BELLOWS FALLS -- The village's Waypoint Center is thought of as a local travel agent.
Visitors and tourists can use the facility as a sort of inanimate guide and local historian for anyone looking for a little information about the area. Owned by the town of Rockingham, the center offers brochures and informational packets while photographs of yesteryear adorn the facility. All are aimed at encouraging patronage at eateries and retail shops within the village.
Kim Buehler is in charge of organizing all of the facility's volunteers and serves as the unofficial Waypoint Center coordinator. The Saxtons River resident started a couple of weeks ago after her position as hospitality and recreation teacher at the River Valley Technical Center in Springfield was eliminated.
The center seemed stuck at a mere two volunteers for a while but that number has recently jumped to nine, with two high schools also expressing interest. She said there will be at least one volunteer on duty when the facility is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. The job of each volunteer is to assists any visitors to the area.
"I would first find out what they're interested in seeing. ... I don't think anything is really cookie-cutter because everybody's needs are so different," she said on the final Friday in June, after helping a married couple from Virginia Beach, Va., find routes to different Vermont waterways. "Two fellows came in yesterday
But as important as it may be to the local economy, the Waypoint Center has not been without its controversy.
The center -- which also caters to visitors getting off the Amtrak train or Interstate 91 -- has caused some hostility between village and town residents and their local governments. Some say their elected officials are not interested in the center, and thus, the economic development of the village.
At a Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees meeting prior to the May elections, new resident Jerry Humphrey stood up to ask if the remaining $1.3 million of a Federal Transit Authority bus and bus facilities grant will be used for renovations and upgrades of the local Waypoint Center. When Humphrey was told it would not, Catherine Bergmann said she hoped the next board would keep in mind the village's best interests.
Once that meeting entered executive session, Bergmann and Humphrey said they would like to see the Waypoint Center become the inter-modal center -- for buses and trains -- through renovations and upgrades, as it was originally supposed to.
The remaining $1.3 million of the grant will be spent on a park-and-ride facility just off Exit 6.
Municipal Manager Timothy Cullenen has said any claim that officials do not have the village's best interests in mind is false.
The facility is still seeking additional volunteers, as Cullenen said there are simply not enough funds to hire a paid staff. He added in a telephone interview several weeks ago that of the citizens who claim to champion the center, only one (Humphrey) has offered to volunteer.
Cullenen mentioned that a few other residents have also signed up.
Assistant Village Clerk Brenda Doherty individuals are able to work as many two-hour slots as they would like. She said in late May that the town was hoping to open the center on June 1 but had to postpone due to having only one volunteer at that time.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call Rockingham Town Hall at 802-463-4336, ext. 103, to reach Doherty.
The Waypoint Center, for most of its history, housed the Great Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce until it moved to The Square. For the past year or so it has been the home of Cider Mag, a local publication that highlights the area's music and entertainment scene. But editor in chief/publisher Brian Joy said his business, which publishes one edition every month, decided to also pack up shop and move to The Square.
"We're taking the month of June and the beginning of July to get the office completely organized and decorated and set up the way we want it to be. ... We're going to take five, six weeks to get the business organized up there," he said for a previous article in the Reformer. He added that operating out of the Waypoint Center was a great start but could become distracting for employees, who are obligated to assist tourists who visit.
"For our first office, it was fantastic," he went on to say, adding that the number of visitors the center sees in a day varies from as few as two or three to as many as 20.
According to the website of Bellows Falls and Rockingham, the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts received funding, through the Federal Highway Administration Scenic Byway Program, in 1996 to study the feasibility of byways along the Connecticut River. They had hoped to find a way to encourage tourists to travel off the highway and onto the more rural roads along the water.
The site for the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center was chosen as the "Waypoint Community" for the Vermont towns of Rockingham, Westminster, Putney and Springfield, as well as Charlestown and Walpole, N.H.
Other Waypoint Centers are located roughly every 25 to 35 miles along the river.
The website credits the center's design to architect Daniel Scully of Keene, N.H., and says it represents a train locomotive and railroad station passing underneath an arch that replicates the old "Arch Bridge," which spanned the Connecticut River just north of the site from 1906 to 1982.
The building was constructed by Baybutt Construction Corporation, also of Keene, and received the AIA's Merit Award for Excellence in Architecture in May 2004, according to the website.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.