Monday October 15, 2012

DUMMERSTON -- Nothing’s changing at Dutton Pines State Park, and that’s both good news and bad news for local residents.

It’s good news for those who’ve been reassured that the state, despite repeatedly declaring that the park is "surplus property," has no plans to sell the parcel off Route 5.

But it’s bad news for those who want to see more recreational opportunities at the site. The state has no plans for such an investment, meaning it may fall to a local entity or volunteers to make improvements.

"Now, we need to turn our attention to what use people want to make of it," Dummerston resident Ed Anthes said. "It is a resource that needs attention."

Dutton Pines is one of four properties in what the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation calls its "Brattleboro Management Unit." And it is by far the runt of the litter: Dutton covers only 13 acres compared with Fort Dummer State Park (260 acres), Molly Stark State Park (168 acres) and Sweet Pond State Park (100 acres).

Vermont purchased Dutton Pines in 1937 from Edith Dutton so that it could be developed as a park as a tribute to her late father, Myron Dutton, state documents show.

The park opened in 1940, but use declined and a summertime ranger’s position was eliminated in the 1970s.

Today, "it is a bit of a liability for us," said Ethan Phelps, a state parks regional manager based in Springfield. "It lost its regional significance when the interstate went in. It used to be a place people would go to when they were driving by on Route 5."

Dutton Pines also hosts three structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s -- a cabin, a pavilion and a "bath house" for public rest rooms.

Over the past several years, local residents’ concerns were twofold: Would the state sell the park to a developer? Or, if the state retained ownership, would officials remove the park’s structures?

"It started getting really blown out of proportion," said Dummerston Selectboard Chairman Lewis White, adding that the board invited state officials to speak about Dutton Pines at a meeting earlier this month.

"We wanted to clear the air and get rid of these rumors," White said.

Phelps was one of two state park officials present at that session. His message was that the state is not looking to sell Dutton Pines.

"We’re going to continue on our current path unless we hear otherwise," Phelps said in a subsequent interview.

A state park management plan says Dummerston made an offer to buy Dutton Pines in 2008 but then withdrew that offer. And White said town officials are not discussing any new offers.

"Then the town would have to do the upkeep on it," White said. "I don’t think we’re looking at taking it over. The way it sounded, the state was just going to keep doing what they have been doing."

Some say that’s not enough.

"I think it could be made much more usable," said resident Ruth Barton, who along with Anthes and several others has been paying close attention to the state’s plans for Dutton Pines.

Phelps raised the possibility that the state, while retaining legal ownership, would look to a local organization to help maintain or even improve Dutton Pines.

"Anything like that certainly would be better than what we have now," Phelps said.

Anthes said a local Dutton Pines effort could result in a better, more accessible park. For instance, he suggested development of a "nice loop trail" through the site.

"I think we keep talking to each other to see who has the energy to work on this," Anthes said.

As for the park’s buildings, there are no immediate plans to remove them. Phelps said the bath house is in the worst shape of the three Civilian Conservation Corps structures.

"We are coming up with a preservation plan for the structures to help us decide what to do with them," he said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.