial amenities in the village.
In addition to serving as a tourist attraction, the trail system will serve to educate the public. Browne said he looks forward to working with and educating area youth by using the trail system. For example, Browne said the brochure Kingdom Trails plans to print will provide information about the plant and animal life around the area, as well as the geology and history.
John Morton, a former olympic biatholon champion, has been aiding in trail design. This includes laying out a portion of the trail, scouting them and then flagging a pathway.
Also, the National Park service has been helping out with the project. Jennifer Waite, of Woodstock, with the park service, has been contributing some technical and design services to the project.
Browne said Waite has been drawing on her own experience to help with grading and signs, recognizing which trail characteristics are suitable for what kind of use.
In addition to working on the design of the trail, the group is in the process of getting legal coverage as well as working with property owner. Some details to iron out include discussions about what kinds of trail markers to use, as well as the upkeep and budget.
Burnham explained Kingdom Trails is getting liability insurance which will protect the group and landowners.
"The specifics can get complicated, but the concept is very simple, it's a network of opportunities to experience the Northeast Kingdom," said Browne.
Though the budget is small, Burnham said interest and grant money is growing. Currently Kingdom Trails is using some grant money from the State of Vermont Forestry Park and Recreation Department, and with a small grant from the recreation trail fund.
In addition to grants, Burnham said the group is getting some support from a partnership with Conneticut River Valley, and that personal donations are always accepted.
However, Burnham explained Kingdom Trails has gotten off the ground because of the volunteer effort.
"We rely very much on volunteers," said Burnham.
Burnham said June 7 is National Trail Day, when people from all over the United States will be making an effort to improve and build trails.
Anyone interested in volunteering on trail day to do maintenance or trail clearing can meet at East Burke Sports at 9 a.m.